Discussion – Key Debates, Viewpoints & Interviews

Sociological Experiencing and Reflecting – The Covid-19 Emergency and the Sociological Memory

Issue 45: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 1 Tue 2 Jun 2020 0

Teresa Consoli, University of Catania, Italy

The Coronavirus pandemic poses an unprecedented challenge to many of the assumed certainties of our lives, as all the emergencies are completely changing the setting of our work, our relations and social expectations. But the expectations and certainties on which we rely on are always socially constructed. Nothing is given, history has shown this on many occasions. So, if certainties are socially constructed, we need to build new ones, we have to try and profile new horizons according to the different perspectives that are emerging. Sociology can offer trajectories, can offer a bit of understanding of where we are now, and can suggest that where we will go depends on what we can and want to remember now.

Sociology is our collective memory, and we need memory to make sense of the changes we are facing.

Just to begin with, at present the fatality ratio of Covid-19 shows a strong age gradient; it is killing a lot of old people (16.6% are 70–79 and 18.4% are over 80 in China, while 23.8% are 70–79 and more than 50% are over 80 in Italy). The generation which was born during and saw World War II is dying. This is the young generation of the 1960s, the generation who built the modern democracies, who had strong hands and hearts, who saw how many changes modernity could bring, the generation of wise grandpas and grandmas. Many of them left us without a caress and especially without the collective rituals that help so much in elaborating the loss and the meaning of what is happening. How can we experience proximity while social distancing is a value? This tragedy is our tragedy, it is not happening to one family, to one village or one city. It is happening to a generation and it is part of our collective history.

Health systems are strongly stressed by Covid-19, but in many states they have been heavily curtailed in recent years. We will probably discover that the (too) many deaths in Lombardy are due to previous cuts in public systems and some wrong decisions taken by irresponsible politicians. We already faced many ‘tragic choices’ without being really aware of the process. Health systems are part of the welfare standards that citizens can afford and participate to afford. The decision-making process concerning the health and territorial systems will surely be redefined. The private/public split in the health system will be analysed and hopefully evaluated. What kind of welfare (social and health systems) we want, and how can we afford it, will probably be part of the future political agenda. Many studies and analyses of welfare and social policy, of health systems and social services, can be recalled. Stay tuned!

The call #stayathome sounded as a cynical statement if we consider the rise in housing costs, the decrease of social housing supply, and the widespread lack of affordable housing that occurred almost everywhere after the 2008 economic crises. More and more people diffusely accepted, and in many cases were obliged, to live in unsecure and overcrowding households, and over the last 10 years the number of homeless people registered a high increase in many cities. The big European cities especially are experiencing more and more disruptive and expulsive processes, and housing is often commodified, considered only as an investment with a high return.

In which “home” can we stay and in which kind of city can we live in?
That is the question, not only in the time of Covid-19!

The Covid-19 emergency is (and will be) affecting the youth generation, all the students who very responsibly are studying online, following hours of explanations from videos, tablets and phones, and diligently stay at home. They are missing their partners and a relevant part of the socialisation process, and after all the attempts to preserve them from the abuses of the ‘virtual life’, it is precisely that life that is now the only one available for them. Virtual communication seems the only contact with the world, while reality vanishes in a sad and lonely fog and in social distancing. But access to these media, and to an appropriate use of them (Amartya Sen’s functionings and capabilities), is still the point. How many children do not have access to a PC, to proper ‘time and space’ for study? In the great efforts of schools, teachers and institutions, isn’t it the case that to face the digital divide, they must compensate the many gaps in computer literacy and use the Covid-19 emergency to face up to some inequalities and to make students less different from each other?

Finally, the general enhancement of scientific knowledge is a positive outcome of this emergency time, but it is worth recalling that science is nourished by methodological accuracy, co-operation and trust. Data are only a (small) part of the scientific process, which needs support, time and the possibility to elaborate its own limits. As human beings we might not ‘trust’ (big) data collection in order to make political choices, but we might act a stronger ‘surveillance’ on the methodological process that combines scientific knowledge with a responsible understanding of the societies we are living in, and of the collective choices that we are facing.

In the end, as a sociologist and as a woman, I (re)discover that differences among sexes are still strongly culturally rooted. In the stayathome Covid-19 time, women are (even more than before) overwhelmed. There surely will be many sociological memories of this point during the CovidTime. I’ll read them with avidity!

The Covid-19 pandemic is an ‘event’, not a destiny (R. Sennett)

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