In this “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” essay, Domingo Morel investigates the relationship between the Covid-19 crisis, social inequality in the United States, and public schools. He argues that certain education reform movements in recent history have left public schools, which disproportionately serve low-income communities of color, particularly vulnerable to a global pandemic. Morel finds that efforts to “reimagine” public education in this moment are not attentive to the needs of these vulnerable schools and communities. He asserts that this is a violation of the equal right to education that should be guaranteed in a democratic society.
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.
The first time I saw one of the sewn fabric masks that have now become so popular during the coronavirus pandemic was not in the United States, where I currently live, but in Venezuela. It was March 2020. My mother-in-law had just gotten internet in her home in a small city in the Venezuelan Andes, and my partner and I were able to have our first video call with her. She told us how a public health official had come to her home, reminding her to get tested at the local clinic free-of-charge, while her neighbor had sewn masks for the entire block. The cloth mask hid her expressions of concern as she asked about our health and the rates of infection in the United States.
Covid-19 is among the deadliest pandemics the world has experienced in recent history. The African continent has, thus far, fared comparatively well with just under 150,000 confirmed infections and about 5,000 fatalities as of early June 2020. Even so, the heavy economic, social, and emotional toll of the pandemic on the continent is already clear, and some analysts estimate that the situation will worsen in the coming months. Given its underresourced health-care systems and lack of social safety nets, Africa’s best hope for mitigating the spread of Covid-19 lies in community-based prevention efforts. This will require very strong locally led campaigns of information dissemination, along with community mobilization and sensitization.
Writing for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Shobana Shankar reflects on how the pandemic has thrown into question basic assumptions that emotions impede knowledge-creation and dissemination. She explores instead how we might consider how emotions and their manipulation are part of social norms, including norms of scholarly work; and how the disclosure of emotions that affect our perception and presentation of research, along with privilege and positionality, is the new ethical turn in a landscape of research insecurity.
Jenny Reardon, in her contribution to the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, argues that the metaphors of war and battle in fighting Covid-19, now commonplace, can have their own problematic effects on how we imagine and act in the face of the pandemic. The “us vs. them” imagery that war metaphors promote pulls us away from veracity—“trustworthy truths” that foreground human (and nonhuman) relations and interdependencies. The pandemic provides an opportunity, Reardon argues, to mobilize veracity for a more just post–Covid-19 future.
In this “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” essay, Jake Haselswerdt asks how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect political participation, particularly voting, in the United States. Comparing the current pandemic to the financial and housing crisis of 2008—a year in which the United States held a high-turnout election—Haselswerdt debunks the notion that when Americans’ lives are disrupted by crisis, they are mobilized to turn out to vote against incumbents. Drawing on recent research about “personal crisis,” he finds that it can actually demobilize citizens as they divert their time and energy to more basic needs. Importantly, the specific constraints of a pandemic—from lockdowns to loss of life—are likely to have additional demobilizing effects.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, jails and prisons have become particularly vulnerable to the spread of the novel coronavirus, putting millions of incarcerated people at risk. In this essay for the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, David C. Pyrooz, Ryan M. Labrecque, Jennifer J. Tostlebe, and Bert Useem draw on their research in Oregon facilities, and reflect on the complex issues of doing research with prisoners under pandemic conditions. They report on prisoners’ sense of safety given the health risks inside prisons and speak to efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a reckoning with the deep inequalities in the United States. Racism and poverty are life-and-death matters. But the virus also reveals what has long been unraveling in this country—a universal approach to the provision of public goods, infrastructures, and services. As an anthropologist who works on infrastructural politics in Lebanon and lives and teaches in California, I realize there are deep vulnerabilities that come with fragmented, patchwork approaches to the provision of essential services. Not only does the United States lack a public system that guarantees medical care, but there has been a lack of basic coordination between federal, state, and local jurisdictions.
The prolonged Covid-19 lockdown in Uganda is exacting a huge toll on the people’s resilience. Although the pandemic is global, it is experienced differentially in various countries and locales around the world. Preventive measures such as lockdowns have a long history as nonpharmaceutical interventions to blunt the force of extreme mortality events. However, there is much that is new about the present Covid-19 crisis.
This article explores the impact of Covid-19, including the government’s response to the pandemic, on military counterinsurgency operations in northeast Nigeria. Prior to the pandemic, Nigeria’s counterinsurgency operation in the region had not been impressive despite a budgetary expenditure of over NGN 4 trillion allocated to the defense sector since 2009. The successes of the operations have been short lived despite the government’s claims that Boko Haram fighters have been “technically defeated.” The floundering counterinsurgency operations before and during the spread of Covid-19 to Nigeria could be attributed to a number of factors. These range from poor strategic planning and tactics, lack of weapons and logistics supplies, and delays in the payment of salaries. Others include poor welfare packages, allegations of corruption, and poor coordination of the security agencies involved in planning and executing military operations.