At Risk, or Risky Lives as Protection?

Perceptions of vulnerability among socially marginalised
citizens during the COVID-19 crisis

Monday 19 April, 4.30pm (AEST)

Associate Professor Maj Nygaard-Christensen

‘I had to comfort myself, that if you survive so much in this environment… I mean if my immune system has been able to cope up until now, then it can handle a bit more, right? … I mean, I’m less concerned really about people in here, than I am about Mr. and Mrs. Denmark. Because they don’t get out in the same kind of way’. (Shelter resident, May 2020)

Following a nation-wide lockdown in Denmark beginning on 11 March 2020, socially marginalised citizens were quickly categorised as being particularly ‘at risk’ in terms of the risk of contagion and the ability to self-isolate in the case of COVID-19 illness. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how marginalised citizens such as the homeless or marginalised citizens with substance use problems get by during crisis situations. Instead, they tend to be described as people responded to, but without their own ability to respond to, crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The presentation builds on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in homeless shelters, drug consumption rooms and drop-in centres during the first pandemic wave in Denmark. The paper will show that instead of being merely victims of the crisis, users of these services were able to draw on experiences that might otherwise be viewed as central dimensions of living marginalised or risky lives. Thus, past prison stays, healing after past illness, or life on the street, were all represented as resources that helped them manage the COVID-19 crisis. Thus, user perspectives challenged dominant ideas about marginalisation and risk, and renegotiated ideas about the relation between the marginalised and the majority population.

Maj Nygaard-Christensen is Associate Professor at the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University, Denmark.


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Publication Date: 
19 April 2021

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