There is No New Normal

As we emerge from COVID and the requirements we all endured for masking, distancing, and curtailed travel, we have heard regularly that we have now entered a post-COVID "new normal." That term begs the question, of course, of what "old normal" is being referred to and how precisely we have deviated from it. It further obscures the fact that the queer theorist Michael Warner, in The Trouble with Normal from a quarter-century ago, rejected the whole notion of "normality," arguing that as a term, it has been used primarily as a means to assert control by dominant powers - normalising their interests - rather than to capture a widely common or desirable way of being.

So, was there in the years immediately pre-COVID a static and definable "normal" that then evolved radically into a "new" state over just 24 months or so? To put it bluntly, "no." The U.S.-based Pew Research Center has joined others in addressing this topic directly, concluding that our supposed "new normal" is really only an intensification of trends already present well before the pandemic: worsening social inequality, deepening mistrust of authority, science, and fact, and a turn toward authoritarianism as populations reject diversity, inclusion, and demands for social justice. Yes, we may have seen an appreciable uptick in remote work and online delivery of education, but even those simply meant more isolation and less immediate interaction with those unlike ourselves, and therefore worsened all of the social threats just mentioned.

To proclaim a "new normal" is at best a form of wishful thinking that a definitive break has occurred with a past that is viewed most often with nostalgia but at other times with distaste or condescension. It absolves us from reckoning with long-standing injustice and our own culpability in entrenched patterns of violence against the disenfranchised. It allows us to see ourselves and our quotidian lives as having endured something cataclysmic, emerging then phoenix-like, changed irrevocably. If we are living in the "new," then we no longer have to reckon with the "old," including long-standing and continuing crimes against others' selfhoods. The concept of a "new normal," in effect, absolves us of responsibility.

Instead of wasting time by celebrating or reviling a "new normal," we should work instead to document the trends that the pandemic magnified and trace down the intensified threats to civil society and economic security that have arisen because of or in response to the pandemic. This does not hinge on the concept of anything radically "new," rather it posits an incrementalist model of deepening fears of difference and desperate reassertions of old ideologies—a toxic, continuing normalisation of intolerance and indifference. As U.S. politicians wage renewed war on transgender youth and what they deride as "critical race theory" and "woke" culture, the old norms seem very much alive and all too present.

Speaker Biography

Donald Hall
Binghamton University, United States

Professor Donald E. Hall, Rochester University, USA
Donald E. Hall is Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Binghamton University (SUNY), USA. He was formerly Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Rochester, USA, and held a previous position as Dean of Arts and Sciences at Lehigh University, USA. Provost Hall has published widely in the fields of British Studies, Gender Theory, Cultural Studies, and Professional Studies. Over the course of his career, he served as Jackson Distinguished Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English (and previously Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages) at West Virginia University. Before that, he was Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English at California State University, Northridge, where he taught for 13 years. He is a recipient of the University Distinguished Teaching Award at CSUN, was a visiting professor at the National University of Rwanda, was Lansdowne Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Victoria (Canada), was Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Cultural Studies at Karl Franzens University in Graz, Austria, and was Fulbright Specialist at the University of Helsinki. He has also taught in Sweden, Romania, Hungary, and China. He served on numerous panels and committees for the Modern Language Association (MLA), including the Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, and the Convention Program Committee. In 2012, he served as national President of the Association of Departments of English. From 2013-2017, he served on the Executive Council of the MLA.

His current and forthcoming work examines issues such as professional responsibility and academic community-building, the dialogics of social change and activist intellectualism, and the Victorian (and our continuing) interest in the deployment of instrumental agency over our social, vocational, and sexual selves. Among his many books and editions are the influential faculty development guides, The Academic Self and The Academic Community, both published by Ohio State University Press. Subjectivities and Reading Sexualities: Hermeneutic Theory and the Future of Queer Studies were both published by Routledge Press. Most recently he and Annamarie Jagose, of the University of Auckland, co-edited a volume titled The Routledge Queer Studies Reader. Though he is a full-time administrator, he continues to lecture worldwide on the value of a liberal arts education and the need for nurturing global competencies in students and interdisciplinary dialogue in and beyond the classroom.

Professor Donald E. Hall is a Vice-President of IAFOR. He is Chair of the Arts, Humanities, Media & Culture division of the International Academic Advisory Board.

About the Presenter(s)
Donald E. Hall is Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Binghamton University (SUNY), USA.

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Posted by Kid Millie