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.
This series of essays, drawing on insights from research on disasters and public health crises, will highlight how social research can shed light on the mutual effects of social inequality and events such as the Covid-19 pandemic over time.
This theme of our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” essay series has been curated by Scott Gabriel Knowles, professor of history at Drexel University, and Alexa Dietrich, program director of the SSRC’s Scholarly Borderlands initiative, the Transregional Collaboratory on the Indian Ocean, and the Religion and the Public Sphere program.
Manuel Tironi and Sarah Kelly draw attention to the ways in which Indigenous communities in Chile are leveraging Territorial Control to prevent the spread of Covid-19 for the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series. Rather than relying on the logics of epidemiology to support these preventive actions, communities are appealing to the logics of sovereignty. While cautious about the temptation to draw simplistic and extractive “lessons learned” for Disaster Risk Reduction from the actions of the Mapuche and other Indigenous peoples, the authors describe how the lessons to be learned are about the need to decolonize disaster response, and to acknowledge the deep histories and shared knowledge that can provide communities with the resources to make effective public health and safety decisions for their people.
Continuing the “Disaster Studies” theme of the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Stephanie Russo Carroll, Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear, Randy Akee, Annita Lucchesi, and Jennifer Rai Richards demonstrate the need to understand the role of data as a mechanism of both oppression and liberation. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Indigenous Peoples are working to gain control of their tribal data to combat the erasure of their communities, and to advance data sovereignty. Through this work in the short-term, the authors describe how control over their own data will support access to needed resources in response to the pandemic. In the longer term, data sovereignty will help advance systemic change, and contribute to the larger goal of dismantling racism.
Inaugurating the “Disaster Studies” theme of our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Kathleen Tierney reflects on how major findings from social science research on disasters can help to contextualize and frame our understanding of the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, she looks at the importance of communication to the influence of social responses in hazardous circumstances, reminding us that society tends toward social solidarity, rather than disorganization and panic, in times of crises. Though many social practices, such as scapegoating, can further tear the fabric of society, disasters reveal and amplify not only inequality and vulnerability, but also potential strength. In moving forward, it will be vital to learn the lessons research on both aspects have to offer.
Given the global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems a crucial time to reflect, from the perspectives of those who have studied disasters and public health crises, on social science’s insights and its potential impact (positive and negative). In this introductory essay to the “Disaster Studies” theme of our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Alexa Dietrich and Scott Gabriel Knowles highlight how disaster research can shed light on the mutual effects of social inequality and disaster over time. Conversely, this theme will both explore how research through a disaster-focused lens can help us understand and address the preconditions and consequences that make the pandemic so devastating, and what can usefully be learned from the responses of institutions and communities worldwide that have most effectively reduced its impact, or that may signal hope for society’s future.