In his essay for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Evan Lieberman writes about the influence of social diversity on the politics of infectious disease control. How does the articulation of ethnic, racial, and national boundaries impede effective policy responses? Using the AIDS crisis as a comparative case-study, Lieberman asks if data that emphasize ethnic, racial, and national categories—while they may be intended to highlight and mitigate disparities—have the potential to stigmatize vulnerable groups during a pandemic. He calls on social science to investigate how such categories influence risk perceptions, citizen behaviors, and government responses.
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.
In her contribution to the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” essay series, An Ansoms reflects on how universities and scientific institutions can support researchers working in crisis contexts. Unpicking the toll that such contexts can take on researchers, Ansoms lays out an institutional strategy for providing support through training, coaching, and care. By undertaking a deliberate strategy for developing resilience, institutions can ensure that researchers are able to cope with the emotional challenges posed by carrying out research in times and places of crisis.
Research in Insecure Times and Places: Ethics of Social Research for Emerging Ecologies of Insecurityby Tatiana Carayannis and Annalisa Bolin
As part of the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” essay series, this theme on “Social Research and Insecurity” brings together scholars from across the social sciences to examine our longstanding research practices and develop new ones in response to the insecurity that Covid-19 has created. In this introductory essay, Tatiana Carayannis and Annalisa Bolin outline the new valences of research in the pandemic era, from security challenges for both researchers and researched to new methodologies for gathering data remotely and the need to reflect on the changing roles of institutions. Throughout this theme, researchers with experience working in contexts of insecurity provide a roadmap for both the pitfalls of and possible solutions for navigating research in the age of the coronavirus.
The challenge of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic is immense for poor countries like Eritrea. Eritrea has always depended on its people in responding to crises situations. This time, Eritreans are being effectively mobilized to confront the Covid-19 pandemic. On March 21, 2020, Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, confirmed the news that an Eritrean who had returned from Norway had become the country’s first case of Covid-19. Eritrea announced and implemented a twenty-one-day nationwide lockdown beginning April 2. This was in addition to previously announced measures including the closure of airports, seaports, and land borders.
Amid the ongoing Covid-19 carnage, there are fears that Africa will be blown apart by the virus. World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a chilling warning to African countries: “The best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst.” It was not an idle warning. Africa has been the stage for pandemics before. Besides, as two French doctors unconsciously expressed on television, sub-Saharan Africa is occasionally where ethical boundaries are pushed when developing vaccines. Meanwhile, many global media outlets are foretelling another African disaster.
Covid-19 has not only overstretched the existing boundaries of scientific inquiry, it has made us realize that all knowledge is incomplete. As Francis Nyamnjoh aptly notes, “incompleteness is the normal order of things, and that conviviality invites us to celebrate and preserve incompleteness and mitigate the delusions of grandeur that come with ambitions and claims of [knowledge] completeness.”
Covid-19 has affected all forms of social and economic activity in and around the world. In response to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, governments have been forced to implement the global standard measures to curb the contagion. These measures include social distancing, quarantine, partial or total lockdown, and other restrictive measures. However, differences in context are often ignored in applying these measures, when there ought to be some modification of certain measures in some places.
Writing for the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Jonathan S. Hack and Cole Edick examine the deference of the judiciary toward other branches of government during crises, such as the ongoing pandemic. How deferential will courts be toward broad government action by executives and legislatures that restrict rights and liberties in the name of ensuring public health and safety? Pointing to historical precedent and recent coronavirus-related cases brought before the judiciary in the United States, they argue that courts are likely to act as legitimating agents that promote and expand state police power in times of crisis.
In this essay for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Miguel Centeno reviews T.H. Marshall’s trilogy of civil, political, and social rights, raising questions about how such rights might be affected during major systemic crises. Can democracies successfully manage systemic challenges under global crisis conditions, with attention to each set of rights? Are some rights easier to defend than others during crises? And, when is the collective good allowed to supersede individual freedoms? He calls for democratic theory to answer these questions, arguing that systemic crises represent a similar challenge to democracy as natural disaster or war.
Given the challenges that many African countries face with weak health systems, the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on public health, peace, and security on the continent are dire.