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This paper aims to further understanding of discourses of responsible bio-political citizenship during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was an interview-based qualitative study comparing experiences of 103 people who were ill with Covid for the first time across 2020 in Japan, Germany, the USA and the UK. Comparative thematic analysis explored discussion of responsibility in relation to Covid illness, experiences of social fracture and stigma, and the strategies employed to resist or mitigate stigma. This comparative analysis highlighted significant similarities across countries. We identified three mysteries of Covid illness experiences that impacted the work of navigating biopolitical citizenship. First, the mystery of how people caught Covid. There was an inherent paradox of following guidance yet nonetheless falling ill. Disclosure of Covid to minimise further transmission was held in tension with accusations of irresponsibility. Second, the mystery of onward transmission. Uncertainty about transmission placed participants in a liminal space of potentially having caused harm to others. Third, the mystery of how long illness should last. Uncertainty about ongoing infectiousness made social re-entry difficult, particularly in instances of persistent symptoms. We demonstrate the instability of certainty in the context of new and emerging forms of biopolitical citizenship. Guidance and emerging scientific evidence sought to demystify Covid through providing certainty that could guide responsible actions, but where citizens experienced paradoxes this had the potential to exacerbate stigma.

Original publication




Journal article


SSM - Qualitative Research in Health

Publication Date