For “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences,” Fotini Christia and Chappell Lawson address changes in research and impacts of the pandemic…
Covid-19 threatens millions of people and has forced governments to adopt radical lockdown measures, risking unprecedented economic downturn. However, these measures draw upon a scarce resource: people’s discipline and willingness to put their lives on hold. Once patience wanes and restrictions trigger a blowback, no democratic government can enforce strict lockdown measures against a majority of its citizens. Here, Claudia Landwehr and Armin Schäfer explore policy decisions and their effects in the United States, United Kingdom, Hungary, Poland, and Germany. Each case study highlights the intersection between leadership and democratic governance and how these influence a country’s ability to combat Covid-19.
Jamie Monson, writing for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, reflects on the transregionality that characterizes the Covid-19 era. The pandemic, she notes, has further underscored the imbalances of power and resources that structure relations among transregional partners in research collaborations. She argues that the pandemic requires us to take a hard look at the resource divides that constrain fully equitable participation in transregional social science research and calls for investments in robust and sustainable transregional research networks as an antidote to these inequalities.
In this “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” essay, Rosemary Taylor delves into comparisons of Covid-19 with other major diseases in world history, from the Spanish Flu to SARS. She notes that history often fails to teach leaders and experts the “lessons” we might expect, arguing that institutional actors are likely to hold on to longstanding, culturally ingrained methods of disease management. She notes that new popular understandings about diseases (such as animal-human transition) have led to complicated policy responses with mixed results, concluding that while history may not always clearly tell us what to do, it can warn us about impending challenges. Importantly, it reminds us to pay close attention to repairing social conditions that made us vulnerable to a pandemic in the first place.
Historian Andy Horowitz reminds us that disasters are never simply events confined to a particular time or set of circumstances in this contribution to the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series. Using the notion of “pre-existing conditions,” a phrase typically confined more narrowly to analyze individual health outcomes, Horowitz questions how we assign a beginning to the pandemic. Our choices in this regard will influence how the story of the pandemic is told, who is assigned blame for what, and what are indeed the lessons to be learned from the experience. He also suggests that in times that feel “unprecedented,” it is all the more important to use history as a way to understand the present and chart a path to the future.
For many observers in the United States, the political actions of Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil may appear to mimic US president Donald Trump’s disregard for science-informed policy and admiration for exclusionary nationalism. However, Marcos Cueto shows in this essay for the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series that Bolsonaro’s actions must be understood in a broader Brazilian context of history, politics, and health policy. Cueto illustrates the influence of longstanding public health policies that focus on technological interventions without addressing social determinants, and finds a continuity with the perspective of the state as a whole toward public health, a tendency to rely on vertical authority structures, and Bolsonaro’s approach to the pandemic, including his evidence-defying embrace of the drug chloroquine.
In the latest contribution to the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Xi Song addresses how the models and methods that focus on social mobility can help us think about the effects of Covid-19 pandemic in the short and long-term. Song takes us through a brief history of social mobility research, and its focus on changes in mobility over time, across generations, and in different locations. She then explores the kinds of social mobility questions that Covid-19 raises, both in the short-term for households that have suffered from the virus, and the longer-term impacts of this “exogenous shock” on patterns of employment trajectories, income, consumption, and beyond.
In the name of urban growth Mexico City officials have approved “self-devouring” infrastructure projects, displacing and endangering residents and threatening the city’s very survival. For the “Layered Metropolis” series, Dean Chahim examines how the El Ángulo dam exposes the dangerous dynamic of a weakened state confronting (or not confronting) the forces of mobile global capitalism. While Chahim’s research is grounded in the specific history and realities of Mexico City’s complex drainage system, his analysis reveals much more general contours of the potentially lethal relationship between the pressures of global capital interests and development in dense urban spaces.
In his contribution to the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Robert Soden describes how mutual aid groups are more effectively responding to the pandemic with the help of a broad range of technological and social media tools. Using the insights of crisis informatics, he draws out connections between traditional community organizing, disaster response, data privacy, disinformation, and social and racial justice. In addition to considering the importance of understanding this community work and strategies for the current moment, Soden looks ahead to a postpandemic world, urging researchers and communities alike to be sure to use what is learned now to forge a just “new normal” for the future.
In their contribution to the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Larry Au, Zheng Fu and Chuncheng Liu examine how experts and expertise have been drawn upon in predicting the path of the pandemic and how to respond to it in China, Hong Kong, and the United States. The authors draw on their ongoing research that traces media accounts of the role of expert knowledge in all three places, and discuss how different kinds of expertise engage with different audiences: with the state in China, with civil society in Hong Kong, and with both in the United States.
Kanisha D. Bond, Milli Lake, and Sarah E. Parkinson offer four lessons from conflict research for the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series. Based on their own extensive backgrounds conducting fieldwork in insecure places, the authors outline several points for researchers newly grappling with pandemic-induced insecurity: that crisis heightens conditions of vulnerability and inequality, that fieldwork is perpetually fraught, that researchers must demonstrate restraint, and that empathy is key. Keeping these lessons in mind, they argue, will help researchers to center the concerns of those at the margins and produce research that is both methodologically and ethically sound.