Discussion – Key Debates, Viewpoints & Interviews

Covid politics – We Have to do Something About It! Agency and Pandemic Mikołaj Pawlak
Covid politics – The Unexpected Victory of the Nation State Agnieszka Bielewska
Covid politics – Pandemic, War Metaphors, and the Process of Civilisation Daniel Arenas
Covid politics – Crisis in the Time of Disaster (Coronavirus) Dr Veselin Mitrović
Covid politics – Morality and Solidarities in a State of Exception Teppo Eskelinen
Covid politics – Your Own Personal State of Emergency José Duarte Ribeiro
Covid politics – Beware of the Ministry of Purity Javier García-Martínez
Covid politics – Reflections on the COVID-19 Rupture: Towards Transformation Angela Martinez Dy
Covid politics – Calling Leaders’ Bluff: The Covid-19 Outbreak and Power Relations in European Societies Matteo Antonini
Covid politics – The Pandemic in Europe's Community of Destiny Stefania Adriana Bevilacqua
Covid politics – Being Tough (Enough?) – Navigating the Limits of Democratic Power in the Coronavirus Crisis Isabel Kusche
Covid Inequalities – Scenarios of Return (im)Mobility and Pandemic Izabela Grabowska
Covid Inequalities – The Butterfly and the Cocoon: The Chinese Community of Prato (Italy) during COVID-19 Laura Leonardi
Beliefs and knowledges – Between a Purifying and Polluting Spoon Milica Resanović
Beliefs and knowledges – The Sound of Silence: The Aestheticization of the Coronavirus in Service of the Production of Knowledge Dr Shirly Bar-Lev
Beliefs and knowledges – Coronavirus, Theodicy and Capitalism Bartholomew A. Konechni
Beliefs and knowledges – Toilet paper and pangolins: Magical thinking during the Covid-19 pandemics David Redmalm
Beliefs and knowledges – Socio-Ecological Mentalities and the Trilemmas of Covid and Climate Dennis Eversberg
Beliefs and knowledges – The Largest Possible Experiment: The Corona Pandemic as Nonknowledge Transfer Matthias Gross
Covid life-courses – Reflecting on Meta-Temporalities in the Study of Youth Futures Within the Covid 19 Pandemic Giuliana Mandich
Covid life-courses – Parents’ Home Office Challenges During the Corona Pandemic Lena Hipp
Covid life-courses – Robots Versus Human Care Workers in Elderly Care: Un-/empathic and Un-/Infected Marcus Persson
Covid life-courses – "My Life in Times of Coronaviruses": Changes in the Everyday Life of Children of Madrid Lourdes Gaitán
Covid life-courses – Alone Together: Biographical Crises in Times of Pandemic Ana Caetano
Life, health, death – Living in a Lockdown: An Opportunity to Enhance Physical Activities? Dr Mihaly Szerovay
Life, health, death – The "Bare Death": Biopolitics and Religiopolitics of Jewish Covid-19 Victims Noa Vana
Life, health, death – Pandemics, Social Sciences and Inequality of Time Cláudio Pinheiro
Life, health, death – The Display of Displaced Care: Funerals in Corona Times Erika Anne Hayfield
Reflections – (Inter)acting in a Different Timeframe Aurianne Stroude
Reflections – Relational Corona Dr. Markus Lange
Reflections – Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed Hannah Bradby
Reflections – Pandemic Possibilities in Sweden – From a Room with a View Gabriella Wulff
Mediating Covid – Following the #. Italians and ‘Biographical Continuity’ Under Covid-19 Veronica Moretti
Mediating Covid – The Evolution of Fake News in the Context of Coronavirus: First Explorative Insights into the Emergence and Spread of Fake News in Austria Daniela Wetzelhütter
Mediating Covid – Epidemic, Pandemic, Infodemic: A Project in Three Acts Marc Hannappel
Covid Working – Becoming Irrelevant for the System: A Discussion of Terms Elke Hemminger
Covid Working – The Corona Crisis and the Systemic Relevance of Jobs in Germany: Towards a New Appreciation and Solidarity? Paul-Fiete Kramer
Covid Arts – Arts in Finland Sari Karttunen
Covid Arts – The Impact of the Pandemic on Artists: Case Study in Malta Dr Valerie Visanich
Covid Arts – Resisting Pandemics: Balconies, Musicians and Contemporary Lockdowns in Contemporary Spain Kerman Calvo
Covid Arts – The Show Must Go On(line) - Music in Quarantine Alenka Barber-Kersovan
Covid Arts – The State and the Arts in Sweden During the Initial Phase of the Covid-19 Crisis – Less Visible Losses in the Shadow of Lost Lives and Livelihoods Christopher Mathieu
Covid Arts – The Arts in the Time of Pandemic Dr. Olga Kolokytha
Mediating Covid - Covid-19 as a Global Risk and Global Chance Svetlana Hristova

Covid politics – Beware of the Ministry of Purity

Issue 46: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 2 Sat 1 May 2021 0

Javier García-Martínez, Independent researcher

The acclaimed online role-playing game Guild Wars: Factions released during 2011 an addition to its former storyline through an episodic expansion called Winds of Change. This took part right after an epidemic on its own in the Guild Wars: Factions universe that desolated Cantha, a fantasy territory based upon a melting pot of different Asian cultures. A big part of the Canthan region was infected by a dangerous plague called the ‘affliction’ that turns its recipients into mutated humans. Following the story, an institution named as the ‘Ministry of Purity’ was formed in order to deal with this pandemic and get rid of the disease. Ironically, the Ministry of Purity is found to be corrupt itself, spreading lies and being a mere excuse for a racist and authoritative political agenda.

Outside of this digital fantasy, the notion of purity is a key concept in new emergent sociotechnical infrastructures and their political practices during and after the Covid-19 outbreak. During these times we have our own newly formed purity technologies and entanglements, our own Ministries of Purity.

Beware of the Ministry of Purity, because it will try to classify societies and cultures into a health/illness dichotomy.

I would have never thought that after coming to Beijing, on October 2019, being in China for the first time in my life, I would experience first-hand the beginning of a worldwide pandemic. One which took some time to cross borders, but once it did, it could not be stopped.

Since the first announcement of the Coronavirus outbreak, Beijing has seen a varied shift as to who should be classified as impure. Some Beijing businesses banned entrance to Wuhan residents when the news spread, established demarcations of free-of-virus spaces. Purity politics are not just about government policies, they also imply entanglements of ordinary practices and materialities.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Spanish citizens were unsure about eating in Chinese restaurants and buying in Chinese shops, while some verbally abused Asians throughout the country. Anything labeled as Asian is considered Chinese, and at the same time, infected. This is part of the purity politics, as it tries applying the pure health/illness category to a vast and varied group of people, homogenizing them. This purity practice adds this label to any person that could possibly be Chinese, even if wrongly so. Purity practices imply a homogenization that may open the door to different discriminations, such as racism, ageism and sexism. Comprehending the limitations and dangers that take place through these simplifications is needed in order to apply any form of care practices.

Since the outbreak, it is common practice in Beijing to be subject to temperature checks every day. Restaurants, bars, shops, commercial areas, compounds… a person at the entrance, usually a man, will be waiting for you to ensure your temperature is between the safety levels considered as ‘healthy’. Although very similar to each other, each of these areas stablished its own ‘healthy’ measurements. Perhaps 36-38 C is conceived as the normalised safe range, however some places go as low as 36.8 C as the maximum accepted temperature reading. The thermometer and its guardian are the keepers and dividers of the pure spaces.

Any temperature reading outside of that interval means to be banished to the only place an infected person should be, the fever clinics habilitated in the hospitals. As Lucifer cannot possibly exist without God (and hell without heaven), nor does the hospital exist without the health/illness dichotomy. Infected places are the pure spaces of those that fall into the infected category, the opposing pole to those labeled as healthy.

Thus, my proposition is that purity and its technologies rely on a fixed system of opposing dualities, as they coexist dependently on each other. Any concepts not classifiable on these terms must be forced to fit into one of these two categories, and once fit they are homogenized with their category partners.

As Douglas noted, pollution and danger are relative to the purity systems that divide the clean from the unclean [1]. Purity is just one of the many vertices of modernity, while pollution is banished to the interstices and the margins of the closed concepts. Modernity itself implies stablishing hermetic dualities that do not allow room for hybrid spaces [2].

Image 1. Source: Own elaboration

In this dichotomy, the in-betweens are places of uncertainty and danger. Asymptomatic and cured cases are looked at with a feeling of uneasiness. Some cured cases have reported a symptomatic comeback after being discharged, so reintroduction to the healthy/infected dichotomy is not always completely assured. Asymptomatic cases are differently labeled throughout the world, sometimes being counted as confirmed cases, while other times they are not.

Some claims have been made criticising the lack of appliance of the viral load concept into the epidemiological models. The viral load implies not everyone is at the same risk; a low viral load inside the body could be quite different to a high viral load in terms of rate of recovery, symptoms, transmission rate, etc. However, the Ministry of Purity does not work with the uncertainty of the space between its conceptual frontiers.

A practical simplicity is understandable under emergency contexts. However, it may pose a threat if we do not comprehend the limitations of the model itself. What is left behind by these categories? What is not? What is forced to fit into this dichotomy? What happens to the impure interstitial spaces? Is it a necessary evil? Is it not?

Beware of the Ministry of Purity, because it will try to stay in fixed positions even in the shifting sands.

Purity is essentialist, as it means the defence of immanent ideals considered universal and not subject to criticism. Purity politics find individual privacy as something that cannot be questioned, any arguments against it will be classified as negative, even if that means a public health concern. Freedom of movement is a democratic right even if public health is at risk. Freedom of speech is defended at all costs, even if that means fake news with dangerous consequences. Expert advice from any Chinese professional is not accepted, even if they have more experience on these matters, as their government is not democratic, and their research is not built upon Western values.

Purity politics are the fixed positions that do not want to readjust to the sociotechnical change we are going through, or any other change, justifying danger as inevitable for the sake of the ideal itself. That does not imply we should shift to the opposite pole of the spectrum, not every aspect of our sociotechnical cultures should just go through a radical change. It implies a reevaluation of the positions we take for granted as universal, both through time and space, readjusting and evaluating our options in every different context to find better care practices.

In the Guild Wars game fictional storyline, Ashu Yuudachi was a boy praised because of his miraculous immunity to the ‘affliction’, and who eventually became a symbolic icon of the Ministry of Purity. However, a mask covered his face, hiding the fact that he had the disease, the immunity was a lie, and he was impure himself. The purity conceived by the Ministry was just an excuse for its political agenda. As we and our sociotechnical relations are all inevitably impure, immanent pure ideals are merely a lie.

A lie that in certain contexts may or may not care for us.

Beware of the Ministry of Purity, its practices, materialities and infrastructures, because it is an important part of our present and it will be key to our near future.

Beware of the Ministry of Purity because we all are its ministers.


[1] Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. New York: Praeger.
[2] Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

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