This article reads ‘pandemic, plague, pestilence and the tropics’ through Covid-19, climate change and the discourse of tropicality.  It asks: What happens, as seems to be the case today, when the temperate/tropical oppositions around which tropicality revolves start to unravel because the aberrations and excesses (here of epidemic disease and extreme weather) hitherto deemed to belong to tropical areas, and as constitutive of their otherness, are found in temperate ones? This question is broached with a focus on the United Kingdom as one such ‘temperate’ place that currently finds itself in this situation (although the argument has broader resonance), and with Aimé Césaire’s ideas about the choc en retour (boomerang effect) of Western colonisation and la quotidienneté des barbaries (the daily barbarisms) by which this effect works. Evidence and feelers from science, theory, politics, and the media are used to consider how sensibilities of tropicality, and especially (as Césaire enquired) distinctions between the ‘normal’ and ‘pathological,’ and ‘immunity’ and ‘susceptibility,’ permeate the way Covid-19 and climate change are perceived and felt in the temperate world.


Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). Open Access article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) License that allows others to share and adapt the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.

Cite as

Clayton, D. 2021, 'Tropicality and the choc en retour of Covid-19 and climate change', eTropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 20(1), pp. 54-93. https://doi.org/10.25120/etropic.20.1.2021.3787

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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