As the Covid-19 pandemic has forced millions to remain in their homes and restricted the capacity of public spaces, people have turned to online spaces to continue all forms of social interactions. However, despite being heralded as a means to overcome social inequalities, the new “digital public spaces” have continued these inequalities. In this essay, Mona Sloane draws attention to how prepandemic inequalities, created by social, political, and economic dynamics, prevail in social isolation. These are exemplified, for example, through who has efficient internet access and who owns the websites and apps facilitating online social interaction. Sloane asks us to consider not just how prepandemic conditions shape digital spaces but also how they influence our understanding of these spaces and the meanings we ascribe to them.
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 the last several months, stories have emerged about the ways that Covid-19 has affected Buddhists in Asia. While the long-term consequences on religious communities remain unclear, scholars are reporting on the effects of the pandemic on Buddhist practices across Asia.
In 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) published the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework report. The R2P framework, which was adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2005 in the World Summit Outcome document, stipulates that the international community has an inherent obligation to intervene within other sovereign states with a view to countering the commission of mass atrocity crimes “for the purpose of protecting people at risk.”
Testing and models, medical and educational, have come under scrutiny during the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the conversation on the challenges of educational testing. Here, William Dardick looks at the reliability, validity, and fairness of educational assessments, and how these varied characteristics all factor into how policymakers employ testing and their results.
Claudia Landwehr, Christopher Ojeda, and Oliver Tüscher ask how the effects on mental health from the Covid-19 crisis might be related to political participation. Drawing on recent studies, they find a strong relationship between the Covid-19 crisis and depressive symptoms. Holding this evidence up against US and European surveys demonstrating lower probability of voter turnout with increasing depressive symptoms, they suggest that Covid-19 may decrease political participation via declining mental health. They call for new strategies for mitigating depression’s impact on political participation and to reinvigorate participation in its aftermath.
Mediating Negative Narratives about Race in the Black Press and Social Media in a Public Health Crisisby Kim Gallon
The Black Press in the United States has a long history of countering negative racialization of Black people’s health. In keeping with this history, the Black Press was among the first voices to productively racialize the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting the long-standing health disparities stemming from centuries of structural inequality. This productive racialization of public health—which extends to social media—constructs intersectional counternarratives, defying histories that position people of color as hosts of disease.
In Zheng Wang’s contribution to our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, he examines how the pandemic shapes relations between countries when governments deploy it as a symbolic tool of statecraft. He first discusses how a rhetoric of blame for the spread of the coronavirus has deepened tensions between China and the United States. He then contrasts this with the interactions between China and Japan in the early stages of the pandemic. Japan’s provisions of masks to China, and the use of a Chinese poem on the shipping packages, helped reduce tensions in a relationship historically marked by distrust and suspicion.
What does it mean to wage a war against disease? Martial metaphors have pervaded the news since January 2020 when the coronavirus began to spread, from the rhetoric of political leaders to the imagery around the effort to contain the virus. Joining Jenny Reardon and Tim Hwang in examining these militaristic metaphors, Robert Peckham argues that such metaphors prevent us from engaging with the complexity of the pandemic and its long-term effects.
Many Americans have turned to astrology, the study of correlations between celestial patterns and temporal events, to make sense of tumultuous times. Despite reports of popular astrologers called out for failing to predict Covid-19, astrological services are in high demand. From private consultations to horoscopic forecasts across multiple media, people are eager to know when the pandemic will end and how it will affect their lives in the long run.
For the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Ilmari Käihkö reflects on the effects of distance. Mirroring the author’s experience of research impacted by the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Covid-19 too has forced a reckoning with the emergence of “new normalities” and the physical and social distancing imposed by viruses. Käihkö not only considers the work of ethnography from a distance, but also weighs the effects—and affects—of researching and writing in isolation.