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

Reflections – Relational Corona

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

Markus Lange, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

April 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic affects and challenges all areas of society in their respective micro-, meso- and macro-social dimensions. Related to the genuine health risks enabled by the virus, several social risks have emerged too. On the one hand, processes and routines in social areas such as healthcare, statehood, economy, and culture are either pushed to their limits, or are temporarily locked down. On the other hand, mutual dependencies, entanglements, and conflicting interests between these areas are put into tension, but at the same time require coordination in the shortest possible time in order to prevent a social collapse.

Coronavirus is relational and may engender a relational coordination of society. This essay aims in the direction of sketching at least some dimensions of a relational understanding of the pandemic. Focusing on the current coordination problems of political actors illustrates initial evidence for this.

What we can currently observe in statehood and politics are motivations that aim to coordinate different areas of society. This is predominantly not conducted as global convergence, but rather as divergence between nation states that pursue different approaches and therefore achieve different forms of advance and regressions. However, the fundamental coordination problem is basically the same for all national and supra-national political actors which evaluate and manage the pandemic: namely, the risk-related weighing up of a twofold spectrum. On the one side, they are confronted with the danger of an upcoming health hazard that is life-threatening for many people, and likewise threatens the stability of the healthcare system. On the other side, they are confronted with the danger of an economic collapse due to the necessity to lock down sufficiently large parts of the economy, which in turn can trigger subsequent socio-economic crises for significant sections of the population.

Attempts to counteract this crisis by coordinating several – if not all – social areas, seem to be much more evident in the case of the Coronavirus pandemic than, for example, the global financial crisis of the years 2007 to 2009. In the latter case, the emergence of the crisis, predominantly in the financial sector, represents a crisis management that was strongly rooted in neoclassical economic theory. However, these economic paradigms proved to be largely incapable of adequately framing and deducing the consequences of the crisis, particularly with respect to the real economy [1]. In the case of the Coronavirus pandemic, a much broader paradigmatic and discursive spectrum of interpretations has emerged, and is formed, for example, by biologists, ethicists, economists, historians, philosophers, physicians, psychologists, sociologists, and virologists. It seems that the rapid spread of the virus and its societal consequences has released a diversity of (opposing) interpretations that has reached politics and statehood. This has not prevented the possibility that economic consultancies are still in the position to advise political crisis management with respect to non-economic agendas, because these actors are already embedded in the political arena [2].

Against the background of these initial observations, we can ask: What marks a sociologically informed relational understanding of the current crisis? What is relationality? Grounded in ongoing debates in the field of relational sociology [3], a general understanding of relationality may advocate a view on social reality with respect to mutual observations and dependencies between, as well as entangled practices of, individual and/or collective actors. Therefore, it is of sociological interest to uncover (a) how respective actors (from different societal areas) were related towards each other before the pandemic, in order (b) to reconstruct how they relate each other during the pandemic. In what follows, some routines that are in flux due to the Coronavirus pandemic can be sketched out on situational and structural levels of relationality.

On a situational level, it is promising to focus on social interactions and relationships. In the current stage of the crisis, physical distancing certainly engenders new experiences in social interaction. For example, this can imply both loneliness, in the case of missing daily physical interactions with others, as well as more frequent interactions with the personal core contacts that are already part of one’s everyday life (e.g. primary family members, living communities, intimate relationships). In this context, manifestations of individual or collective deceleration and mental re-sorting are just as conceivable as individual isolation or collective escalation (up to the point of domestic violence, etc.). Furthermore, in Germany, it is permitted to meet personally at least in pairs. To what extent does this render or even ‘upgrade’ the dyadic social relationship? Is conversation then more personal, direct, open, or empathic, due to the lack of peer pressure in group interactions, and against the background of the shared crisis experiences?

On the meso- or macrostructural level (such as social networks, fields, or systems), relationality addresses both historically ingrained logics, structures, and routines in certain areas of society, as well as dependencies and entanglements between these areas. The above-mentioned coordination problem of political actors refers to this, and one could put emphasis on further relations between all areas of society. To give just one example from my research in the state-finance nexus: the Coronavirus pandemic initially can be considered as an ‘exogenous’ risk event. On the one hand, the pandemic separately challenges and even changes the intrinsic logics of finance and statehood. Falling share prices – in what is, historically speaking, an extremely short period – due to massive asset sales by financial actors and the empowerment of political actors to govern through the executive branch, are just two current occurrences. At the same time, the pandemic also concerns existing relations between finance and statehood. For example, it can be observed how concepts that originally were developed as a crisis response to the global financial crisis and the European sovereign debt crisis, are now being refreshed to deal with the current crisis. This is illustrated by ongoing debates on either issuing “Corona bonds”, originally framed as “Euro bonds”, or instead using the European Stability Mechanism, as instruments to support affected countries in the Eurozone. However, the contrasting positions on this between the Eurozone countries were already part of the negotiations before the pandemic.

“Let’s hope that Corona won’t fall on our heads.”

My son said this sentence a while ago at dinner. He is currently reading the comic series “The Adventures of Asterix” by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, in which the phrase “Let’s hope that the sky won’t fall on our heads” sometimes appears. Of course, his variation of this phrase allows for several interpretations of the present situation. I would like to conclude with the following point. Sociological analysis and reflection can certainly contribute to illuminating the currently existing uncertainty. To look at society in its most diverse areas and facets, as well as offering suggestions for interactive, discursive, processual, or structural relations between them, is of great use in this crisis. It is therefore worthwhile to turn on our relational heads, in order to prevent them from getting a bump or much worse through the Coronavirus pandemic.


[1] Fligstein, N., Stuart Brundage, J. & Schultz, M. (2017) ’Seeing like the Fed: Culture, cognition, and framing in the failure to anticipate the financial crisis of 2008. American Sociological Review, 82(5):879–909.
[2] Hirschman, D. and Berman, E.P. (2014) ‘Do economists make policies? On the political effects of economics’. Socio-Economic Review, 12(4): 779–811.
[3] For an overview of the current debate see: Dépelteau, F. (ed) (2018) The Palgrave Handbook of Relational Sociology. Palgrave Macmillan/Springer.

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