As COVID-19 has continued to unfold, what research questions have you come to see as especially important? How have you imagined working on them? Would you appreciate collaborators?


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July 30, 2020

I share similar questions that Duygu, Nadine, and James ask about transnational science, public health and pedagogy and temporality. COVID19 forces a palimpsestic-kaleidoscopic vision upon us. We think about mortality, erasure, continuity, and significance in a highly collective and concentrated way. As we go forward in this project, I want to think about:

How can transnational STS (however conceived) interface scientific and political education?

Through this question, I would like to make visible efforts at bridging gaps in data, thinking, practice. For example, this public database of reported deaths due to the lockdown in India (starvation and financial distress, exhaustion, accidents during migration, lack or denial of medical care, suicides, police brutality, crimes, and alcohol-withdrawal) maintained by three activists-researchers goes beyond politics of visibility and maps compound vulnerabilities. What kind of support would these researchers need from our project? How can we build upon their work? The Data Working Group with Tim and Ina would be appropriate to think about data infrastructures and gaps part of this question. We would welcome people to think with us on these questions. 

I would also like to extend this work through an India Working Group (beginnings of an essay) which will grapple with  transnational, regional and local politics through potential collaborations.

Tim Schütz's picture
July 30, 2020

I took a moment to read and annotate a recent introduction for a special issue on Disaster Media by Lisa Parks and Janet Walker. The article gives helpful framings to understand media in/of COVID-19, but also environmental crisis (including air pollution in Southern California and Hurricane Katrina). They also point to examples for readings data visualizations as disaster media and cultural products, focusing particularly on COVID-19 graphs and satellite imagery (relevant to understanding our own role of remotely "tracking" or  "mapping" COVID-19 cultural shifts). Given my own earlier training in media and communications studies, the article helped me see how a field of "disaster media" is just being articulated. In another article where Parks is "mapping" the discipline more broadly, she observes that former media studies students might now gravitate toward critical data studies. True in my case.

The authors are efficient at connecting COVID-19 to issues of environmental justice and temporality (relevant for my teaching, and maybe interesting for your work, James!). For example, they call for heightened production of public, open-access media of diverse forms (to address disinformation and boost media literacy), while acknowledging the conundrum that we need more energy-efficient media ("no" or "low carbon media", also see Finn and Rosner's syllabus about information in troubled worlds). In regards to time, Parks and Walker argue that "disaster media need to be considered in relation to the multiple temporalities of climate disruption (from the longue durée of glacial flow to uncertain and sudden extreme weather)." I'm less convinced by the heavy reliance on Naomi Klein's notion of "coronavirus capitalism" and while the authors acknowledge that "low-carbon media" have always existed in more resource-strapped contexts, I would like to learn more about concrete examples.  

In sum, the article helped me draw conceptual connections between what currently are separate essays -- COVID-19 and communications. The reflections on COVID visualizations in the article point to a lot of potential for deeper analysis. Also, it made me think about what kind of media are we producing as a research group. Personally, I'm still thinking about the different angles I bring from my own training (media studies, STS and now critical data studies) -- and which of them I would like to focus on. Certainly the article helped me think expansively from all three fields, and I think the COVID-19 project is set up nicely to support that -- and yes, all collaborators welcome.

Nadine Tanio's picture
July 29, 2020

I continue to be overwhelmed by how the COVID-19 public health crisis has exposed the fissures and weaknesses at intersecting levels of daily life. I have been focusing on K-12 and K-16 education in the US context and the impact distance learning in conjunction with the Black Lives Movement has had on schooling. For example at the end of Spring quarter the final week of undergraduate classes became explicitly "teach-ins." An attempt to democratize the zoom classroom/platform by passing hosting duties instead of the microphone around as multiple students asked and answered questions about the BLM movement in Los Angeles. 

This summer multiple Canadian and the US private and public colleges and high schools have been challenged by  instagram accounts often named, "blackat<<insert college/school>>" or "Dear_<<insert college/school>>" (ex: blackatsidwellfriends and dear_poly" which allow the anonomous reporting by BIPOC students of their experiences in classrooms and on campuses. These instagram accounts are then claimed to be "safe spaces" for BIPOC students and any pushback or critique is immediately labeled as attempts at gaslighting.

I am interested in the seeming cascading effect of COVID19 on education especially on student social activism, disciplining and resistance. A recent podcast by the Guardian about racism in British schools ( seems to suggest that both in practices and in reporting what is happening within instagram has resonance beyond North American schools.

I am always interested in collaborating. I especially need more practice in collaborative writing.

James Adams's picture
July 28, 2020

As the research of the Energy in COVID-19 group progresses, I am beginning to take a deep interest in temporality as it concerns both the unfolding pandemic and responses to it. Though disasters are truly all about timing and time is a prominent focus in much of the disaster studies literature, it seems particularly salient here. Discourses around COVID-19 are suffuse with temporal references: infection rates, mutation rates, rates of recovery, the new normal, the global economic slow-down, "responding too late," "opening up too soon," returning fire/hurricane season, disrupted circadian rhythms, caretaker fatigue, quarantine dragging on, living in (Bill Murray's) groundhog day. To many, time in the pandemic appears discontinuous and contradictory. Or, better yet, pandemic time is like time out of sync. Things happen too fast in some places, too slow in others. Boredom mingles with anxiety.

In the electric utility world, our group aims to analyze how COVID's temporality is conflicting with that of the social and physical infrastructures that enable people's access to energy. This includes keep track of things like frequencies of outages as well as reports of increases in response times due to decreased staff and restricted movement. We are also noting how the crisis is precluding many of the daily coping strategies of limited-income communities who were already dealing with energy vulnerability (i.e. visiting friends or public spaces with AC during the heat of the day).

Beyond informal coping strategies, the extant social infrastructure of energy assistance is also strained by the pandemic's longevity. LIHEAP's energy assistance programs, which vary by state, were only designed to offer short-term assistance during "crisis seasons" (i.e. harsh summers and/or winters). Most are neither prepared nor funded well enough to offer assistance over the long term. The existence and duration of moratoriums on disconnections (as well as plans to recover their costs) also vary by state. Thus, as seasons continue to change while these moratoriums come to an end, we aim to create both a map and timeline of the shifting spatio-temporality of energy vulnerability taking shape across the US.

On the other hand, the crisis is also opening up the possibility of new energy futures. Many nations and states are shifting their attention from immediate emergency management to thinking about economic recovery. In the past, efforts to boost the economy would, by default, entail massive uptakes in carbon emissions. Today, however, the crash in oil and gas, which coincided the outbreak of COVID-19 has had deep and far reaching consequences and some experts are predicting that the combined stressors are such that the industry will not likely be able recover. In response, a number of prominent economists have generated Green-New-Deal-like recovery plans that have also been endorsed by international development agencies like the IEA and IMF. This new globalist turn toward sustainable recovery could signal a new imaginary for the planet's energy future.

Thus, in addition to thinking about the temporality of disasters (i.e. fast vs slow), this pandemic raises questions about how intersecting temporalities are also constitutive of the disaster. That is, how are the complex, multiple, and dynamic temporalities of COVID-19 entangling with and interrupting other cycles, rhythms, and rates of change? How is this engendering and compounding its disastrous effects? On the other hand, what opportunities has it created? How might the COVID-19 experience alter or shape new ideologies and phenomenologies of time or imaginaries of the future? What temporal sensibilities do we need to develop in order to cope with the new normal of the "post-COVID" world?

In Energy in COVID-19, we are focused on how these questions pertain to plans and practices for producing, distributing, and consuming energy and related services. However, I also hold that the "COVID moment" is opportune for a wider problematization of time and disaster in a more general sense, one that may have important implications for disaster studies and disaster governance in/of the Anthropocene.

Duygu Kasdogan's picture
July 28, 2020

I also have many questions at local, national, and transnational levels. Nevertheless, in the short-term (Fall 2020), I want to focus on the following research topics/areas: 

  • The transnational governance of COVID-19

  • The ways science-society relations (and/or scientific cultures) shape and are shaped by the governance of COVID-19 in specific places (from community to institution to city to nation-state scale).

  • Tactics that can be developed through transnational collaboration so as to respond to the various problems deepening and/or emerging in the midst of this disaster, e.g., the problems we (may) encounter as educators, and so on. 

I imagine all these as collaborative studies.

Maka Suarez's picture
July 27, 2020

I am particularly interested in comparative approaches on how different sites (and academics in those places or studying them) are thinking about COVID in their localities. How are people dealing with issues of trust and information in an era when entire archives are in danger (like the police archives in Guatemala which had been rescued in the past decade and are now in danger). This question expands beyond COVID but has become crucial in the context of Ecuador where reliable data is hard to come by. Another important aspect for us is how indigenous communities are fairing amid the pandemic (here a fabulous article on the terrible situation in Brazil—which is not so different to Ecuador's). This touches on issues of communication, infrastructure, language, systemic racism, and more. Finally, I am also interested in ways in which we might be a able to contribute to some of these issues from our academic spaces. Collaborators (which can take many forms) are certainly welcomed.

Kim Fortun's picture
July 27, 2020

I have many questions, but to start: 

I’d like to build perspective on the types of social science research being done on COVID-19 in different settings, reading through the research agendas collected by CONVERGE, for example, abstracts of NSF RAPID awards in the social sciences, and the short articles published by the Social Science Research Council.   It will be a challenge just to build a collection of lists like these to (slowly) work through.  I see this as a way to understand the discursive formations emerging around COVID-19, giving us a sense of gaps, risks and issues that especially need attention by STS researchers.