New book now out – COVID Societies: Theorising the Coronavirus Crisis

The third in my series of books about the social aspects of COVID-19 is out today. COVID Societies: Theorising the Coronavirus Crisis can be ordered from Routledge here and a preview of its contents can be viewed at Google Books here. The abstracts for each chapter are listed below.

INTRODUCTION: COVID societies

The COVID-19 crisis has provoked intense and far-reaching socioeconomic changes globally as well as posing a major threat to human health and wellbeing. This introductory chapter introduces the rationale for the book, addressing the question of why sociocultural theories and historical perspectives are so important to make sense of how the COVID catastrophe erupted and created so much turmoil worldwide. The chapter also provides an outline of the content of the remainder of the book, detailing the topics and theoretical perspectives on which each of the ensuing chapters focus. These include discussions of the political economy perspective; biopolitics; risk society and cultures; gender and queer theory; and more-than-human theory.

1          COVID IN CONTEXT: Histories and narratives of health, risk and contagion

Major new or recurring infectious disease outbreaks are always accompanied by significant sociocultural and political disruptions and transformations. These crises often call into question ways of viewing and living in the world, as well as exposing and entrenching forms of social discrimination and inequalities. This chapter provides an overview of the historical, sociocultural and political contexts of the COVID-19 crisis. Medical historians, sociologists, anthropologists and cultural geographers have shown that social, cultural and political responses to the emergence or return of deadly pathogens often bring to the surface hidden, unacknowledged or long-established beliefs and practices. The chapter demonstrates how these perspectives have offered much of value in relation to the analysis of the sociocultural and political dimensions of previous serious infectious diseases. This discussion is followed by an account of how the new virus SARS-CoV-2 and the new disease COVID-19 emerged in the early months of 2020 and developments in the pandemic throughout 2020 and into 2021.

2          THE MACROPOLITICS OF COVID: A political economy perspective

Political economy critiques adopt a macropolitical perspective, drawing on Marxist theory as well as feminist critiques, critical disability studies, critical race theory and postcolonial theory to highlight the social determinants of health and healthcare and the role played by medical expertise and authority in society. A political economy perspective incorporates the discussion of social justice issues, inequalities and the exacerbation of socioeconomic disadvantage caused by the pandemic, including the disproportionate effects on low-income countries and marginalised social groups. Indeed, some commentators have argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced a ‘crisis of care’, in which the failings of neoliberal political and privatised approaches to public health surveillance systems and healthcare delivery across the world have been shockingly revealed. This chapter shows how neoliberal and free market capitalist political systems have been called to account and disrupted by the COVID crisis but have also operated to protect the privileged and further entrench inequalities in COVID societies. The concepts of medical dominance, the social determinants of health and globalisation are explained and applied to the COVID crisis.

3          THE BIOPOLITICS OF COVID: Foucauldian approaches

COVID-19 governance at the level of the state raises questions about how power is exerted and experienced and how it may be productive as well as repressive. This chapter delves more deeply into the complexities of these tensions and conflicts, using perspectives drawn from the scholarship of the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault to trace the historical underpinnings of contemporary approaches and responses to the COVID crisis. Various levels of control over citizens’ bodies and movements have been exerted and rationales for limiting individual freedoms put forward to protect the health of the body politic. Foucauldian theory offers concepts for understanding these relations of power. The scholarship of philosophers Giorgio Agamben and his concepts of bare life and states of exception, Roberto Esposito and his notions of affirmative biopolitics and immunitary mechanisms, and Achille Mbembe and his writings on necropolitics is also outlined. This discussion is followed by an account of Foucauldian viewpoints on the biopolitical dimensions of COVID societies have been developed, including discussion of how these theorists analysed social and governmental responses to the crisis.

4          RISK AND COVID: Risk society and risk cultures

The COVID-19 crisis is suffused with discourses, practices and emotions related to people’s reactions to risk and uncertainty. This chapter focuses on sociologist Ulrich Beck’s risk society perspective and anthropologist Mary Douglas’ cultural/symbolic approach to risk. Concepts from Beck’s scholarship, including reflexive modernisation, individualisation and cosmopolitanism, and Douglas’ work on the cultures of risk, blame and symbolic boundary control are explained and applied in an analysis of risk and uncertainty in COVID societies. The chapter shows that the risk discourses and practices circulating within and between regions and countries globally involve an affectively compelling combination of concepts of embodiment, contagion, danger and morality. The COVID crisis can be considered both a pre-industrial, fateful event and a late modern risk society phenomenon.

5          QUEERING COVID: Insights from gender and queer theory

This chapter introduces insights from scholarship in gender and queer theory and shows how they can be productively applied to an analysis of embodiment and socialities in COVID-19 times. While contemporary queer theory has its roots in critical studies of gender and sexuality, it has since expanded well beyond these origins. There are many intersections and overlaps between gender and queer theory, and both reach into many related fields: including queer necropolitics, queer death studies, crip studies, fat studies and critical animal studies. The major precepts of these intertwined bodies of literature are explained, with reference to the influential scholarship of philosophers such as Mel Chen, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Julia Kristeva. These extensions of gender and queer theory and what they offer for analysis of the COVID crisis are considered in this chapter. They critically analyse aspects of discourse, affect and embodiment to ‘queer the pandemic’: that is, to highlight disjunctures and invisibilities in the ways with which COVID has been portrayed and dealt and to provide further insights into the nature of lived experience in COVID societies. In identifying how these responses might be subject to contestation and change, contributors to gender and queer theory scholarship imagine better and more inclusive futures.

6          MORE-THAN-HUMAN COVID WORLDS: Sociomaterial perspectives

Given the intertwined dimensions of human and nonhuman relations and connections, the crushing impact of the COVID-19 crisis extends well beyond human lives and agencies. Scholars and researchers are beginning to engage with the body of scholarship that I refer to as ‘more-than-human theory’ (alternative terms used are ‘new materialisms’ or ‘the critical posthumanities’). There are various varieties of more-than-human theory. In the discussion presented here, I focus specifically on the scholarship that builds on non-western cosmologies (particularly Indigenous and First Nations philosophies) and the feminist materialism perspectives offered by western philosophers Rosi Braidotti, Donna Haraway, Karen Barad and Jane Bennett. These philosophies advance a non-anthropocentric approach to understanding human existence. The implications of this approach for understanding the complexities and dynamism of COVID societies are outlined in this chapter. More-than-human theory is applied to better understand the affective forces and relational connections that are generated with and through humans’ encounters with nonhuman agents. I discuss the assemblages of humans and nonhumans that have come together and come apart as the COVID crisis unfolded. As I show, such an approach expands the One Health perspective in productive ways.

CONCLUSION: Reflections on COVID futures

This brief conclusion chapter summarises the key insights offered by COVID Societies, and then moves towards a future-oriented discussion. It is noted that throughout the book, a series of intertwined threads cross back and forth between the macropolitical and micropolitical dimensions of COVID-19: contagion, death, risk, uncertainty, fear, social inequalities, stigma, blame and power relations. Overarching these threads are five complementary themes: the historicity of COVID societies; the tension between local specificities and globalising forces; the control and management of human bodies; the boundary between Self and Other; and the continuously changing sociomaterial environments in which the world is living with and through the shocks of the COVID crisis. At this point in the pandemic, only uncertainty seems certain. As we learn to live with and through COVID, we must work towards better conditions for people across geographical regions. Acknowledging our vulnerability and using this knowledge to better care for the more-than-human worlds in which we are emplaced is a way forward to care more deeply about ourselves and our fellow species.

The three COVID books

Arguing on Facebook about COVID: a case study of key beliefs, rationales and strategies

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, social media platforms have become well-known for both disseminating misinformation and conspiracy theories as well as acting as valuable information sources concerning the novel coronavirus and governments’ efforts to manage and contain COVID. Facebook in particular – the world’s most popular social media site – has been singled out as a key platform for naysayers such as anti-vaccination exponents and ‘sovereign citizens’ to express their resentment at containment measures such as lockdowns, quarantine and self-isolation regulations, vaccination mandates and face-covering rules.

What rationales and beliefs underpin these arguments? How and to what extent are they contested or debated on Facebook? What rhetorical strategies are employed by commentators to attempt to persuade others that their views/facts are correct?

To explore these questions, I chose a case study of a short video (2 minutes 5 seconds long) shared by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Facebook on 19 February 2022. I came across the video three days after it was published on the platform as part of my routine Facebook use. It turned up in my feed because a Facebook friend of mine had shared it (which it how the average Facebook user is presented with content from organisations like WHO if they don’t follow these accounts themselves.) I noticed how much engagement this post had received in those three days. There were 6,000 reactions: including 5k likes but also 551 laughing face emojis (suggesting viewers found the video content risible), 1.2k comments, 2.2k shares and 244k views. I decided to delve into the comments thread to see what people were saying in response to the video.

WHO’s official Facebook page has a huge follower base: at the time that I viewed this video, their page listed over 14 million likes and over 38 million followers. It is clearly a highly trusted Facebook presence. Many of its posts have thousands of reactions (the use of emojis to respond to posts), likes, comments and shares. WHO shares content at least once a day and often more frequently: most of this content is made by WHO itself in its role to communicate preventive health messages globally. In reviewing their latest content, it is evident that WHO has a very busy and accomplished team making their social media content.

The video featured two WHO experts: Dr Mike Ryan (pictured above from the opening section of the video) and Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, both of whom feature regularly in WHO’s social media content. Ryan was introduced in a caption as ‘ED, WHO Health Emergencies Programme’ and Van Kerkhove as ‘COVID-19 technical lead, WHO Health Emergencies Programme’.

In this video, both people spoke to camera as if to an unseen interviewer, explaining why they were concerned about governments beginning to loosen COVID restrictions too quickly.

The written introduction to the video stated:

Some countries are lifting all public health and social measures despite high numbers of COVID-19 cases/deaths. Dr Mike Ryan and Dr Maria Van Kerkhove explain why a slow approach is better.

Ryan and Van Kerkhove went on to use simple English to acknowledge that there is a strong desire on the part of governments and citizens to ‘open up’ and remove all COVID restrictions and ‘go back to normal’. They warn, however, that such actions could lead to the pandemic continuing ‘much longer than it needs to be’ due to ‘the political pressure to open up’ in ‘some situations’, and that replacing abandoned control measures would be difficult if a new variant emerged. Ryan and Van Kerkhove emphasise the importance of ‘a slow, step-wise approach’ to lifting COVID restrictions rather than an ‘all-or-nothing approach’ that ‘many countries’ are adopting at this point in the COVID crisis.

Both speakers are careful not to single out individual leaders or governments for criticism in these quite vague statements, leaving it up to the viewer to make a judgement about exactly to which ‘situation’ they are referring. These experts also ‘acknowledge uncertainty’ and that their concerns may be unfounded but emphasise the need for caution. They note that they do not ‘blame anyone’ for feeling confused, given the continual flux in governments’ COVID measures. Van Kerkhove ends by stating firmly that ‘you [the video viewers] have control over this’ regardless of government actions and then Ryan chimes in by asking ‘every individual just to look at your situation’ and ‘be smart, protect yourself, protect others, get vaccinated and just be safe and careful’.

There’s a lot that could be said about the statements made by these two WHO experts in this video: the veiled critique of ‘many countries” government actions and health communication efforts, the focus on individual responsibility in the face of government inaction and lack of responsibility. But I wanted to direct my attention to the more than 1,000 comments Facebook users wrote in response to this video.

I noticed first that comments came from all over the world – evidence again of the global reach and popularity of Facebook. When commentors were responding to each other, therefore, there were many examples of someone in Asia, South America or Africa engaging with Facebook users located in the USA, Australia, Canada, Europe or the UK.

Another observation was that a vigorous debate was occurring in the comments section, with supporters of the video’s messages seeking to argue with those who decried what they saw as an overly cautious or even unscientific argument from the WHO experts. Those who did not support the WHO’s points made such arguments as (my paraphrasing):

  • opening up will help the economy – people need jobs
  • people’s lives need to get back to ‘normal’
  • most populations are now adequately vaccinated, so there is no need for further restrictions
  • governments are lying to their citizens and spreading false information as a way of exerting greater control over them
  • the novel coronavirus does not exist and nor does COVID
  • it is risk to one’s health to wear masks for prolonged periods of time
  • other health conditions kill more people than COVID
  • COVID mass testing and mass vaccination have been conducted as a profit-making enterprise serving Big Pharma and governments
  • WHO’s facts are wrong and they are spreading lies and fear, trying to promote their own interests for political purposes
  • WHO has shown little leadership during the pandemic and is ineffectual
  • face masks give a false sense of security and are useless as a preventive measure
  • people who follow government restrictions are being controlled and can’t think for themselves
  • the pandemic has been going on for two years and governments and health agencies like WHO are still not controlling it adequately
  • the person commenting does not like to feel forced to do anything by government authorities, especially if restrictions/mandates do not help the situation (in their view) – ‘my body, my choice’
  • even vaccinated people can still become infected with or transmit the coronavirus, fall ill or die of COVID – they are therefore pointless
  • COVID is ‘real’ but controllable like influenza or no worse than the common cold
  • governments who continue to impose restrictions/mandates are ‘Socialist’
  • people’s immune systems can be strengthened without vaccines due to basic health promoting strategies
  • people are dying from being given too many COVID vaccines (including children), not from the disease itself
  • vaccines are ‘bioweapons’
  • the medical establishment and the government are forcing COVID vaccines on people and hiding evidence of their serious side-effects
  • there is a difference between ‘dying with COVID’ and ‘dying from COVID’ – governments and health agencies are deliberately obscuring this
  • people need to be freed from living in fear
  • scientists and medical experts are controlled by governments to serve political agendas
  • ‘commonsense’ practices such as eating a healthy diet, taking Vitamin D and washing hands regularly will adequately protect against COVID

People who supported the points made by the WHO experts in the video tended to be reactive in their comments, responding to the naysayers using such rationales as:

  • COVID is a real threat and has killed many people – we still need to be cautious to protect ourselves and others
  • even though the situation seems to be improving in many countries, new variants could emerge that could pose major challenges
  • scientific and medical knowledge and expertise should be trusted over other information sources
  • many people are still dying
  • opening up too quickly will lead to many more deaths globally
  • vaccines do protect against serious disease and death and everyone should accept them: the benefits outweigh any risk
  • face masks are important protective agents against infection (just as shoes, for example, protect against foot injuries)
  • people who don’t want to conform to COVID restrictions/mandates are being selfish and don’t understand the importance of self-sacrifice to protect others
  • wearing face masks and getting vaccinated are small sacrifices to make for the greater good and saving others’ lives as well as self-protection
  • economies are damaged if too many workers become ill from COVID and can’t go to work
  • the person commenting still feels at high risk from COVID and is happy to continue to engage in preventive measures such as wearing masks and accepting vaccination
  • young children have not yet been protected by COVID vaccination in many countries and therefore are vulnerable to infection
  • mass vaccination programs have worked well globally to protect people against other serious diseases, such as polio
  • people who support dropping all restrictions are engaging in magical thinking or do not want to face reality
  • low income countries do not have enough medical support to help people who become ill with COVID
  • countries should work together in a global response to COVID rather than simply pursing nationalistic interests

Rhetorical strategies on the part of both ‘sides’ of the argument included:

  • giving examples from their own lives/health (e.g. they had avoided COVID because of wearing face masks and getting vaccinated or they avoided COVID because their immune systems were naturally strong and not weakened by vaccines)
  • describing the situations of people they knew personally (e.g. those who died from COVID vaccines or those who died because they refused COVID vaccines)
  • urging people to ‘do their research’ or ‘due diligence’ and not just rely on television, social media or what their friends tell them
  • accusing those who are disagreeing with them of ‘lying’, ‘making up facts to suit their agenda’, as ‘stupid’ or simply gullible (to either misinformation or in believing the science)
  • providing hyperlinks to articles or blog posts outside of Facebook to support their claims and urging others to read them as part of educating themselves about the ‘facts’
  • claiming ‘truth’ in response to ‘non-truths’, ‘lies’ or ‘fake news’
  • contrasting the value of all human lives versus the value of individual freedom
  • the use of large numbers to support the validity of the arguments

As just one example of a pithy exchange between two commentators:

Commentator 1: We can’t stop living.

Commentator 2: 900,000 Americans have.

These findings demonstrate the kinds of beliefs and rationales underpinning Facebook users’ concepts of COVID risk and their attitudes towards COVID restrictions. Both sides received ardent support from others. Comments sometime descended into ad hominem attacks but most of the content was focused on presenting opinions or ‘facts’ and responding to these arguments with counter-claims. Most of the commentators attempted to act as educators, challenging the misinformation or extreme views put forward by the naysayers. Emotions ran high as people defended their position or accused others of stupidity, blindness to the truth or making up facts. Some extreme misinformation positions and conspiracy theories were advanced (e.g. ‘the holy blood of Jesus Christ is our only protection’) but many arguments concerned topics such as whether vaccines were necessary or effective (and how many there should be) or raised issues around the politics of COVID control.

The main insight from this single case study of COVID commentary in response to a peak health agency’s video posted to Facebook is that there was little evidence of an echo-chamber or filter bubble where only one main viewpoint was put foward. Instead, vigorous debate and contestation about ‘the truth’ went on in the comments section, suggesting an open forum for many opinions to be aired. However, it was also clear that people’s opinions or beliefs were not challenged in and through the debates or comments. Despite all the argumentation and presenting of examples from personal experience or hyperlinks to other material, no consensus or acceptance of other people’s opposing views was evident in these comment threads.

Face masks in the wild: a photographic collection

Last April, my co-authored book The Face Mask in COVID Times: A Sociomaterial Analysis was published (written with Clare Southerton, Marianne Clark and Ash Watson when we were all part of the Vitalities Lab that I lead at UNSW Sydney). We feature several images of face masks in the books: a few of which we had taken ourselves.

As the title of the book suggests, and as part of my interest in COVID cultures and everyday life, I am quite fascinated about how face masks have become part of more-than-human worlds across the globe since the advent of the COVID-19 crisis. I’ve continued to notice how face masks have become ‘wilded’ through being thoughtlessly discarded (or sometimes deliberately placed) in public places and on other objects, assembling with other dimensions of things, place and space.

Here’s a catalogue of some of these images I’ve taken so far. These masks are in varying states of grubbiness/decay, which for me speaks of their pervasiveness into the environment as waste or garbage. They are a far cry from the fresh, clean ‘hygienic’ surgical or N95 masks we can buy, or the often new pretty or colourful handcrafted fabric masks that can be found on Etsy. I hate seeing them littering the ground and despoiling gardens, parks or bushland. But there’s also something strangely appealing or aesthetically pleasing about some of these still lifes: in the particular combination of mask, other things, colour, shape, texture and the play of light.

None of these assemblages have been arranged by me – they were documented as I found them, walking around as part of my everyday routines. I see these arrangements as ‘found still lifes’ that speak to the gradual seeping into our worlds of the COVID face mask, which has taken on particular liveliness and thing-power over the past two years. For me, their ever-growing presence in public spaces is a synecdoche of the ways that COVID has permeated our lives, just as the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has entered people’s bodies.

New research website – Social Aspects of COVID-19

I’ve done quite a bit of research on the social aspects of the COVID crisis over the past two years – including posts on this blog but also books, book chapters, journal articles, pieces in places like Medium and The Conversation, and recorded talks.

I’ve made a new website bringing it all together in one place, which can be accessed here. I’ll be updating it as new publications come out.

From my collection of ‘COVID Life’ photos, December 2021

The prolonged COVID-19 crisis: uncertainties and notions of normality

My new book COVID Societies: Theorising the Coronavirus Crisis will be published by Routledge in April. Here’s an edited excerpt from the Conclusion chapter, where I reflect on COVID futures.

We may not all currently ‘live in the kingdom of the ill’, as Sontag (1990, p. 3) described experiencing a cancer diagnosis, but we are all now living in the kingdom of COVID. Even if our individual fleshy bodies have not yet been infected with SARS-CoV-2 or perished from COVID, our bodies politic and our more-than-human worlds have borne the blows and bear the scars of the outbreak. This book has demonstrated the value of applying different sociocultural theoretical perspectives in explaining and understanding COVID societies. I have shown that we need theory more than ever. Indeed, we need a diverse range of theories that are able to elucidate the multiple, dynamic and intertwined dimensions of the continuing COVID crisis.

In the process of demonstrating how sociocultural theories can offer valuable conceptual insights into the complexities of the COVID-19 crisis, I have also provided an account of what it has been like to live through the first year and a half of this catastrophe across the world and the impacts the pandemic has wrought on social relationships and identities. Throughout the book, a series of intertwined threads have crossed back and forth between the macropolitical and micropolitical dimensions of COVID societies: contagion, death, risk, threat, uncertainty, fear, social inequalities, stigma, blame and power relations. Overarching these threads are five complementary themes: the historicity of COVID societies; the tension between local specificities and globalising forces; the control and management of human bodies; the boundary between Self and Other; and the continuously changing sociomaterial environments in which the world is living with and through the shocks of the COVID crisis. In moving back and forth between the minutiae of people’s experiences of the COVID crisis and large-scale socioeconomic dimensions, between mundane practices and extreme levels of social disruption, disease and death, the book shows how interrelated individuals’ lives are with the more-than-human relationships of which they are inextricably a part. Across the world, across a multitude of diverse cultures and histories, people are suffering. They are vulnerable: to anxiety, fear, despair and insecurity about their future as well as poverty, ill-health and death.

… COVID societies call into question some long-established assumptions and return us in some ways to pre-Enlightenment times, when fate appeared to rule humans’ lives. Together with becoming attuned to the other deep crises facing the planet – chief among them climate change and global warming – the COVID crisis has shaken core beliefs about the ability to control our destinies. At this point in the pandemic, people are reeling from the apparent lack of success that even the most powerful and wealthy nations have had in containing and managing its effects. Human societies have always faced crises and catastrophes, including recurring pandemics involving great misery, confinement and loss of life. These events have always inspired affective feelings of fear, anxiety and dread. They shake people’s sense of safety and security and make them feel that their world has suddenly become an uncertain and unpredictable place. However, the COVID pandemic is the first truly global crisis since World War 2. For people living in disadvantaged, chaotic and dangerous situations or parts of the world, crisis is endemic rather than episodic: they are constantly in a state of fear and uncertainty, never knowing how their lives can be improved. What is remarkable about the current COVID crisis is that people in the Global North now experiencing a prolonged crisis. Even for privileged social groups and high-income countries, the COVID crisis is continuing for far longer and has far broader impacts than previous crises or emergencies they have faced in their lifetimes. The current catastrophe challenges their norms and expectations about the security and safety of life and their futures and the control they can exert over their lives. COVID changed everything extremely quickly, but its impacts and dangers have not been easily resolved.

The major question for the future of the post-COVID world is ‘What will “normality” look like?’ once the crisis has passed or at least been dampened somewhat. It is difficult to determine yet whether the COVID crisis will lead to profound social and political changes; and if so, where in the world these transformations may occur. As I write, the crisis is continuing, and in some places, worsening. Uncertainties are proliferating rather than subsiding. The crisis has not yet become normalised or endemic. Even as we hope that things are getting better, we are still experiencing surges and emergencies, situations where apparent control has turned to sudden disorder. We do not know yet what the world will look like once COVID is better controlled. While hope was initially invested in the modern science expertise that developed and tested effective vaccines against COVID in record time, the continuing emergence of new, more infectious and deadly variants, together with breakdowns in the delivery of the vaccines have dented the initial optimism.

Governments and citizens just want everything to be over and to ‘get back to normal life’. Many officials and politicians have made continual reference to the ‘COVID normal’ or ‘new normal’ state of affairs that they hope will eventuate. This goal, however, is apparently becoming less and less achievable. Instead, attempts to relax restrictions and becoming complacent about the threat posed by SARS-CoV-2 had time and time again led to loss of control over the virus. These terms assume a transformed kind of ‘normal’: one that will be marked forever by the events of the COVID disaster. It implies a new epoch in how everyday lives will be experienced post-COVID, potentially involving such practices as heightened awareness of personal hygiene measures to prevent infectious disease, less international air travel, working from home more often for those whose occupations allow it, the offering of more study online options, and an emptying out of the city and a population shift beyond the urban centres as a result.

Some health experts have suggested that the new normal may involve ‘learning to live with COVID-19’ by being alert to continued outbreaks, seeking regular booster vaccinations to counter the regular emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants, self-isolating when exposed to the virus and engaging in other precautionary measures. They have speculated that rather than the COVID crisis ‘ending’, it will become endemic: a recurring threat like seasonal influenza. Such statements often lack nuance, however. They fail to recognise that ‘living with COVID’ will inevitably be a far better experience for the already privileged people who have been fully vaccinated, are in good health with excellent access to quality healthcare services and are able to maintain their levels of income during periods of stay-at-home or self-isolation restrictions. As societies ‘open up’, people living in conditions of socioeconomic disadvantage and social groups and populations who have been unable to access vaccinations will be facing a much higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID as well as even greater levels of debt, poverty or homelessness.

Beyond these practices, the ‘new normal’ phrase refers to an affective state of being. It suggests that people will begin to feel a sense of ‘normality’ again, which in turn is imbricated with feelings of hope, optimism, reassurance and wellbeing as compared with the affective states of anxiety, fear, powerlessness and uncertainty that have thus far characterised experiences of the COVID crisis for so many people. These kinds of pronouncements assume that most people are yearning for ‘normality’. However, as cultural commentators and critics have frequently contended, normality in the pre-COVID world was experienced by many people as a state of entrenched socioeconomic disadvantage and marginalisation. Others, even those who were privileged, were struggling with prevailing feelings of dread and hopelessness about how pre-existing crises such as food insecurity, entrenched violence against women and climate change were affecting not only humans but all aspects of the planet. These people want a new normal that is very different from the ‘old normal’. This imaginary of a ‘better new normal’ envisages a world where the neoliberal emphasis on ‘small government’ is wound back, the massive divides between the poor and the wealthy have been reduced, there is alleviation of poverty, the creation of stable employment opportunities and universal access to good quality and safe housing and healthcare. This vision looks beyond remediating the impact of the current COVID catastrophe to hoping that governments and global agencies would be making serious efforts to address the environmental impacts of climate change and where preparations and investments for the continuing fight against further infectious disease outbreaks have been put in place.

Photo credits: Author

My 2021 publications

Books

Lupton, D., Southerton, C., Clark, M. and Watson, A. (2021) The Face Mask in COVID Times: A Sociocultural Analysis. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Edited books and special issues

Lupton, D. and Willis, K. (eds) (2021) The COVID-19 Crisis: Social Perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge.

‘In and beyond the smart home’ special issue. Convergence (volume 27, issue 5), 2021.

Journal articles

Lupton, D. (2021) Young people’s use of digital health in the Global North: narrative review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, available online at https://www.jmir.org/2021/1/e18286/

Lupton, D. and Southerton, C. (2021) The thing-power of the Facebook assemblage: why do users stay on the platform? Journal of Sociology, 57(4), 969-985.

Lupton, D. (2021) ‘Not the real me’: social imaginaries of personal data profiling. Cultural Sociology, 15(1), 3-21.

Watson, A. and Lupton, D. (2021) Tactics, affects and agencies in digital privacy narratives: a story completion study. Online Information Review, 45(1), 138-156.

Watson, A., Lupton, D. and Michael, M. (2021) Enacting intimacy and sociality at a distance in the COVID-19 crisis: the sociomaterialities of home-based communication technologies. Media International Australia, 178(1), 136-150.

Lupton, D. (2021) ‘Things that matter’: poetic inquiry and more-than-human health literacy. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 13(2), 267-282.

Lupton, D. (2021) ‘The internet both reassures and terrifies’: exploring the more-than-human worlds of health information using the story completion method. Medical Humanities, 47(1), 68-77.

Lupton, D. (2021) ‘Next generation PE?’ A sociomaterial approach to digitised health and physical education. Sport, Education and Society, online first doi.org/10.1080/13573322.2021.1890570

Lupton, D. (2021) ‘Sharing is caring’: Australian self-trackers’ concepts and practices of personal data sharing and privacy. Frontiers in Digital Health, 3(15). Available online at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fdgth.2021.649275/full

Lupton, D. and Lewis, S. (2021) Learning about COVID-19: a qualitative interview study of Australians’ use of information sources. BMC Public Health, available online at https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-10743-7

Lupton, D. (2021) ‘Honestly no, I’ve never looked at it’: teachers’ understandings and practices related to students’ personal data in digitised health and physical education. Learning, Media and Technology, 46(3), 281-293Hjorth, L. and Lupton, D. (2021) Digitised caring intimacies: more-than-human intergenerational care in Japan. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 24(4), 584-602.

Lupton, D. and Watson, A. (2021) Towards more-than-human digital data studies: developing research-creation methods. Qualitative Research, 21(4), 463-480.

Watson, A., Lupton, D. and Michael, M. (2021) The COVID digital home assemblage: transforming the home into a work space during the crisis. Convergence, 27(5), 1207-1221.

Downing, L., Marriott, H. and Lupton, D. (2021) ‘Ninja levels of focus’: therapeutic holding environments and the affective atmospheres of telepsychology during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emotion, Space & Society, 40. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emospa.2021.100824

Lupton, D. and Lewis, S. (2021) ‘The day everything changed’: Australians’ COVID-19 risk narratives. Journal of Risk Research, online first, doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2021.1958045

Clark, M. and Lupton, D. (2021) Pandemic fitness assemblages: the sociomaterialities and affective dimensions of exercising at home during the COVID-19 crisis. Convergence, 27(5), 1222-1237.

The Lancet and Financial Times Commission on governing health futures 2030: growing up in a digital world. Kickbusch, I., Piselli, D., Agrawal, A., Balicer, R., Banner, O., Adelhardt, M., Capobianco, E., Fabian, C., Singh Gill, A., Lupton, D., Medhora, R. P., Ndili, N., Ryś, A., Sambuli, N., Settle, D., Swaminathan, S., Morales, J. V., Wolpert, M., Wyckoff, A. W., Xue, L., Bytyqi, A., Franz, C., Gray, W., Holly, L., Neumann, M., Panda, L., Smith, R. D., Georges Stevens, E. A., & Wong, B. L. H. (2021) The Lancet and Financial Times Commission on governing health futures 2030: growing up in a digital world. The Lancet. Available online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673621018249

Lupton, D. (2021) ‘All at the tap of a button’: mapping the food app landscape. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 24(6), 1360-1381.

Petrie, K., Deady, M., Lupton, D., Crawford, J., Boydell, K. and Harvey. S. (2021) ‘The hardest job I’ve ever done’: a qualitative exploration of the factors affecting junior doctors’ mental health and wellbeing during medical training in Australia. BMC Health Services. Available online at https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12913-021-07381-5

Book chapters

Lupton, D. (2021) Self-tracking. In Kennerly, M., Frederick, S. and Abel, J.E. (eds), Information: Keywords. Columbia University Press, pp, 187-198.

Lupton, D. (2021) Afterword: future methods for digital food studies. In Leer, J. and Krogager, S.G.S. (eds), Research Methods in Digital Food Studies. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 222-227.

Lupton, D. and Willis, K. (2021) COVID Society: introduction to the book. In Lupton, D. and Willis, K. (eds), The COVID-19 Crisis: Social Perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 3-13.

Lupton, D. (2021) Contextualising COVID-19. In Lupton, D. and Willis, K. (eds), The COVID-19 Crisis: Social Perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 14-24.

Other publications

Lupton, D., Pink, S. and Horst, H. (2021) Living in, with and beyond the ‘smart home’: introduction to the special issue. Convergence, 27(5), 1147-1154.

Watson, A., Clark, M., Southerton, C. and Lupton, D. (2021) Fieldwork at your fingertips: creative methods for social research under lockdown. Nature Career Column, 3 March 2021. Available at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00566-2

Lupton, D., Pink, S. and Horst, H. (2021) Living in, with and beyond the ‘smart home’: introduction to the special issue. Convergence, 27(5), 1147-1154.

New book now out – Creative Approaches to Health Education

Creative Approaches to Health Education : New Ways of Thinking, Making, Doing, Teaching and Learning - Deborah Lupton

This new book, edited with Deana Leahy, is now out with Routledge. It can be ordered from Routledge here, and a preview is available from Google Books here.

The book is chockfull of exciting methods to inspire new ways of thinking, making, doing, learning, teaching and learning across diverse areas of health education: in schools and universities with young people, in the community with migrant women, with women and healthcare providers working with them during childbirth, at a family violence refuge, and online with people working in higher education.

The chapters outline a series of case studies contributed by leaders in the field, describing projects using a wide variety of creative methods conducted in a variety of global contexts. These include a rich constellation of arts- and design-based methods and artefacts: sculptures, dance, walking and other somatic movement, diaries, paintings, drawings, zines, poems and other creative writing, body maps, collages, stories, films, photographs, theatre performances, soundscapes, potions, rock gardens, brainstorming, debates, secret ballots, murals and graffiti walls. There are no rules or guidelines outlined in these contributions about ‘how to do’ creative approaches to health education. However, the methods in the case studies the authors describe are explained in enough detail that they can be adopted or re-invented in other contexts. More importantly, these contributions provide inspiration. They demonstrate what can be done in the field of health education (however it is defined) to go beyond the often stultifying and conventional boundaries it has set for itself.

COVID-19: the first 100 days

I have begun work on my new book to be published by Routledge, entitled COVID Societies: Theorising the Coronavirus Crisis. Part of the Introduction chapter will present an overview of the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic over its first one hundred days. Things moved very quickly over that time. Here is an except from this chapter outlining key events during this period.

Sign outside an Australian shop, April 2020

The time elapsing from the first reporting of a cluster of cases of a new respiratory disease that was later to be named ‘COVID-19’ to the first million confirmed cases worldwide was slightly less than one hundred days. The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a timeline of how events unfolded from the very beginning of the first observation of a cluster of unusual cases of atypical pneumonia in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei province (World Health Organization, 2020). The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness & Response (2021) also put together a chronological account of the events unfolding between late 2019 and the end of March 2020, by which time the virus had spread extensively around the world. The Panel concluded that these months were characterised by some evidence of early and rapid action by nations and global health authorities. However, delay, hesitation to act decisively and denial of the threat were also prevalent in their responses. The events and developments outlined below in these first one hundred days of the COVID crisis are synthesised from these two valuable chronologies.

On 30 December 2019, the first cases of ‘atypical viral pneumonia of unknown cause’ who had been admitted to hospitals in Wuhan were reported in two urgent notices to hospital networks in the city by officials from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. Wuhan clinicians noted that several of these atypical pneumonia patients had visited the same ‘wet market’ in the city selling live sea creatures and other animals for human consumption, suggesting it was a key source of transmission. On 31 December, a Chinese business publication published a report about one of these notices, which in turn was picked up by several disease surveillance systems operating in the region. WHO’s Headquarters office in Geneva was alerted to the report. Later that day, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission sent out a bulletin for public notice, reporting that 27 cases of this disease had been identified. By the end of December, it seemed likely from the epidemiology of these Wuhan cases that human-to-human transmission of this as yet un-identified and unnamed pathogen was likely.

The WHO Country Office in China requested further information from the Wuhan officials on 1 January 2020, activating its Incident Management Support Team as part of its emergency response framework. By 2 January, the Wuhan Institute of Virology had sequenced almost the entire genome of the novel virus. There were 44 reported cases by 3 January. WHO released a tweet about this Wuhan pneumonia cluster (which had not yet caused any deaths) on 4 January, noting the investigations to determine the cause were underway. It released its first Disease Outbreak News report on 5 January about these cases. All countries were warned to take precautions against the spread of this new virus. On 9 January, Chinese authorities had determined that the pathogen was a novel coronavirus, similar to a previous virus (SARS-CoV) that had caused SARS disease (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in a previous outbreak between 2003 and 2007. Chinese scientists had developed a first test for the virus by 10 January.

The first death from infection with the novel coronavirus was reported by the China media on 11 January. The first case outside China was reported in Thailand on 13 January and a second case in Japan on 16 January: both cases had travelled from Wuhan. Chinese health experts publicly confirmed on 20 January that the virus was transmissible between humans and that healthcare workers had become infected. Wuhan officials had instituted a city-wide lockdown on 23 January in the attempt to control the spread. At this point in the outbreak, 830 cases and 25 deaths had been reported. The first case outside Asia was recorded in the USA on 21 January and the first European cases (a total of three) were reported by France on 24 January.

WHO’s first mission to Wuhan to investigate the outbreak took place on 20-21 January. It declared a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ on 30 January, its highest level of alarm. At this point in the outbreak, the novel coronavirus had begun to spread quickly around the world. A total of 98 cases had been detected in 18 countries. By 4 February, over 20 000 confirmed cases and 425 deaths had been reported in China, and 176 cases in 24 other countries. On 11 February, WHO announced that the novel coronavirus would be named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it caused as COVID-19 (a contraction of ‘coronavirus disease 2019’). This naming followed best practice, which avoids linking titles of new microbes or diseases to specific regions, nationalities, individuals or animals because of the possibility of inaccuracy or stigma.

By 7 March, over 100 000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported globally. The outbreak was officially declared as a pandemic by WHO on 11 March 2020, when reported cases globally had reached over 118 000 across 114 countries. By 13 March, Europe had become the epicentre of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China. By 4 April, almost 100 days after the first Wuhan cases having been reported, WHO reported that over 1 million confirmed cases had been reported worldwide, with the pace of infection rapidly increasing.

Even at that stage, many countries’ governments worldwide had not yet taken decisive action to contain the spread of the virus. WHO’s declaration on 30 January of a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ was largely ignored. Only a minority of countries began comprehensive prevention and response strategies. Many countries did very little throughout the month of February, even while cases were rapidly spreading and climbing globally. Most governments either did not appreciate the seriousness of the threat posed by COVID-19 or wanted to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach rather than implement significant action. Due to their previous experiences with the SARS pandemic, several eastern and south-eastern Asian countries were among the earlier responders, while African countries who had been through the Ebola threat also learned from this and put measures into place quickly. Many other countries did not spring into action until they noted the exponential rise in cases and rapid spread of the virus. Serious actions that could have contained such a huge expansion in cases and deaths were implemented too late.

References

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness & Response. (2021). COVID-19: Make It The Last Pandemic. https://theindependentpanel.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/COVID-19-Make-it-the-Last-Pandemic_final.pdf

World Health Organization. (2020). Timeline: WHO’s COVID-19 response. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/interactive-timeline?gclid=CjwKCAiA17P9BRB2EiwAMvwNyGWSa7LCiCAgb9r1TIgGmjmcYnZzOj7_zVA80ZeeVZyUsfqM35BvrhoCofQQAvD_BwE#event-7

New book now out – The COVID-19 Crisis: Social Perspectives

This edited collection (with co-editor Karen Willis) is now published (see details on the Routledge website and on Amazon). The chapter abstracts are below. For a companion volume, see my co-authored book The Face Mask in COVID Times: A Sociomaterial Analysis, also now out.

Part 1: Introduction

1.  COVID society: introduction to the book 

Deborah Lupton and Karen Willis

In this introductory chapter, we make an argument for why contemporary social worlds can be now characterised as ‘COVID society’. We outline the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis and its global effects. The chapter offers an account of the macro- and micro-political dimensions of the COVID crisis and draws out and discusses the key themes emerging across the book’s chapters. We discuss the major findings and perspectives offered by the contributors and how they are employed to analyse the impacts and experiential dimensions of the crisis from a social perspective.

 2.      Contextualising COVID-19: sociocultural perspectives on contagion

Deborah Lupton

To fully understand the sociocultural implications of the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to be aware of the substantial body of research in sociology, anthropology, history, cultural geography and media studies on previous major infectious disease outbreaks. This chapter ‘sets the scene’ by providing this context with an overview of the relevant literature, with reference to emerging and new infectious diseases over the past century as Spanish influenza, HIV/AIDS, SARS, MERS, Ebola virus and Zika virus. The perspectives offered by social histories, political economy perspectives, social constructionism, Foucauldian theory, risk theory, postcolonial and sociomaterial approaches are explained and examples of research using these approaches are provided. 

Part II: Space, the Body and Mobilities

 3. Moving target, moving parts: the multiple mobilities of the COVID-19 pandemic

 Nicola Burns, Luca Follis, Karolina Follis and Janine Morley

This chapter considers the contributions of the mobilities paradigm to the sociological understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. Mobilities scholarship offers a multi-scalar framework that spans from movement at the molecular level to the movement of bodies and the local, national and supranational travel of humans and non-humans. Its core insight has been the recognition that mobilities are socially patterned, hierarchical and co-exist with immobilities, thereby generating and reproducing inequalities. The chapter focuses on the United Kingdom government response to the coronavirus pandemic, emphasising the multi-scalar effects of state intervention and the implications for different groups in society, which remain largely unaccounted for. We ask: who (and what) moves and does not move in this crisis? We work through the local, meso and macro level to show how the public health imperative to immobilise the disease vector (the body) disrupts ordinary patterns of mobility that have become central to globalised economies. The chapter argues that viewing the COVID-19 pandemic through the prism of mobilities illuminates not just the long-term effects of this crisis on national health systems but also highlights the vulnerability of static and bounded health systems in a world where everything else is in movement.

4. Physical activity and bodily boundaries in times of pandemic

Holly Thorpe, Julie Brice and Marianne Clark

With millions of people around the world spending weeks and months in quarantine, new questions emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic about the opportunities, benefits, and risks of physical activity. Health organizations, governments and the media alike advocated the importance of physical activity for health and wellbeing. While exercise was being encouraged, options for engagement were increasingly constrained. With gyms, fitness studios, recreational centres, and parks and outdoor facilities closed, many created new fitness rhythms and routines. In this chapter we draw upon feminist new materialist theory, and particularly the work of Karen Barad, to critically explore new questions about the risks of physically active bodies and the ‘trails’ of contagion that they may disperse in and through the ebbs and flows of the natural (i.e., air, wind) and built (i.e., gym and fitness studios) environment. Drawing upon Barad’s conceptualization of bodily boundaries, we explore new ethical considerations and concerns of aerosol particles (i.e., breath) and bodily secretions (i.e., sweat). In so doing, we diffractively read media releases, scientific reports, and public commentaries through our own embodied experiences of physical activity. Ultimately this chapter offers a critical and creative commentary on the new noticings of bodily boundaries in times of pandemic where the body—any and every body—was a site of possible contagion.

 5. City flows during pandemics: zooming in on windows

Olimpia Mosteanu

 In this chapter, I reflect on a series of photographs of windows taken in different cities around the world before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. I use these photographs to prompt an analysis of urban flows at a time when our cities have come to a halt. Windows are caught up in a series of dichotomies that posit what is inside against the outside, the intimate against the public, home against street, stability against unpredictability, among others. The chapter explores some of the ways in which windows not only mediate our interactions with the world around but also actively participate in our everyday lives, especially at the current moment. Given the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, windows have taken on an even more important role in supporting dwellers’ quality of life and wellbeing. Working with and against the digital archive I have compiled, the chapter considers how these photographs gesture towards the layered experiences of space and place, as well as the presence and absence of affect and memory. I conclude by discussing how this type of photographic inquiry benefits qualitative research focused on the lived experience of place at a time when in-person methods are no longer an option.  

6. The politics of touch-based help for visually impaired persons during the coronavirus pandemic: an autoethnographic account

Heidi Lourens

 In the context of disability, the provision of help carries within it the potential for troublesome psychological and relational dimensions. Through an evocative autoethnography, I, as a blind person, aim to argue that help may become even more complicated for visually impaired persons during the Coronavirus pandemic. Since visually impaired persons often rely on help in the form of physical touch (for example when a sighted person guides them), help currently contains more than psychological dimensions – it also carries within it the very real potential for contracting a potential life-threatening illness. This vulnerable position, I will demonstrate, comes with its own set of psychological ramifications such as the fear of often much-needed or unsolicited touch. I will argue that what makes these feelings of vulnerability and anxiety even more acute, is the limits to freedom of choice for both help-receiver and help-recipient. I conclude that, during this health crisis, it is important to apply the approach of the relational ethics of care. Only through mutual communication, authentic communication and active engagement will disabled and nondisabled persons be able to recognise the unique context and needs of one another.

Part III: Intimacies, Socialities and Temporalities

7.  #DatingWhileDistancing: dating apps as digital health technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic 

David Myles, Stefanie Duguay and Christopher Dietzel

The physical distancing measures implemented globally by public health authorities have challenged the operating models of dating apps, which typically rely on physical proximity to foster intimate relationships. This chapter critically examines the steps taken by 16 dating apps in response to COVID-19 through an analysis of in-app messages, new features, social media posts, and press releases. Our findings suggest that dating apps assume the role of unconventional corporate digital health technologies. They do so first through interventions in user behaviour, circulating messages about maintaining physical distance while mobilising health resources to track and discourage virus transmission. Secondly, they give meaning to the use of dating apps during a time of physical distancing by encouraging users to adopt online “virtual” dating approaches. This is accomplished by replacing negative perceptions of online dating with notions of virtual dating as romantic or sexy while also introducing features and norms to define appropriate virtual dating behaviour. Overall, our analysis illustrates how corporate actors participate in online health promotion during times of crisis and, specifically, how the matchmaking industry can affect sexual and public health by reshaping contemporary dating cultures.

8. ‘Unhome’ sweet home: the construction of new normalities in Italy during COVID-19 

Veronica Moretti and Antonio Maturo

Everyday life provides that reservoir of meanings which allows us to make sense of reality. It is the ‘taken-for-granted’ dimension of our existence. With this in mind, in this chapter we investigate the ‘new normalities’ of life in lockdown. We conducted 20 in-depth interviews with a population of childless, highly educated young adults living in Northern Italy. Interviewees report mixed feelings and experiences associated with being locked in their homes: cosiness alongside restriction; the freedom to call friends combined with forced physical isolation; the need to do work in places usually devoted to relaxing. Being forced to stay at home is also a cognitively ambiguous situation, in which people feel themselves to be ‘in-waiting’. In practical terms, the interviewees coped with this uncertainty by creating and adhering to rigid routines and new habits. We analyse the interviewees’ ‘definition of their situation’ in terms of the Freudian concept of the Unhemlich (the uncanny, but also the ‘unhomely’). The uncanny refers to the psychological experience of something as strangely familiar.  It describes situations where something familiar appears in an unsettling context. Our hope is that this analysis will inform future research on the effects of the lockdown on mental health.

9.  Queer and crip temporalities during COVID-19: sexual practices, risk and responsibility

Ryan Thorneycroft and Lucy Nicholas

This chapter interrogates sexual practices occurring during COVID-19 to imagine alternative (crip and queer) futures. Recognising that many people continue to engage in (casual) sex, we consider what the politics of responsibility are during this pandemic. We suggest that queer sex sits at the intersections of crip/queer practice, and we move to contextualise our current moment through the lens of crip/queer times. Understanding our moment through crip/queer times provides the opportunity to open up new sexual cultures and to diversify the range of practices and pleasures to all people. In the place of queer casual sex, we introduce forms of (crip/queer) isolation sex as an efficacious and ethical alternative, and in so doing, work to identify new forms of cultures and possibilities available during and after the COVID pandemic. To engage in ethical forms of queer isolation sex at this historical juncture is to protect crip and older bodies from COVID, and this means the actors are engaging in efficacious crip/queer sexual practices. Broadening rather than narrowing what we understand to be sexual practices opens up new forms of cultures and possibilities available during and after COVID. In turn this moment allows for an imagining of broader, alternative, and responsible socialites informed by crip and queer positionalities that do not collapse back into an individualistic normativity once the crisis is over.

10.  Isol-AID, Art and Wellbeing: Posthuman Community Amidst COVID-19

Marissa Willcox, Anna Hickey-Moody and Anne Harris

In the isolating times of COVID-19, digital live streaming has been a key means through which artists connect with their audiences/community and audience members access live art and music. With performances mediated through digital live stream, artists and audience members alike are experimenting with strategies for connection, and indeed, for survival. This reconfiguration of sociality, of the liveness of community, threatens to endure beyond the pandemic. The Instagram Live music festival ‘Isol-AID’, which we examine as a case study in this chapter, prompts a discussion around arts accessibility as a measure of public health and wellbeing. Building on literature about social prescribing, we suggest that Instagram Live engages therapeutic forms of arts practice, and as such, could be offered as a new digital health resource. Using a critical posthumanist perspective, we think-through Instagram Live and streamed performance as posthuman assemblages to highlight the importance of non-human actants (such as phones, wifi, colours, sounds) in the production of the feeling of community, which is a social determinant of health. These creative methods of expression and connection encourage discussion around the importance of the arts in community health and wellbeing, a conversation that could not be more relevant than in the socially isolated world that is, this global pandemic.

Part IV: Healthcare Practices and Systems

11. Strange times in Ireland: death and the meaning of loss under COVID-19

Jo Murphy-Lawless

David Harvey writes of ‘time-space compression’ to describe the globalised world of untrammelled flows of goods and services. Contemporary Ireland has relied on these capital flows in the shape of massive foreign direct investment and has in turn been reshaped by contemporary modes of global consumer capitalism. Large-scale emigration characterising Irish society since the mid-nineteenth century has been matched in recent decades by a second kind of international travel whereby Irish people savour life as global consumers.  COVID-19, a potent disrupter, is also a beneficiary of our globalised economy. It swiftly rendered everyday life unrecognisable. Among the profoundly stressful consequences of COVID-19 for Ireland is how we were forced to do death differently. COVID-19 has made painfully visible the social and economic contradictions of contemporary Ireland and may yet spur us to reconsider how we participate in the global game.

12. Between an ethics of care and scientific uncertainty: dilemmas of general practitioners in Marseille

Romain Lutaud, Jeremy Ward, Gaëtan Gentile and Pierre Verger

While COVID-19 continues to progress worldwide, the French situation is particularly affected by a lack of masks, tests and, as everywhere else, by the lack of clinically validated therapeutic options. The French government has made the choice of confinement and remote monitoring of patients, with recourse to the healthcare system only when signs of worsening appear (hospitalisation). But in Marseille, a hospital-research centre (IHU, led by Pr. Raoult) decided to apply the doctrine of ‘test and treat’ using chloroquine. This chapter explores the effects of this decision on local doctors’ practices relative to covid-19. We will show the dilemmas faced by doctors: how they navigate the controversy over chloroquine as well as negotiate with their patients’ demand for testing and treatment with chloroquine. This chapter constitutes a first attempt at bringing together the results of a wider research project involving analysis several surveys and interviews conducted among GPs in Marseille and 1200 GPs in France, an analysis of the coverage of the hydroxychloroquine debate in the French national press and surveys conducted among representative samples of the French population. It will also draw on one of the authors’ experience of being a general practitioner in Marseille.

13.  Post-pandemic routes in the context of Latin countries: the impact of COVID-19 in Italy and Spain

Anna Sendra, Jordi Farré , Alessandro Lovari and Linda Lombi

This chapter examines the reasons behind the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Italy and Spain, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. Despite adopting strict measures of lockdown, both countries endured two of the highest infection and mortality rates of COVID in Europe. In this context, in addition to considering political, technological and economic factors, this critical reflection explores how the particularities of the Latin lifestyle may have influenced the management of the crisis in Italy and Spain. Although the public agenda in both countries has focused on discussing the unequal distribution of resources, especially in terms of health reforms and digital competencies, this chapter concludes suggesting that the design of future interventions should also contemplate the effect of sociocultural factors in the perception and evaluation of risks.

14. Risky work: providing healthcare in the age of COVID-19

Karen Willis and Natasha Smallwood

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis has been profound across all dimensions of social life; and has been profoundly evident in the rapid changes to work. Alongside people losing jobs in service and related industries as countries imposed restrictions on movement and activity, workers in many industries have faced change in the way work is undertaken, and in their exposure to risks. Healthcare work is a case example of rapid occupational change with concerns that such changes have negative psychosocial effects on the workforce, as they grapple with rapid organisational change, increased anxiety and stress, and concern for patient care. In this chapter, we describe healthcare workers’ experiences of the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on their work. We draw on preliminary findings from free text data from a survey of over 9,000 health care workers in Australia to illustrate issues related to workplace disruption, healthcare delivery challenges, and concerns of being simultaneously at risk and risky which necessitate the development of new strategies to manage work, home and family.

Part V: Marginalisation and Discrimination

15. The plight of the parent-citizen? Examples of resisting (self-)responsibilisation and stigmatisation by Dutch Muslim parents and organisations during the COVID-19 crisis

Alex Schenkels, Sakina Loukili and Paul Mutsaers

On 15 March 2020, the Dutch government announced the temporary closure of schools, kindergartens and houses of prayer in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which de facto further responsibilised parents in areas such as home-schooling and home-working. This decision exposed an ideology of intensive parenting (IP) that has mostly remained hidden and undisputed. At the same time, the outbreak exacerbated racism and stigma, intensifying the (parental) challenges for Muslim families. This chapter explores if the boundaries of this ideology have been reached due to the COVID crisis. The first part focuses on education and ways in which Muslim parents display and (eventually) resist ‘self-responsibilising reflexes’. Part two addresses the stigmatisation of Muslims and the (re)actions by Islam-inspired political organisation NIDA. Our findings suggest that while parenting seemed to hyper intensify during the first months of the pandemic, precisely this process led to parents’ resistance. Muslim organisations strengthened resistance by serving as an ‘extended family’, which took form in spiritual and pedagogical guidance as well as in mitigating the effects of racism against Muslim families. Such mitigation undermines IP’s ideal of the ‘parent-citizen’ who is to solve societal problems in the private sphere.

 16.  Anti-Asian racism, xenophobia and Asian American health during COVID-19

Aggie J. Yellow Horse

 As COVID-19 crisis emerged in the USA, anti-Asian racism and xenophobia rhetoric as well as reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans began to rise. Understanding how such a rapid increase in racist and xenophobic incidences may affect Asian Americans’ physical, mental and social health is important, as racism and xenophobia are fundamental causes of inequalities in health in general and for Asian Americans in particular. Furthermore, this understanding is critical for reducing and eliminating the barriers for Asian Americans seeking medical help during the coronavirus pandemic, which is important not only for Asian Americans’ health, but for the total US population. Thus far, research on the health implications of the social, cultural and political dimensions of the coronavirus pandemic on Asian Americans are limited, due to the conceptual and methodological challenges in studying health and health disparities among Asian Americans. Drawing from histories of structural racism against Asian Americans through exclusionary immigration policies, and post-1965 racial policies that contributed to the emergence of Asian American stereotypes as the Model Minority and perpetual foreigners, this chapter discusses the sociohistorical contexts in which Asian Americans have been invisible in sociology of health research. It discusses the importance of examining the roles of racism and xenophobia on Asian American’s health in a broader contexts of the parallel pandemics of COVID-19 and racism; and provides suggestions for future research and policy advocacy.

17. Ageism, risk, health and the body in COVID-19 times

Peta S. Cook, Cassie Curryer, Susan Banks, Barbara Barbosa Neves, Maho Omori, Annetta H. Mallon and Jack Lam

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare societal discourses regarding age differences and stereotypes. Using sociological approaches to risk and drawing on some examples from the Australian online news media, we illustrate how risk management approaches and risk uncertainties in response to the coronavirus, have homogenised younger and older peoples and widely positioned them in a binary generational conflict of ‘risky’ and ‘at risk’. Younger people are frequently framed as healthy, active agents: they are engaging in risky behaviours that endanger their health and that of others. In contrast, older people have been typically cast as passive and at risk: ‘the elderly’ and ‘the vulnerable elderly’. In extreme cases, older people have also been framed as burdensome and worthless. In this chapter, we examine how age was framed or ‘staged’ during COVID-19 to illustrate how ageist language and dichotomous pandemic framings — grounded on blame and shame — add to social divisions and ‘othering’, shape risk management strategies, and cloud public health messaging on risk, viral spread, and physical distancing measures.

My publications in 2020

orange and white letter b wall decor

Edited books and special issues

Book chapters

Journal articles

Reports

  • Rich, E., Lewis, S., Lupton, D. and Miah, A. (2020) Digital Health Generation? Young People’s Use of ‘Healthy Lifestyle’ Technologies. Bath: University of Bath, UK. Available at https://www.digitalhealthgeneration.net/final-report
  • Newman, C., MacGibbon, J., Smith, A. K. J., Broady, T., Lupton, D., Davis, M., Bear, B., Bath, N., Comensoli, D., Cook, T., Duck-Chong, E., Ellard, J., Kim, J., Rule, J., & Holt, M. (2020). Understanding Trust in Digital Health among Communities Affected by BBVs and STIs in Australia. Sydney: UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health. Available at http://doi.org/10.26190/5f6d72f17d2b5
  • Fox, B., Goggin, G., Lupton, D., Regenbrecht, H., Scuffham, P. and Vucetic, B. (2020) The Internet of Things. Report for the Australian Council of Learned Academies. Melbourne: ACOLA. Available at https://acola.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/hs5_internet-of-things_report.pdf

Other publications

Photo credit: Glen Carrie, Unsplash