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

Reflections – Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed

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

Hannah Bradby, Sociology Department, Uppsala University, Swede

The rules of engagement have been queered by Covid-19. During March and April 2020, as Europeans adjust to the restrictions of living with a pandemic, old certainties are shifting under our feet.

When restrictions were imposed in March, adaption to new routines of employment, exercise, family life under novel constraints dominated news reporting. Cheery commentary on how to make the most of lockdown by clearing out your cupboards and starting a sourdough culture, encouraged householders to discover old domestic habits anew. Enjoyment of a tidy home, perfumed with fresh bread has been undercut by a reminder that domestic confinement facilitates domestic abuse. Marking Mothers’ Day and the Easter weekend with the new norms of social distancing: teaching ageing relatives to use social media; simultaneous video-conferenced meal times; house party drinks.

Interest in the flouting of restrictions – hill walking, sitting on the beach, enjoying the park a bit too much – made the moral dimensions of the pandemic visible as they were figured out in public. The rights and wrongs of using public space under new exigences have been vigorously discussed. Previously mundane activities – food shopping, going for a run, walking the dog – have taken on new ethical dimensions that have to be navigated. The norms of when and how to be a body in public have altered and are uncertain. What used to be a minor cough could now be a criminal offence, if deployed appropriately. Opportunities for online shaming of those deemed to have behaved irresponsibly abound.

What used to be rational economic behaviour – marking up scarce and sought after goods –  has become price-gouging, toilet paper profiteering. Staying at home with a sniffle might have once been malingering, but now is a question of saving lives. Staying off work is no longer shirking, but an act of solidarity.

The pandemic has upset our understanding of the social world and social etiquettes are changing. The pandemic is also exposing and re-inscribing old divisions.

Post-colonial migrants have long staffed the UK’s NHS in significant numbers, and have been channelled into lower status specialisms. The disproportionate Covid-19 deaths among Black and minority ethnic doctors was mirrored for other categories of health and social care staff and in the wider population. These deaths should not have surprised us, since their cause can be related to long-standing inequalities and injustices, both institutional and individual: poverty, racism, stratified occupational and housing markets.

Across Europe migrant labour is employed in elder care homes. Such low paid work sustains households that have few alternative employment options. Difficulties in protecting staff and patients from Covid-19 contamination in clinical settings have been in evidence: failures to supply personal protective equipment, staff shortages due to sickness and quarantine, inadequate testing regimes. In elder care, the low status of the work and the vulnerability of the recipients of care have facilitated infection, but with less publicity. Reporting of the large number of Covid-19 deaths in care homes across Europe was probably an under-count. Will our information systems pick up on an excess of deaths that may follow among elder care employees?

Employment in low paid caring work may explain some of the disproportionate minority ethnic and migrant deaths in Sweden and the UK, especially when low quality over-crowded housing is included in the picture.  Such explanations around labour and housing markets structured by class, race and gender are not being so carefully explored. Rather, authority figures have jumped to the conclusion that minorities are vulnerable because they are failing to follow public health guidance.

Men seem more vulnerable to Covid-19 death than women, right across the world. The male excess mortality is not explained by men’s higher levels of smoking. Men’s vulnerability is not being blamed on their failure to wash their hands. Quite the contrary, with under-use of hand-basins being a source of extra concern: “We need to make sure men don’t feel too macho to worry about germs.

Our collective and individual sense-making of the pandemic relies on existing social and economic relations. So, is it a surprise that while minorities and migrants are blamed for their own misfortune, men are not?

The liberal commentariat has tempered the viral bad news with hopes that global economic slow-down might auger a new and more progressive world order. The abrupt reduction of travel has benefitted air quality: could this glimpse of a cleaner world inspire widespread reform for the benefit of the masses?

With the eventual lifting of travel restrictions will we see global environmental and social justice further up political and personal agendas? Or, to pose a more basic question – will pandemic preparedness planning include measure to ensure inclusive and anti-discriminatory access to health and welfare benefits?

It is easy to see how marginalised and stigmatised groups are further disadvantaged by the pandemic. It is harder to see how real social change might be wrought from the crisis. Rather than clapping public sector healthcare workers to underline their heroic status, should pay scales be urgently addressed? The UK’s health secretary’s ‘badge of honour’ for social care workers was widely ridiculed as a poor substitute for personal protective equipment, and antibody testing, let alone better wages.

While some rules of engagement have been re-made by the pandemic, our social structures have not. All too often the pandemic’s social shift has reinforced marginalisation.  A few people may benefit from the shift in social order as an unexpected opportunity opens up. Introverts who dislike the outdoors may welcome the wider world joining their lifestyle. Some prisoners may benefit from Covid-19 early release initiativesDeportation of refused asylum seekers stopped for a while.

Maryam, who is seeking asylum in Europe, hopes that her application in Germany will benefit from a delay in the arrival of her paperwork from the Swedish migration agency. This is one of few upsides of the pandemic – the slowing of bureaucracy may give her case a better chance of being considered in Germany on its own merits, despite having been rejected for asylum by Sweden.

I hope Maryam’s papers come through in Germany. I hope the glimpse of how the rules of engagement can change allows us to reimagine society and its relationship with economic regulation. I hope that witnessing the suffering of our neighbours translates into wider compassion. I hope the sense of viral global connectedness translates into international shared responsibility for social justice. If my hope if fulfilled, everything will have changed.

A version of this text appeared in Discover Society.

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