Call for Workshop Papers (Deadline 30 May 2020): Racialisation and Social Boundary-Making in Times of COVID-19

Date: 3-4 December 2020

Location: Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam

Organisers: The ChinaWhite research team (

Aldina Camenisch, Ed Pulford and Willy Sier (postdocs) and Shanshan Lan (PI)

The current global COVID-19 pandemic has led not only to the closure of national borders and a near stand-still of international mobility but also to a resurgence of social ‘othering’ and related racist and nationalist narratives and practices. As much as the new COVID-19 virus has been perceived as an ‘outsider’ invading human societies rather than an inherent part of the human-animal ecosystem, racialised human ‘others’ have been blamed as the main carriers and spreaders of this zoonotic virus. For instance, within China people who are from Wuhan (where the pandemic first started) or who have travelled to the Wuhan area have been socially stigmatised and ostracised. At the international level, US-President Donald Trump was quick to frame COVID-19 as a ‘Chinese virus’ while Asian people around the world have been victims of an increased number of racial incidents and a related resurgence of the ‘yellow peril’ discourse. Meanwhile, the Chinese state has proclaimed internal control of COVID-19 and is externalising new infections as a merely imported phenomenon. An uptick in xenophobia targeting foreign populations has been evident in both state and public discourse in China, culminating in the recent media reports of severe mistreatment of Africans in Guangzhou.

In light of these recent developments, we seek to organise an international workshop that will investigate and theorise the ongoing processes of racialisation and social boundary-making in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand racialisation as “the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice or group” (Omi and Winant 1986: 64). We are interested in racialisation and boundary making practices based on multiple and intersecting factors such as skin colour, nationality, ethnicity, place of origin, citizenship and immigration status, language and accent, and previous travel experiences.

The workshop will address the following questions:

  • How does the COVID-19 pandemic intensify and transform existing social relations/hierarchies and facilitates new forms of racialisation and boundary making practices in China and beyond?
  • To what extent are internal and international borders both challenged and reinforced through mediated and restricted flows of racialised or stigmatised bodies, images, ideas, technologies, and goods?
  • What are the connections (or disconnections) between the racialisation of overseas Chinese and Asian looking people in the global context and the racialisation of various groups of international migrants in the Chinese context?

Other topics may include:

  • Resurgence of nationalist, xenophobic and/or discriminatory discourses of social ‘othering’ in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak in different societies
  • Adaptations of migration regimes in response to the outbreak of the new COVID-19 virus and their uneven impact on the internal and international mobility of minority groups
  • Shifting perceptions of Chinese and Asian-looking people outside China, and foreign populations and internally mobile populations inside China at different stages of the COVID19 crisis
  • Media and social construction of dangerous and stigmatised mobilities
  • Identity politics based on tensions between de-territorialisation and re-territorialisation

We welcome submission from scholars in various disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. Priority will be given to papers with empirically grounded qualitative data. In light of the difficulty of conducting onsite fieldwork during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also welcome papers based on media studies, discourse analysis, auto-ethnography, and online ethnography. Due to the unpredictability associated with cross-border travels in COVID-19 time, we will consider setting up one or two virtual panels for participants who cannot travel to Amsterdam in December 2020. If necessary, we may also consider the possibility of conducting the whole workshop online. There is no registration fee for the workshop. Participants are expected to arrange their own travel plans. We will provide food and drink for all presenters during the workshop. A one-night hotel will also be provided for presenters who are not based in Amsterdam (one person per paper).

Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (maximum 250 words, specifying your main research question and methodology) and a brief personal biography (150 words) for submission by 30 May 2020. Please note that only previously unpublished papers or those not already committed elsewhere can be accepted. The organisers plan to publish a special journal issue that incorporates some selected papers presented at the workshop. Please submit your proposal to and Notifications of acceptance will be sent out around 20 June 2020. Participants will be required to send in a completed draft paper (6,000 words) by 15 November 2020.

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