With this essay, SSRC president Alondra Nelson inaugurates the Council’s Covid-19 and the Social Sciences essay forum. The discussion of how to reopen our societies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic poses special questions for social researchers, she argues. How do the social conditions exposed, exacerbated, and created by the novel coronavirus demand that we substantively rethink our ideas of society and, therefore, some of the prevailing assumptions of social science?
Starting with SSRC president Alondra Nelson’s reflections on “Society after Pandemic,” this series of essays explores the human, social, political, and ethical dimensions of Covid-19. These pieces call attention to how social research can shed light on the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic and what can be done to improve responses, both now and in the future.
The publication of this series would not be possible if not for the help of the following SSRC staff:
Juni Ahari, communications and editorial assistant.
Cole Edick, program associate, Anxieties of Democracy and Media & Democracy programs.
Carrie Hamilton, program assistant, Social Data Initiative and Media & Democracy program.
Saarah Jappie, program officer, Transregional Collaboratory on the Indian Ocean.
Michelle Lee, program assistant, International Dissertation Research Fellowship.
Line Sidonie Talla Mafotsing, communications and editorial assistant, African Peacebuilding Network and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa.
Daniella Sarnoff, program director, International Dissertation Research Fellowship.
Catherine Weddig, program assistant, Social Data Initiative and Media & Democracy program.
Lori Peek and Alice Fothergill explore the healing contributions young people can make following major disasters. Based on over a decade of research, the authors reflect on the needs of children to regain a sense of control when faced with feelings of powerlessness, as well as the very real need to listen to children’s experiences when formulating public policy, risk communications, and disaster response. While the contributions of children should never be viewed as a replacement for effective emergency management, their knowledge, creativity, energy, enthusiasm, and social networks have the power to help themselves as well as others in the recovery process.
Jih-Fei Cheng and Claudia Garriga-López explore the importance of radical care work and the activism of queer and trans people of color in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Emphasizing the approach of “intravention,” or the pro-health and care actions of communities themselves the most at risk, Garriga-López and Cheng shed light on the deep community health work of protest, often underemphasized in discourse and the lauding of mutual aid efforts. They affirm the need for a broad movement to achieve liberation from institutional and socially sanctioned violence and show the need for radical and inclusive coalition-building to promote community health.
Danya Glabau examines the consequences of school closures for families, drawing out how two older and interlinked crises of the family are exacerbated by the pandemic: the crisis of the privatization of the family and the crisis of patriarchy within it. By looking at schools, daycare, and families as integral and integrated parts of the social safety net in the United States, Glabau argues that under pandemic circumstances (as with many disasters) families are largely expected to take care of themselves, relying on their own highly strained resources. Reflecting a larger pattern, women are frequently expected to take on the majority of added caretaking roles, labor that remains underfunded and invisible.
Madoka Fukuda examines what happened when Taiwan’s early and successful efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 got caught up in international politics. For more than seven decades, the People’s Republic of China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province, and since 1972 it has gradually won international recognition of its claim to be the only representative of China in the UN and other international organizations. Fukuda shows how the dispute blocked Taiwan from sharing information on its strategies for dealing with the pandemic in public international forums. However, at the same time, links between Taiwan and its democratic allies have been strengthened as the Taiwan model has shown how states can control the pandemic without compromising democratic principles.
Mirka Martel and Allan Goodman argue that, despite setbacks caused by Covid-19, the flow of college and university students across borders is resilient and will continue to be a vibrant feature of global higher education. Drawing on knowledge and experience of the Institute of International Education, the authors make the case for this optimism based on current data and prior histories of how universities and international student flows rebounded after previous global health crises.
In the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Korea was often hailed for its success in taming the spread of the virus through the use of ICT technologies that facilitated rapid tracing and notification of those who had encountered individuals who had tested positive. In this essay for the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Myungji Yang traces the development of disease prevention infrastructures in South Korea following lessons learned from experiences with earlier epidemics, showing how changes in both technology and law played important roles in its strategy. Yang also raises questions about the impact of the intrusive surveillance systems on individual privacy and freedom of movement.
Faced not just with the pandemic itself, but also with erroneous projections that Covid-19 would devastate their populations, African countries have gradually relaxed their public health restrictions. Through conversations with African professors, Duncan Omanga explores how universities in sub-Saharan Africa have responded with a blend of approaches that reveals the uneven higher education landscape both within and between African countries.
Disaster Studies as Politics with Other Means: Covid-19 and the Legacies of Cold War Disaster Researchby Cécile Stephanie Stehrenberger
Through an analysis of the influence of Cold War–era research and funding structures on modes of disaster research, Cécile Stehrenberger explains how and why the standard research approach to disasters is not perfectly translatable to studying the Covid-19 pandemic. She also speculates on how more recent turns in the study of slow disasters can pave the way to more policy-relevant work grounded in rigorous and ethical social science. By incorporating theoretical understandings of racial capitalism and gender inequality, for example, Stehrenberger suggests that rather than leaning into a rigid model of scientific research, disaster social science should recognize and embrace its potential for activist policy transformation.
Our video is vanishing by design and threatening the collective memory of the largest social justice movement in US history. At the same time, archiving this material raises a host of ethical dilemmas around user privacy and safety. Allissa V. Richardson calls for researchers to think critically about archiving social media video and preserving the voices of the marginalized.