Are we watching our neighbours or watching for our neighbours?
Author: Ximena Díaz Alarcón, current PhD Candidate in Sociology (UCA – Universidad Católica Argentina). You can contact her at email@example.com.
Fieldsite: In strict lockdown in Buenos Aires, Argentina, connecting with informants via Whatsapp via mobile phone. Informants are 45 + years old women of middle-upper socioeconomic levels living in Buenos Aires.
We are entering our third month of lockdown in Argentina and now -more than ever-, we are asked not to relax our focus and care on preventive health measures. While the government allowed for the return of some activities such as recreative walks for families, many constraints still have to be considered. The official discourse keeps stressing the importance of health above all and the need to be attentive with all care measures.
In this ever-watchful context, people can go out only during weekends, only for an hour, going not over 5 blocks from home and their permission to go outside is related to their ID (the day to go out is associated to having an odd or even number as the last number of the adult´s ID). All this “complex algorithm” was communicated through the official sources and media while stressing the need to keep social distancing and the prohibition to play sports and play in parks during these short outings.
Specialists on Child and Youth Care expressed the need to let the kids out at least during weekends, since strict lockdown was hurting their mood, causing them to feel fear, sadness and anxiety for not being able to meet friends and vulnerable members of the family (i.e. grandparents).
During the weekend a Twitter video of a great-granddaughter meeting her 75 years- old great-grandpa for the first time went viral, collecting both positive and emotional comments reflecting on the importance of family bonds and lost shared face to face time due to the lockdown, as well as very negative comments reflecting on the unnecessary risk of having done so.
The Twitter video of face to face meeting of a great grandparent and his great-granddaughter went viral last weekend, with more than 80.000 likes but also plenty of negative comments for having breached the lockdown with the visit.
Some activities are being incorporated into daily life but with the reinforcement of health measures displayed in the public space and media. Police control high circulation avenues and streets, mobility access and there are expensive fines if guidelines are not met.
We are being watched and for now, our commitment to health and preventive measures are the only “vaccine” we have.
As face masks are going in full bloom for all public activities, a personalisation and design trend started to emerge, with do-it-yourself tutorials created by the government, but also with finished products ready to be bought online. Football teams, comics characters and fashionable clothing lines of face masks are entering the public scene. We are watched but also like to control how we are seen.
The good news of a locally developed COVID -19 detection kid shared media news with the reinforcement of the free line, a number to denounce neighbours who are not compliant with the quarantine. A special reminder in times where –as we mentioned- some activities are being included again in public life.
Compliance with the usage of face masks seems to be high. But as I observed in many interviews over the week, there is also a new “profile we love to hate”: the relaxed neighbour who smokes while using the face mask and therefore lowers it down, rendering it inefficient and the cool neighbour that uses the face mask below the nose, also rendering it inefficient. We watch. And we judge.
It seems that in these strange times, all must be watched, and everything is being carefully watched. Relaxed neighbours who use their face masks wrong, our hands and where do we put them without touching our faces, the distance we keep in the streets, our ID numbers to see if they match with our turn to go out.
Care and surveillance: be watchful, watch others, be watched by others. It seems that not even the highest power can escape the gaze of our attentive “pandemic eye”. From micro to macro: the President replied to drawings made by kids thanking him for letting them go out on weekends on his Twitter account, but he also watches the “back to normal” activities of a Factory returning to the production in the “new normal”.
With our face masks on, we almost seem to have turned ourselves into “pure eyes”. Eyes that watch while being watched… while trying to remember not to touch our faces.