What is it about?

The COVID-19 pandemic has dragged the face mask from relative obscurity and turned it into one of the key symbols of this crisis. This makes for a fascinating case study of sociomateriality, a unique discipline that combines the social with the material, thus offering scholarly insights on how inanimate objects can create their own spheres of influence across social ecosystems. In this book, the author traces the rapid emergence of the protective face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although recommended/mandated by most governments and key public health organizations, the face mask did not receive its share of endorsement in the earliest days of the pandemic in 2019. The book describes the trajectory of the COVID mask’s emergence as a sociomaterial phenomenon. The book draws inspiration from Foucauldian, domestication, and more-than-human theories offered in Indigenous and First Nations philosophies and in the works of feminist new materialist scholars. The chapter also focuses on the mask’s micro- and macropolitical aspects and how it got incorporated into public life.

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Why is it important?

Understanding how sociomateriality works can help us navigate turbulent waters during public healthcare emergencies. In the case of the COVID mask, although its primary function is to protect the wearer and the public from infections, people from various walks of life (such as politicians, public health advocates, and celebrities) either supported or opposed the idea of wearing it in public places. The journey of the mask is meticulously traced with the help of multiple sociomaterial theories. KEY TAKEAWAY The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked new forms of sociality and everyday practices. It has turned the mask into a significant object whose presence or absence on a face reflects the cultural, political, and moral leanings of the person. This has prompted a closer look all at the meanings and values that the mask obscures through the lens of sociomateriality.

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This page is a summary of: 1 Introduction: The Shifting Meanings and Practices of Face Masks, April 2021, De Gruyter,
DOI: 10.1515/9783110723717-002.
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