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.
Contact tracing proved an invaluable tool during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in many US states to help curtail the virus’s spread and inform those potentially exposed. However, many of these efforts did not consider how information gathering can also be an opportunity for information sharing. Alex Sanchez, Theo Loftis, Jenny Lee, Amelia Mauldin, Andrea Ngan, Bo Guang, and Jessa Lingel, through interviews with tracers and tracees in Philadelphia and Providence, examine the dynamics present when people are contacted about their health information and suggest interventions for the problems encountered.
Protests have been a constant during the Covid-19 pandemic and Brazil is no exception. Here, Rafael de Souza examines the tactics and rhetoric of protesters in Brazil, looking at anti- and pro-lockdown demonstrations in the context of a polarized political scene. Using data gathered on the number of protests around the country, he exemplifies how the Brazilian right takes the streets early on the pandemic to spread their pro-Bolsonaro and anti-social distancing rhetoric until the opposition regrouped and started counterprotests.
Rachel Voth Schrag and Leila Wood’s research, supported by an SSRC Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant, focused on how the pandemic affected survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual harassment, and the work of advocacy and support organizations, in the United States. In “balancing safety from violence with safety from the virus” at a moment in which domestic and sexual violence intensified, key focal points for survivors and advocates included the constraints on emergency shelters and the shift to virtual services by support organizations. The authors argue that public support of both housing and technology is needed for survivors’ needs to be better addressed in the future.
For years, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Venezuelans have been leaving their country due to rising economic insecurity and political conflict. Now, due to the pandemic, many face new or heightened forms of precarity, in particular as they seek work in countries in which their skills may not match labor market needs, or as they are excluded from opportunities due to their outsider status. Here, Mariya Ivancheva and Jesica Lorena Pla examine how Venezuelan migrants in Argentina worked through the pandemic, eliciting and analyzing their reflections on job security and sense of stability, as well as how their experiences in Venezuela shape their views of Argentina and back home.
Vulnerable Bodies, Enduring Lives: Occupational Lung Diseases in the Context of Turkey’s Covid-19 Pandemicby Başak Can, Zeynel Gül and Arda Yalçın
Among those deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic were people suffering from chronic illnesses, like silicosis, a respiratory disease. In this essay, Başak Can, Zeynel Gül and Arda Yalçın examine how workers in Turkey suffering from silicosis navigate the hurdles created by the pandemic, including being unable to access routine medical care and job precarity. However, the authors found these workers used self-care practices and mobilized their networks to survive the pandemic the best they could.
The Covid-19 pandemic has especially disrupted the lives of people living with chronic illnesses and disabilities and those who care for them. Here, Laura Mauldin examines how the spouses of people living with chronic illnesses and disabilities navigated the care of their loved ones during the pandemic. Through ethnographic research, Mauldin explains how these caregiving spouses took on the brunt of care for their loved ones due to lockdown restrictions and fears of bringing the virus into their homes. The experiences of these patients and their caretakers, Mauldin argues, have been made invisible by both the pandemic and existing policies that do not value caregivers.
In a pandemic, what counts as and how we count impact is fundamentally social and political. In their essay for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Robert Soden, Jacqueline Wernimont, and Scott Gabriel Knowles suggest that we must more accurately account for a broad range of ways in which the labor of caring is happening in response to the pandemic, from care of acutely ill patients to the work of mutual aid collaborators seeking to address social inequalities magnified by the pandemic. The authors call for multimethod research that allows for qualitative insight to give depth to quantitative data, in order to ensure that new policies address the underlying problems that may be obscured by numerical research alone.
In this essay, Patricia Van Katwyk and Veen Wong examine the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on personal support workers in Ontario, Canada. The authors share findings from their SSRC-supported research, which leveraged photovoice—a form of community-based storytelling using images—to facilitate the sharing of experiences characterized by precarity and grief.
A Nice Home Is Not Always Safe: Pandemic Inequalities and Precarious Foreign Domestic Work in Singapore and Hong Kongby Dyah Pitaloka and Frenia Nababan
Based on their research supported by an SSRC Covid-19 Rapid Response Grant, Dyah Pitaloka and Frenia Nababan describe the situation of foreign domestic workers (FDWs), focusing on Indonesian women working in Hong Kong and Singapore, under lockdown conditions. Now confined to their employers’ homes, work demands have increased, and FDWs are forced to use potentially dangerous cleaning products to sanitize the domestic space of their bosses. The authors argue that Covid did not create these precarities in the working conditions of FDWs, but exacerbates existing social structural features of the host societies that marginalize migrant workers, and especially women.