Discussion – Key Debates, Viewpoints & Interviews

Covid politics – We Have to do Something About It! Agency and Pandemic Mikołaj Pawlak
Covid politics – The Unexpected Victory of the Nation State Agnieszka Bielewska
Covid politics – Pandemic, War Metaphors, and the Process of Civilisation Daniel Arenas
Covid politics – Crisis in the Time of Disaster (Coronavirus) Dr Veselin Mitrović
Covid politics – Morality and Solidarities in a State of Exception Teppo Eskelinen
Covid politics – Your Own Personal State of Emergency José Duarte Ribeiro
Covid politics – Beware of the Ministry of Purity Javier García-Martínez
Covid politics – Reflections on the COVID-19 Rupture: Towards Transformation Angela Martinez Dy
Covid politics – Calling Leaders’ Bluff: The Covid-19 Outbreak and Power Relations in European Societies Matteo Antonini
Covid politics – The Pandemic in Europe's Community of Destiny Stefania Adriana Bevilacqua
Covid politics – Being Tough (Enough?) – Navigating the Limits of Democratic Power in the Coronavirus Crisis Isabel Kusche
Covid Inequalities – Scenarios of Return (im)Mobility and Pandemic Izabela Grabowska
Covid Inequalities – The Butterfly and the Cocoon: The Chinese Community of Prato (Italy) during COVID-19 Laura Leonardi
Beliefs and knowledges – Between a Purifying and Polluting Spoon Milica Resanović
Beliefs and knowledges – The Sound of Silence: The Aestheticization of the Coronavirus in Service of the Production of Knowledge Dr Shirly Bar-Lev
Beliefs and knowledges – Coronavirus, Theodicy and Capitalism Bartholomew A. Konechni
Beliefs and knowledges – Toilet paper and pangolins: Magical thinking during the Covid-19 pandemics David Redmalm
Beliefs and knowledges – Socio-Ecological Mentalities and the Trilemmas of Covid and Climate Dennis Eversberg
Beliefs and knowledges – The Largest Possible Experiment: The Corona Pandemic as Nonknowledge Transfer Matthias Gross
Covid life-courses – Reflecting on Meta-Temporalities in the Study of Youth Futures Within the Covid 19 Pandemic Giuliana Mandich
Covid life-courses – Parents’ Home Office Challenges During the Corona Pandemic Lena Hipp
Covid life-courses – Robots Versus Human Care Workers in Elderly Care: Un-/empathic and Un-/Infected Marcus Persson
Covid life-courses – "My Life in Times of Coronaviruses": Changes in the Everyday Life of Children of Madrid Lourdes Gaitán
Covid life-courses – Alone Together: Biographical Crises in Times of Pandemic Ana Caetano
Life, health, death – Living in a Lockdown: An Opportunity to Enhance Physical Activities? Dr Mihaly Szerovay
Life, health, death – The "Bare Death": Biopolitics and Religiopolitics of Jewish Covid-19 Victims Noa Vana
Life, health, death – Pandemics, Social Sciences and Inequality of Time Cláudio Pinheiro
Life, health, death – The Display of Displaced Care: Funerals in Corona Times Erika Anne Hayfield
Reflections – (Inter)acting in a Different Timeframe Aurianne Stroude
Reflections – Relational Corona Dr. Markus Lange
Reflections – Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed Hannah Bradby
Reflections – Pandemic Possibilities in Sweden – From a Room with a View Gabriella Wulff
Mediating Covid – Following the #. Italians and ‘Biographical Continuity’ Under Covid-19 Veronica Moretti
Mediating Covid – The Evolution of Fake News in the Context of Coronavirus: First Explorative Insights into the Emergence and Spread of Fake News in Austria Daniela Wetzelhütter
Mediating Covid – Epidemic, Pandemic, Infodemic: A Project in Three Acts Marc Hannappel
Covid Working – Becoming Irrelevant for the System: A Discussion of Terms Elke Hemminger
Covid Working – The Corona Crisis and the Systemic Relevance of Jobs in Germany: Towards a New Appreciation and Solidarity? Paul-Fiete Kramer
Covid Arts – Arts in Finland Sari Karttunen
Covid Arts – The Impact of the Pandemic on Artists: Case Study in Malta Dr Valerie Visanich
Covid Arts – Resisting Pandemics: Balconies, Musicians and Contemporary Lockdowns in Contemporary Spain Kerman Calvo
Covid Arts – The Show Must Go On(line) - Music in Quarantine Alenka Barber-Kersovan
Covid Arts – The State and the Arts in Sweden During the Initial Phase of the Covid-19 Crisis – Less Visible Losses in the Shadow of Lost Lives and Livelihoods Christopher Mathieu
Covid Arts – The Arts in the Time of Pandemic Dr. Olga Kolokytha
Mediating Covid - Covid-19 as a Global Risk and Global Chance Svetlana Hristova

Covid politics – Crisis in the Time of Disaster (Coronavirus)

Issue 46: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 2 Sat 1 May 2021 0

Veselin Mitrović, Institute for Social Sciences, Belgrade, Serbia

During the Coronavirus pandemic, we are exposed to daily reports – national and global – that cover the number of people tested, infected, killed and cured. We get different forecasts about the course and effects of the infection. We are witnessing different national scenarios and models.

Two approaches dominate. The first approach is to achieve herd immunity quickly, which implies a great and rapid progression of the infected and dead. This approach promises to counteract the virus very rapidly with only minor negative socio-economic side-effects. Yet, this is obviously horrendous for those most vulnerable to the virus. In short, the first approach amounts to the idea of letting nature take its course.  

The second approach opposes such a hands-off strategy. Instead, it proposes measures to restrict movement for different categories of the population in order to minimize social contact. Unfortunately, this approach has significant negative socio-economic effects, as we can witness right now. Still, as a first response, this was characteristic for states that have maintained strong systems of primary care and institutes of public health, which are – mostly but not necessarily – characteristic of former socialist societies.

Only time will tell which approach is overall better when considering not only the traits of the infection and public health, but also the impact on socio-economic structure and culture.

However, what passes as a kind of latent danger that causes cumulative damage is the daily intertwining of the terms crisis and disaster in everyday, public, and scientific forms of speech.

In a scientific sense, “[d]isaster is an event (or series of events) that injures or kills a significant number of people or, otherwise, severely disrupts their daily lives in civil society. Disasters can be natural or the result of an inadvertent or intentional human act. These include, but are not limited to, fires; floods; storms; earthquakes; chemical vapors; leakage or infiltration of toxic  substances; terrorist attacks by conventional, nuclear or biological weapons; epidemics; pandemics; a massive decline in electronic communications; including other events that experts and officials refer to as ‘disasters’. Disasters always come as a surprise and a shock; they are unwanted by the affected population, though not always unpredictable. Disasters also create narratives and media images of the heroism, fall and loss of those who are affected and those who respond to it” [1].

The terms conflict and crisis are defined in opposition to disaster, but carry in their meaning a certain institutionalized risk of disaster. While disasters are typically characterized by prosocial behaviours, conflicts and crises are usually framed by the various interests of opposed actors who are responsible for and deepen them [2].

More particularly, a pandemic is a disaster that can cause different crises: crises in the health care, social, political, economic, and other systems. It can also lead to psychological and other more personal crises. Hence, although the concepts of crisis and disaster share some similarities, they are not the same and should not be treated as such.

In addition to the misleading intertwining of these concepts, and with its constant and circular repetition, it has almost become true that nothing will be the same after this pandemic. In economic, political and social terms, the world will be different.

This change represents a similarity shared by disaster and crisis. However, this is shared by every disturbance of a relatively stable state, which is intended to revert back to its original state. Similarly, our efforts to overcome the disaster – including our technology-based efforts, such as the use of tracking technology or AI – may be explained in terms of our intention to revert our socio-economic system back to its prior “normal” state. But the question is why we should revert our system back to what used to be normal?

First of all, is it even possible that the situation will be the same as before? It is questionable, for instance, if patients, after having recovered from an injury or a serious illness, are truly the same as before, or whether they just have the impression that they have returned to their previous “ideal” state of health [3].

It is precisely the lack of response to these issues that leads to crises in many spheres of life, whereas the disease itself, the current pandemic, is not a crisis in the strict sense but a disaster. Post-disaster recovery has been researched well enough and its consequences are mostly known and explored. Specific protocols have even been developed for dealing with it. This knowledge should be used in order to avoid having to face more crises than necessary after a disaster.

Like any disaster, this one will have its own specificities that are already the subject of research, and while the distinction between the concepts of crisis and disaster may appear as only a minor aspect, it may very well be considered a necessary step in understanding and addressing the future challenges that surely come after today’s battle with the pandemic. I submit that the distinction between disaster and crisis is key to understanding (not only) the current pandemic, and I propose further to defend this conceptual thesis and examine its practical implications from a sociological, political, ethical, and medical point of view.

References

[1] Zack, N., 2009. Ethics for Disaster, Rowman and Littelfield, Lanham MD. pg. 7.
[2] Barton, A. H., 2005. “Disaster And Collective Stress”, in Perry, R.W. and Quarantelli, E. L. (eds.), What is a Disaster. New Answers to Old Question, pp. 125 – 152, USA : International Research Committee on Disasters.
[3] Frank, A. W., 1995. The Wounded Storytellers: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Chicago: The University Chicago Press.

Note

The text was written during the state of emergency in the Republic of Serbia. I am grateful for very helpful comments from my colleagues Dr. Katja Stoppenbrink (University of Münster) and Dr. Michael Kühler (Twente University).

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