A Decameron for these Covid-19 Times

It is important to acknowledge and record these terrible times, to engage – both as human beings and as sociologists – with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But how to do so when all of us are locked down and some of us are in 12 week isolation periods? We can among other things think about other earlier pandemics and how other people responded to them for ideas about this.

Imagine: A pandemic is raging, increased numbers of people are dying day on day, no one knows how to stop it, friends and family shun each other, the ordinary sense of time and space and connectedness is dislocated. A group of colleagues come together, deciding to isolate themselves for a two-week quarantine period and to do so in a thoughtful and mindful way. They gather in one of their houses for the duration. And they tell each other stories, the stories of their times ­­– 10 days, 10 people, 100 stories. Sound familiar? This is Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a story which is a compendium of many stories.

The collective ‘we’: The collective we now don’t have to imagine what a pandemic is like, because we are living it, and we must never forget that some of the people we know, and many more who we do not, are dying it. What stories are told about this when a group of colleagues, colleagues who are sociologists, come together to tell stories of our times with the terrible events of the coronavirus pandemic as backcloth?

Edinburgh sociology: Edinburgh sociology as a community has come together in a responsive way, to tell thoughtful stories about the events we are experiencing, with a sociological eye cast over such matters. This webpage is a portal to the stories that a number of colleagues have told over this period.

Stories: A story is a structured narrative or other form of representation with some element of momentum in it that moves the account it gives forward. The idea of an account brings in interpretation and point of view, evidence and argument, analysis, conclusion; and whether persons or agents are mentioned or not, agency is nonetheless involved on the part of whoever provides the representation, as well as any persons represented within this.

Who tells the stories and how: Everyone can tell stories of these times, the whole Edinburgh sociology community. They can be poems, single sentences, photographs, podcasts, essays, graphs or tables, whatever seems most appropriate. The medium can be the message and vice versa, and the oral and visual can be accommodated along with the written.

Decameron rules: The stories all have an author and a title and the date on which they were written. They are self-contained, with no lists of references. They do not need highly specialised knowledge to understand them but are immediately accessible. They have a beginning, middle and end, albeit not necessarily in that order. They have a certain brevity, as essays or think-pieces rather than novels or treatises, and are usually around 1200 words or equivalent maximum length.