Issue 45: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 1


Dear Fellow Sociologists,

On 16 March 2020, the by-now much-proclaimed ‘new normality’ established by Covid-19 also struck the European Sociological Association: the host institution of its office, located in Paris, closed down and cancellations of the ESA Research Networks’ midterm conferences started to come in. We confronted the initially very vague feeling that something major was happening a few days later, by proactively launching a new project: a call for articles for The European Sociologist around “Pandemic (Im)Possibilities” which impact on – but also emerge from – all forms of social life.

The reaction was overwhelming. When we invited the European sociological community to reflect on what the pandemic means (to them, or to society at large), how it is unfolding, and what social consequences it is having already, or is likely to have in the future, they responded enthusiastically. We received classical sorts of sociological analysis as well as pieces of initial, tentative fieldwork, personal diaries as well as letters, recountings of what happened to research projects, as well as poems and other reflections. It seems that lockdown unleashed a burst of creativity in sociologists that should never lie hidden, Coronavirus or not, and at some point we should take the time to think about how conventional modes of doing social science (including the ones getting funding) shape research and research results in a conventional way. 

It was particularly striking how many of ESA’s members were thankful for this initiative. It was as if you felt that your voice was not heard, and someone was ready to listen. Where did all that come from? We think that particularly at the beginning of the crisis – when worldwide everyone was still negotiating what the new Coronavirus was and what it meant – the concrete and visible work of doctors, nurses, and all other workers ‘of systemic importance’, humbled us to some degree. Sociologists started to wonder what they had to contribute which could be considered of systemic importance. How can doing sociology ever make the world better (and let’s be honest: that’s what we all wanted when we were undergraduates…), when it implies observing people and then writing texts – a seemingly petty activity compared to saving lives?

But this is where sociology comes in: we can call this a division of labour. We don’t know how to save lives. We have learned different things, we have different skills. We observe people (and ourselves) react to the pandemic in a multitude of ways. We recognise patterns and variations – across social groups, across countries, across time. Then we sit down and write texts and inform others (and ourselves) about what it is our societies do when confronted with a virus which we have come to label as a threat. This in turn allows us to correct mistakes in our (re-)actions, or to change our opinions about what is happening, or to understand what we actually want to be ‘of systemic importance’. This is the kind of work that you have committed yourselves to when you answered to the Call. This is the kind of work that sociologists know how to do.

In this issue, we have identified a number of clusters, not of erupting infections but of themes which many of you deemed to be worth exploring: Theorising; Working; Gendering; Living; Masking; Health, Illness and Medicine; Political Economy and Politics; Being Cosmopolitan and Anti-Cosmopolitan; Sociological Experiencing and Reflecting. Among these, you will find contributions from the ESA Research Networks 03 (Biographical Perspectives), 06 (Critical Political Economy), 08 (Disaster, Conflict and Social Crisis), 16 (Health and Illness), 17 (Work and Employment), 21 (Quantitative Methods), and 22 (Risk and Uncertainty). Next to these, you can find contributions by representatives of the Sociological Associations in Germany, Italy, Israel and Portugal, in the section “From ESA”. There are also four contributions reporting on how the pandemic and its societal effects and consequences directly influence what “Doing Sociology” means.     

We initially planned to have one special issue of TES concerning the pandemic. But so magnificent and voluminous was the response by ESA members to the call for contributions, we decided to create two special issues – this one (TES 45) and a forthcoming one (TES 46). Both editions can present only some of the almost 250 (!) submissions that were received. The upcoming TES issue, 46, will therefore be part two of what we believe to be a valuable historical document which illustrates how the trans-national sociological community responded both analytically, imaginatively, experientially and emotionally to the crisis which unfolded around them, and how it felt to be a sociologist in what are, in some ways, unprecedented historical and social contexts.

Stay healthy!

Dr. Dagmar Danko, Editor (ESA Director)
Prof. David Inglis, Co-editor (ESA Communications committee Chair)