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Zoom workshop

In May 2020, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, warned that the ‘virus of hate’ was spreading as fast as the coronavirus1. Fear of the disease was triggering acts of hatred towards East Asians and asylum seekers, and threatening discord among nations. Since then, many others have repeated Guterres’s warning, declaring hatred and extremism to be ‘infectious’. Many speak of a pandemic of racism spreading around the globe.

But is this actually the case? Are hate and its various manifestations really contagious? Because they carry the authority of his office, the Secretary General’s words seem to have been accepted uncritically. Many social psychologists, however, would argue that fear, hatred and similar states of mind are not in any meaningful sense contagious.

Social psychology has moved on since the 1930s but not, it seems, political discourse, however well intentioned. One cannot catch hate. Its causes are complex and the starting point for understanding it should be to look deeper into the human condition. One of the greatest weaknesses in our response to hatred is our tendency to see the capacity for hate in others without acknowledging it in ourselves. Like real pandemics, pandemics of hate always seem to come from somewhere or someone else.

In epidemic or pandemic situations, the focus of hatred is typically an outgroup (foreigners), marginalised internal populations or the lower social classes. Quite often this hatred is reciprocated and results in communal violence and even in war. But pandemics do not inevitably result in violence and other acts of hatred. Compassion and mutual aid are equally evident. The question therefore arises as to which conditions allow compassion or hatred to thrive. The answer to this question has important ethical and practical implications because in the context of an epidemic one needs to attend to social needs as well as to public health.

Although we may be entering the final phase of the Covid19 pandemic, the social crises resulting from it may get worse. There is a danger that societies will be consumed by recrimination. In order to understand and deal with this situation, we require insights from a wide range of disciplines and the main purpose of the proposed workshop is to begin this conversation. We remain open to suggestions as to how this event might be organised but one possibility is that someone representing a different discipline takes it in turn to introduce a theme for discussion. The introduction would normally take the form of a 5-10-minute statement or summary of a position for debate but could also be a reading (e.g. of a poem) or a presentation on a piece of art that provides some insight into the topic addressed.

We invite participants to contribute to the workshop, either by giving a short presentation or simply attending to take part in the discussion.

Mark Harrison, historian

Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, poet and musician




Grzegorz Kwiatkowski

Grzegorz Kwiatkowski (b. 1984) - a Polish poet and musician, an author of several books of poetry revolving around the subjects of history, remembrance and ethics. He is a member of a psychedelic rock band Trupa Trupa. He has been a beneficiary of numerous international literary programs such as „Artist in Residence” in Vienna and „Styria Artist in Residence” in Graz. Grzegorz Kwiatkowski was also a guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Chicago; Jewish Theological Seminary and Miroslaw Balka's Studio of Spatial Activities at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.

Grzegorz is a member of a European literature platform Versopolis and was a guest of a number of festivals such as Oslo Internasjonale Poesifestival and Lahti International Writers Reunion. His music and literary works have been published and reviewed in The Guardian, Modern Poetry in Translation, New Poetry In Translation, CBC, Pitchfork, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Billboard, Spin, Chicago Tribune, Times, NPR, BBC and KEXP. As a musician, he performed with his band at such events as Desert Daze Festival, Rockaway Beach Festival, SXSW, Primavera Sound and Iceland Airwaves. Trupa Trupa's songs are regularly broadcast on radio programmes hosted by Iggy Pop or Henry Rollins. The band was also invited to take part in a legendary NPR Tiny Desk session. Its music has been published by global record labels such as Sub Pop, Glitterbeat Records, Ici d’ailleurs and Lovitt Records.

Grzegorz Kwiatkowski's grandfather was a prisoner in Stutthof, the Nazi concentration camp east of what used to be the Free City of Danzig. Later he was forced to become a Wehrmacht soldier. His poems explore not only conflicted pasts of Central and South-Eastern Europe (for example, the Nazi T4 Euthanasia Program), but also the paradoxes of contemporary genocides, for instance in Rwanda. He is intrigued by the combination of ethics and aesthetics in one person, one life, one story. His minimalist poems have been perceived as quasi-testimonies, 'full of passion, terror and disgust', provocative and lyrical utterances delivered by the killed and the dead. Ultimately, they become portrayals of Death.

Mark Harrisson

Co-Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities

Professor Harrison is prepared to supervise students with interests that lie in the areas of military and colonial medicine, or more generally in the history of disease, from c.1800 onwards.

Mark Harrison has published widely on the history of disease and medicine, especially in relation to the history of war and imperialism from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. One of his current interests is the global history of disease and medicine.

Research Interests: 

Mark Harrison works in the following areas:

  • History of Science and Medicine

Mark Harrison is involved in the following research projects:

  • From Sail to Steam: Health, Medicine, and the Victorian Navy (Wellcome Trust Project Grant)
  • The Challenge of Urbanization: Health and the Global City (Wellcome Trust ISSF/John Fell Fund Award)
  • Invisible Crises, Neglected Histories: Malaria in Asia c.1900-present (Wellcome Trust Investigator Award)
  • Oxford Martin School (Oxford Martin Programme on Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease)