Tropicality and the Choc en Retour of Covid-19 and Climate Change




COVID-19, climate change, choc en retour, tropicality, Aimé Césaire


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.

Author Biography

Daniel Clayton, University of St Andrew, Scotland

Dr Dan Clayton is Senior Lecturer and Director of Research in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews, Scotland, and co-editor of The Scottish Geographical Journal.  He has written widely on questions of tropicality, empire, and decolonisation, and was working on a project entitled ‘the jungle environment of the Vietnam War’ when Covid-19 hit and everything got shut down. He is author and editor, recently, of Impure and Worldly Geography: Pierre Gourou and Tropicality (2019, with G. Bowd), and journal special issues on ‘COP26 and the Crucible of Crisis,’ ‘Geography and Decolonisation,’ ‘European Geographers and World War II,’ and ‘British and French Tropicality’.


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How to Cite

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), 54–93.