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  • Open Access English
    Authors: 
    Bresciani, Chiara; Hughes, Geoffrey;
    Country: Denmark

    Compilations of video clips of Italian mayors berating citizens breaking quarantine to walk dogs, jog, or play ping pong have become something of a ‘viral’ sensation both in Italy and globally. The clips are often amusing, featuring politicians accusing their constituents of vanity, incontinence, and other assorted sins. As anthropologists interested in the politics of accusation , these small-scale disputes allow us to think through the sorts of political horizons that the novel coronavirus is bringing into being. As the virus spreads, we seek to track the sorts of accusations that spread with it as they provoke what we call virological witch hunts. Unlike the episodes of public blaming and shaming some political figures have promoted through national media, virological witch hunts are small-scale, bottom-up, intimate, and usually amplified through local social networks. We link them to the phenomenon of the untori in XVI- XVII century Lombardy, another bottom-up surge of accusations against those believed to be spreading disease that authorities had to deal with. Relying on social media, we have been reaching out to quarantined residents of the province of Bergamo, in the Lombardy region who have been publicly shamed for perceived transgressions in the midst of the quarantine. The responses offer insight into how the pandemic has precipitated what Massimo, one of our interlocutors, has termed a “collective, hysterical version of preexisting individual patterns of blaming and shaming”.