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.
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.
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.