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    Who is the Sick One Here?: Mask refusal and ambivalent social identity in America

    Kealy-Morris, Elizabeth ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2843-1916 (2021) Who is the Sick One Here?: Mask refusal and ambivalent social identity in America. In: Face Off: The provocation and possibilities of the mask and head coverings, 13 January 2021 - 14 January 2021, Virtual.

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    This paper will consider the mask as both an accessory and a protective barrier utilising embodied dress theory (Entwistle, 2000; Goffman, 1990; Miller & Woodward, 2012; Davis, 1992). The face mask is now a symbol of what Davis (1992) terms ‘ambivalent social identity’, and centrally the anxiety of who the mask is protecting – who is the ‘sick one’ here? This anxiety has turned to powerful backlash against this small but key piece of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kit (Elan, 2020; Madowo, 2020) and against legislation making it unlawful to not wear it in public settings deemed hazardous by public health officials during the height of spikes in the pandemic (Caparo & Barcelo, in press). This paper will explore the current mask-refusal movement in America to unpick the roots of this backlash and will suggest that its origins come from an active social myth of personal freedom and physical fortitude which runs like a seam through the fault lines of American collective consciousness. This paper suggests that with the reaction to the face mask we see the material culture of dress invigorating collective cultural memory (Halbawchs, 1992) and further evidence that dressing oneself is an everyday embodied material and cultural practice.

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