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.
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.
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.
While Covid-19 measures have been detrimental to millions around the world, workers in the informal sector have been particularly affected. Through their SSRC-funded research, Ademola Ajuwon and Grace Ajuwon investigated how lockdown measures intended to prevent the spread of Covid-19 harmed the livelihoods of informal traders in Ibadan, Nigeria. Having conducted various interviews with informal traders, the authors describe how the measures disrupted traders’ income and businesses, and they argue an effective response to the pandemic requires government assistance.
SSRC Covid-19 grantees Timwa Lipenga and Hendrina Kachapila’s essay reflects on how governments in Malawi—both British colonial and contemporary independent—have attempted to deal with pandemics. The authors’ research on Spanish flu and smallpox campaigns under colonialism provides important background for understanding Malawi’s response to Covid 19, and how Malawians varyingly follow, resist, or avoid government mandates. A tendency to manage pandemics in a top-down manner, without adequate consultation with everyday people and how they view the nature of illness, is shared by regimes past and present.
In poor urban neighborhoods in Nairobi, Kenya, Covid-19 related restrictions have resulted in tremendous economic setbacks for residents. Through their SSRC-funded research, Anders Ese, Kristin Ese, Joseph Mukeku, Benjamin Sidori, and Romola Sanyal interviewed women traders to make connections between Covid-related setbacks, the practices of containment, and assistance provided by authorities. While the women they spoke to recognize that they often suffer unjustly at the hands of local officials, they also show notable support for both the restrictions and the powers that enforce them, helping cement long-standing and inequitable practices.
While transparency is often lauded as a positive dimension of government, it has the potential to have a deleterious impact on marginalized communities. Through their SSRC-funded research, Timothy Gitzen and Wonkeun Chun examine the impact of South Korea’s extensive public health surveillance system and the government’s efforts to make private information public on the LGBT+ community. Though intended to ensure public trust during the Covid-19 pandemic, the government’s unprecedented sharing of information opened the doors for discrimination.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the transition of many offices to remote work has led to new ways for employers to track workers’ movements, behavior, and productivity. Through their SSRC-funded research, Jessica Vitak and Michael Zimmer surveyed remote workers in the US about perceptions of current workplace monitoring practices. They argue that worker concerns about reductions in privacy and independence at work might have negative outcomes on worker productivity, satisfaction, and well-being.
Distrust in vaccines is not a new phenomenon and has existed since the first inoculations in the eighteenth century. Through her SSRC funded research, Allyson M. Poska investigated the Spanish Empire’s smallpox eradication campaign and how colonial subjects, particularly Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, in Spanish-controlled Peru resisted the government’s vaccination program. Vaccine hesitancy, Poska argues, was partly instigated by distrust of a colonial system that administered discriminatory policies and enforced slavery.