Marta Soler-Gallart, ESA President 2019-2021
More than three months have passed since we had the outbreak of Covid-19 in Europe and so many things changed for European citizens since then. This special issue on Pandemic (Im)possibilities and the great response to this from our membership prove that sociological knowledges and analyses are especially needed to tackle the social consequences of this crisis and the definition of a new normal life for all. I feel really pleased to see how so many sociologists perceive our discipline as a public service to society, and proud to be among so many colleagues who are committed to this goal. I want to take this opportunity to thank ESA’s Chair of Communications, David Inglis, and our Director, Dagmar Danko, for the creativity, rigorous work and dedication to bringing out this special issue so effectively and at such a fast pace.
During these months the Association has also contributed in different ways to the emergency situation in Europe. On April 24-26th ESA supported the pan-European Hackathon #EUvsVirus launched by the European Commission. As a partner, ESA reached out to volunteers and mentors to sign up for the event. Out of the total of 1480 mentors, there were many sociologists who spent the whole weekend providing their expertise. Furthermore, out of the more than 2000 projects developed, there were also many sociologists contributing to interdisciplinary teams. In the name of ESA I would like to express our gratitude to them and to recognise their contributions, as well as to recognise so many other contributions and initiatives that sociologists from all over Europe and the world are promoting to fight against the negative consequences of the pandemic in our societies. Along these lines, ESA has also endorsed the position paper launched by the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities, “Mission Covid-19: Global problems need a research portfolio approach”, which points to the need for a diversity of research projects and disciplines when tackling the challenges of the current health crisis.
Through the period of confinement, and with the different situations we were living in our own countries, the Executive Committee members have met virtually, discussed relevant issues thoroughly, and worked in multiple directions, to find possibilities and alternative solutions to the usual activities of the Association. Many mid-term conferences have been postponed, while a few have maintained their original dates but gone online. In all cases, Research Network chairs are observing the evolution of the pandemic and the different governmental responses, and they are thinking about different possibilities that can allow each sociological community to continue fruitful academic exchanges. ESA is working on new ways of providing members with support to organise events online or in hybrid modes.
The PhD Summer School is already taking place on a hybrid basis in Fall 2020. With headquarters in Ljubljana, and observant of the progressive lifting of containment measures, we are creating a new type of venue for PhD students, which will allow them to benefit from a rich academic environment regardless of travel limitations. We received many applications from young scholars, and with such a strong show of interest and many wonderful research initiatives, we are eager to offer them real and exciting new possibilities. These early career scholars are indeed our future.
Along the same lines, our next conference, ESA2021, will take place either with the full physical co-presence of all attendees, or in other possible hybrid modes. Sociological Knowledges for Alternative Futures, the conference theme, invites us to gather as a sociological community to contribute to the building of our futures. In the face of the societal consequences of the current pandemic, similar future emergencies, and related responses to them, sociological knowledge and debate is more needed than ever. The Conference Committee and the Local Organising Committee are working in close collaboration to welcome you to the beautiful city of Barcelona. They are very aware of the present challenging situation, and will make sure that, if needed, several alternative possibilities can be activated to make the conference happen successfully. Stay tuned for the imminent launch of the conference website!
Moving to a different topic, the Publications Committee has worked a great deal to find solutions to some issues with the publishing of our journals. As announced in the last ESA General Assembly, because the contract with Taylor and Francis finished in December 2020, there was a tender process in 2019 and it was decided to move to Bristol University Press. However, there was a clause in the contract that entitled T&F to ask for financial compensation if ESA was not going to renew its agreement with them. The amount T&F requested was outside of what a non-profit association like ours can afford. Out of this difficult situation ESA has achieved a very good agreement with T&F, which opens up multiple possibilities for the future. The contract has been renewed until December 2023, with some changes: 1) removing the clause that bound us to T&F, in such a way that ESA would be free to move to any other publisher, without having to pay to exit the contract; 2) removing another clause, which required ESA to pay for the digital backstock in the case of moving to a new publisher, now making easier, and free of charge, the transfer of digital archives; 3) including a commitment to set an annual schedule of collaboration between the Association and the publisher, thus improving both the publisher’s service for us and its communication with our editors. These changes go along with ESA sharing risks with the publisher, meaning that the income to support editorial work will now be more dependent on journal royalties. The process of negotiation has not been easy, and I want to thank all the members of the Publications Committee for the energy, dedication, and spirit of service towards our editors, and especially to its Chair, Ludger Pries. There have been differing views and opinions within the Executive Committee, which is a good sign of democracy, and has contributed to better arguments regarding the negotiation. Finally, it was decided that this was the best agreement ESA could achieve, by 14 votes in favour and 3 abstentions. Given the evolution of Plan S in Europe and the global move of scientific publishing into Open Access, in the next few years ESA will be able to support the transition of our journals, European Societies and the European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, into full Open Access mode, and the Association will be free to negotiate the best option for the journals in the new publishing context of the year 2024.
Regardless of the circumstances, sociologists have not stopped looking for alternatives to teach students, to continue with research activities, and to comply with multiple academic responsibilities, while also taking care of family members and friends. We have not stopped working passionately to place some more bricks in the building up of this wonderful association. We have not stopped collaborating with wider society in the search for initiatives that can help address the societal impacts of the Coronavirus and responses to it. And we will not stop in this regard. As I said in my brief address to you in March 2020, these are times in which science and solidarity make a huge difference to us all.