International LinC Conference, Bari 1-2 December 2022

The language of crisis from the pandemic to politics: forms of discourse and models of communication

The International Interdisciplinary Conference The language of crisis from the pandemic to politics: forms of discourse and models of communication will provide an interdisciplinary venue for scholars to discuss the forms of discourse and the models of communication that have emerged during the COVID-19 global pandemic (SARS-CoV-2).

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the gradual relaxation of restrictions, the return to individual autonomy and freedom, along with the announcement of the Next Generation EU investment plan and the vaccination programme have all marked a significant change for the EU Member States. However, after two years of the coronavirus pandemic, the common intentions and political orientation have given way, both in Europe and elsewhere, to uncertainty, to more precarious social balancing, as well as to decisions not always shared by all European partners. Furthermore, the prospect of serious international instability has recently been made worse by the consequences of the war in Ukraine.

Consequently, in 2022, there are still many open and unresolved issues. Despite the vaccination campaign, there are people who continue to deny that the virus exists or that vaccines actually work to develop immunity to this serious disease, fueling different kinds of claims against the efficacy of current treatments. This is ultimately spreading “alternative truths” and belittling scientific discourse based on what Charaudeau (2020) calls “savoir de connaissance”. The bombardment of misleading, inaccurate, or unreliable information has contributed to fueling disinformation (Sini, Cetro 2020) and counter-information, both of which have significantly influenced public opinion, so much so that the COVID-19 infodemic has now become one of the most serious problems of the pandemic crisis.

As Charaudeau (2020) argues, while our post-modern age must deal with numerous information channels, making it difficult to ascertain where the truth lies, politics and the media play a crucial role in the dissemination of information (Moirand 2007). In a context undermined by science denial and conspiracy theories, at times tinged with historical revisionism and by strong social and political inconsistencies, several tendencies have emerged during this health crisis, generating a new phase of coexistence between old and new dynamics in politics, communication, work, education, and social relations. During the most critical phases of the emergency, to legitimize the restrictive measures imposed on the people, the European governments relied on a number of “frames” (Wodak 2021): a ‘religious frame’, a ‘dialogic frame’, a frame emphasizing ‘trust’, and a frame of ‘leading a war’ (cf. Semino et al. 2021; Charteris-Black 2021).

Similarly to other periods marked by an epidemic or pandemic, values such as equality, solidarity, and social harmony are difficult to regain, as can be clearly seen in both the economy and in the labour market, where asymmetries concerning, for example, interest intermediation or gender relations are exacerbated. The current looming risk lies not only in the loss of the 10 social advances achieved at the beginning of the 21st century, but also in the worsening of the condition of women, torn between violence, job insecurity, and the difficulty in balancing productive work with care work.

The global health crisis has also unveiled the vulnerability and fragility of a sophisticated and complex society where human beings, to maintain a balance, are continually striving and rushing, frantically innovating, competing, increasing productivity, efficiency, and mobility. Social distancing and self-isolation have further fostered phenomena that were probably already underway, thereby favouring emotional distancing, while relational connections with the Other are simply being lost or perceived as a threat.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought about a reconsideration of geopolitical issues. Indeed, it soon became evident that there is a trend toward a re-nationalization, alongside a tendency to revive the narrow-minded, backward-looking way of thinking of nation states (Wodak 2020). For example, the EU Member States closed their borders, and the Schengen Area was suddenly abolished, to “keep the virus out” (Wodak 2021). In this perspective, as claimed by Arienzo et al. (2021), populist leaders have instrumentalized the pandemic crisis to legitimize authoritarian practices, such as restrictive social distancing and sweeping closures, sometimes resulting in forms of direct or indirect hate (cf. Baider, Constantinou 2019; Lorenzi Bailly, Moïse 2021).

In the name of public security, the politico-institutional realm and the rule of law granted by liberal democracies have been challenged by the perceived need for emergency management. This has also been interpreted as a “rule of exception”, raising crucial issues linked to the relationship between freedom and health, ranging from digital and social control to “immune democracy”, from the government of experts to the dominance of fear, which now appears to have given shape to a “phobocracy” (Di Cesare 2020). What has been defined as a “syndemic” has unveiled the global nexus between “socio-economic inequalities, the environmental impact of human activities, the increasing impoverishment of the biosphere, and rising tensions within democratic and non-democratic political systems” (Arienzo et al. 2021).

In the ongoing scenario, where the COVID-19 pandemic fuels “a dystopian imaginary widely transposed into mass culture as well as into academic culture” (Ceretta 2021), the international interdisciplinary LinC /liŋk/ conference aims to stimulate common reflections, promoting positive interference and contamination between the disciplines which, albeit in different ways, provide an essential support for the “language of the crisis”. Prospective speakers are encouraged to submit abstract proposals contributing to any of the six following thematic panels:

1) pandemics and the historical-political narrative: cultural paradigms, forms of crisis and categories of thought;

2) the exercise of power, forms of discourse and political decision-making in times of pandemic;

3) the role of the media: the responsibility of information and the degeneration of news;

4) forms of language at the time of coronavirus: neologisms, metaphors, social imagery and hate speech; 5) the representation of the Other as a potential danger, from the foreigner to the public and political ‘enemy’;

6) social inequalities and asymmetries exacerbated by the pandemic, with reference to gender discourse and the condition of women.

LinC programme