Ethnography on the run / 1: the ‘café ao postigo’ moral panic

This post is part of the project and series ‘Ethnography on the run’ – project here and full list of posts here

 First run of the project after the ‘pilot’ of last Friday today. Quite slow (6:08 minutes/km), possibly in part because I have run through denser neighbourhoods, having to negotiate my path with cars and traffic lights more often – but I also was quite stiff toward the end of the run. I have confirmed some of the early impressions that this lockdown is much less tight than the first one (but see below), particularly with regard to car presence: one of the things I liked last year was the lack of cars in the streets, and the resulting silence – definitely not the case this time. (I’m also testing a different GPS app, because the one I was using now doesn’t allow to see activities on the browser).

Still early to organise my general thoughts, still, I have some ideas on the moral panic of these days: the café ao postigo, literally the ‘coffee at the hatch’, bought at the door of the bar and then drunk standing by there.

During the first lockdown, café ao postigo was one of the few spaces remaining for sociality. Fast forward to the second lockdown, and here again people are taking those few minutes for themselves, small talking about the lockdown and making time.

And yet, this time seems different. Yesterday, Sunday, President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, after visiting the main hospital of the capital, has shared his concern with the epidemiologic situation and ‘scuffled’ (puxado as orelhas) the Portuguese people, arguing that they seem to not being very rigorous in respecting the lockdown. Among the ‘culprits’ the café ao postigo, which the government is considering to ban. The government is also planning to increase police presence to enforce the respect of the lockdown.

If truth be said, Portugal is going through its worst days since the beginning of the pandemic, counting some 10 thousand new cases and more than 150 deaths a day – making it one of the worst hit countries in the world. Also, early tracking data confirms that mobility has reduced much less than in the early days of the first lockdown in 2020.

And yet, it would be quite early to attribute current epidemic trends to the behaviours during the first three days of the lockdown – which, experiences in 2020 have shown, is expected to start having measurable effects after a couple of weeks. Also, while in 2020, when the patterns of spread of contagion were unknown, ‘barring’ all types of social contacts may have been, if not fully rational, at least understandable; we know pretty well by know that outdoor gatherings are only dangerous when big masses of people gather together for long time: the café ao postigo – much like walking or strolling outdoor – hardly meets those risk patterns. And yet, beyond the President and the government, I am already witnessing moral panics emerging in social media – for instance, in my bubble, a good number of liberal-ish, progressive-ish, ‘influencers’ are expressing their concern because ‘people are in the street!’ This is not the place to go deep into the formation of moral panics; suffice to say that, whatever their origin, they work pretty well to cover up for governmental responsibilities – above all, the fact that basically nothing has been done during this year to deal with the main places of contagion (homes, transports, workplaces, hospitals), but also the decision to let people ‘off the hook’ during winter holidays.

My early running ethnographic impressions add another layer. Though it’s a bit early to call this a systematic conclusion, so far I can quite easily associate the presence of small groups of persons outside bars with working class and popular neighbourhoods: for those who know Lisbon, so far I’ve seen them in Arroios, Anjos, Campolide, Casal Ventoso, Penha de França, Alcântara, but not in upper-class neighbourhoods like Campo d’Orique or Avenidas Novas.

Will the moral panic about the café ao postigo be yet another socio-economic divide boosted by this pandemic?

Informazioni su Simone Tulumello

Researcher in Planning and Geography at ULisboa, Institute of Social Sciences. Keen on cities, politics, photography and electronic music. Lover of cities, especially Palermo and Lisbon, in a complicated relationship with Memphis TN.
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2 risposte a Ethnography on the run / 1: the ‘café ao postigo’ moral panic

  1. Pingback: Ethnography on the run / 3: urban necropolitics amid a pandemic? | Simone Tulumello

  2. Pingback: Ethnography on the run / 8: backpain and lockdown updates | Simone Tulumello


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