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.
In April 2020, in the midst of adapting virtually everything to the constraints imposed by the novel coronavirus, the Social Science Research Council announced a request for proposals for small rapid-response grants to support social science research on “the social, economic, cultural, psychological, and political impact of Covid-19 in the United States and globally, as well as responses to the pandemic’s wide-ranging effects.” The competition was open to PhD holders in the social sciences, the humanities, and related fields based anywhere around the world. To our astonishment, we received over 1,300 applications. In the end, a total of 62 projects were selected through a four-round peer-review process. These essays profile the results of their work.
While many aspects of this crisis are unprecedented, it has also been dramatically shaped by long-standing inequalities. When the Council announced the call for proposals, it was already glaringly apparent that while the pandemic would impact every aspect of society, the already marginalized would bear the brunt of its devastation. These essays will include examinations of the experiences of some of society’s most vulnerable populations. Other essays will investigate how the Covid-19 pandemic interacts with existing health disparities and ongoing environmental and social crises.
In addition to intensifying existing social injustices, the spread of Covid-19 and efforts to stem it have also created new challenges. Grantee essays will explore the various ways communities are responding to and coping with measures to stop the virus’s spread—lockdowns, social distancing guidelines, and the transition to remote work and education. The pandemic has highlighted the pivotal yet ambivalent role of technology in the Covid-19 era and several essays will examine how social media serves to maintain relationships, communicate information (and misinformation), and create virtual communities. Others will shed light on how the use of technology has exacerbated inequality and discrimination.
Taken together, the work of the Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant recipients illustrate the immense potential of the social sciences not only to elucidate the greatest challenges facing our society but also to lay a blueprint for how they might be overcome. A significant proportion of these essays will be international or transnational in focus, including many that will center on countries and communities in the global South. They examine the wide-ranging impacts of Covid-19—including on inequality, education, the workplace, health care, politics, and religious practices. We look forward to sharing their findings here.
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 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.
Student food insecurity has plagued Australian universities over the last decade and has only worsened with the Covid-19 pandemic. Through their SSRC-funded research, Jane Dyson, Craig Jeffrey, and Gyorgy Scrinis examine how the pandemic affected international students enrolled in universities in the Australian state of Victoria. International students, they explain, were particularly impacted by the pandemic due to their precarious work circumstances and being initially left out of state support initiatives.
Migrant farmworkers, many of whom belong to communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, are essential workers whose labor has kept people fed throughout the pandemic. In this essay based on their SSRC-funded research, Jennifer Bair and Kathryn Babineau report on the experiences of migrant farmworkers in Vermont’s dairy industry, analyzing the role that worker-driven organizing has played in supporting safer workplaces. When the pandemic hit, a civic infrastructure was already in place in the form of previously established groups that migrant workers trusted ready to disseminate information, testing, and eventually vaccines.