The Great Pandemic Confinement: Long-Term Care, Migrants, and Organized Abandonment


  • Vannina Sztainbok University of Toronto



biopolitics, pandemic, abandonment, long-term care homes, migrant farm workers


This article exposes the biopolitical and necropolitical logics that have guided pandemic mitigation in Ontario, Canada. I focus on the carceral character of measures that were deployed under the guise of managing COVID-19. Specifically, I examine two of the populations who were targeted for exceptional measures: the elderly and disabled residents of long-term care homes, who were confined in their rooms for months on end, and migrant farm workers, who were restricted to cramped living quarters and worked alongside infected co-workers. I consider what these measures imply about the problem that is being addressed. I argue that the treatment of these two groups shows the prioritization of the biopolitical imperative to fragment the population, to create a break between those who are to be protected and those who are not. This is an inherently racist imperative that aims to protect the “race” by separating out the weak from the strong, the healthy from the sick, and the self-regulating from the troublesome in order to protect the order required by capital and lessen the burden on the state. Carcerality signals abandonment. These two groups, while demographically quite different, share the characteristic of being outside the realm of life that is considered worthy of protection.  Migrant farm workers, valued only for their labour, were always considered expendable. During a pandemic, long-term care residents—viewed as already dying—fell within the classification of those who were considered too fragile or troublesome to merit protection. Within a society based upon the necropolitical exclusions of settler colonialism, the plantation, and imperialism, these conditions made these two groups utterly abandonable during a pandemic.

Author Biography

Vannina Sztainbok, University of Toronto

Vannina Sztainbok is an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Social Justice Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Her research focuses on nation-building and racism in South America. She has written on the fetishization of Blackness in Uruguay, the constitution of race through spatial national narratives, and narratives of torture in the Southern Cone. Her current area of research is race and organized abandonment during the pandemic.