Buzz terms

Keywords and buzz terms circulate and recirculate in the media, from health care agencies, journalists, politicians and more, with their meanings largely assumed. Some have become truisms, but without necessarily being true. They help construct what coronavirus, Covid-19, the pandemic et cetera are taken to mean.

Coronavirus / Covid-19 / we’re all in this together / pandemic / herd immunity / the virus doesn’t discriminate / strange times / lockdown / furlough / war / stay home, protect the NHS, save lives / NHS heroes / the frontline / PPE / ICU / testing / new infections / today’s deaths / the numbers show / he’s a fighter / social distancing / the new normal / exit strategy / key workers / flattening the curve / unprecedented / social bubble approach / true frontline / parallel health epidemic / hidden health cost / R-0 and Rt / now is not the time / contact tracing apps / citizen surveillance / test, track and trace / lifting the lockdown / protecting the vulnerable / the 80% of us not vulnerable / segmented shielding / care homes / experts say / following the science / driven by the science / the science says / stay alert / steps to lifting lockdown / mixed messages / R increasing, a second epidemic wave / return to work / schools opening / flock to beaches / arrivals quarantine / air bridge / “It’s one law for them and another for the rest of us.” / finishing the job / return to school / schools closed / masks on public transport / 2 metre social distancing rule / possible local lockdowns / save the summer / pubs and restaurants / primary school opening dropped / lost generation / silent spreaders / it’s not over / travel bubble / community transmission / support bubbles / household symptomless transmission / life after lockdown / 1 metre social distancing / quarantine free holidays / doubling the classroom bubble / experts warn government / lockdown lift / back to school / masks / local lockdown / whack a mole / pop-up test centre / masks and visors / droplets / super spreaders /

and the collection grows.

Sociology On and Beyond the COVID-19 Crisis – BSA event

Interesting papers were given were given at an online symposium on 24 April 2020 hosted by the BSA. Much current discourse is cast in epidemiological terms, while this event firmly returned to the development of a sociological analysis. In order of speaking: Nik Brown drew useful comparisons between the present situation and how people experiencing cystic fibrosis manage their treatments and lives. Ipek Demir discussed the initial failure to take the levels of risk associated with the coronavirus seriously. Bridget Anderson’s presentation was concerned with the present emphasis on the nation and different ways of ‘joining the nation’, with the irony that many of those concerned do not have full citizenship rights and permanency. Susan Halford’s presentation was concerned with the possibility of new futures and seeing the pandemic as a kind of portal to a number of potential futures, both enabling and damaging. Danny Dorling situated the unfolding statistical statements about infections and deaths in the context of long-term trends involving both accelerations and de-accelerations. A podcast of this excellent event, chaired by Sue Scott, is available on the BSA website and on YouTube from here. Liz Stanley

Plagues, monuments and folds in the land

Angus Bancroft

In pandemic times social time seems to give way to virus time. The time the infection takes to replicate, transmit and reinfect is now the basic unit of time which supersedes other rhythms of social and economic life. There is a much longer historical virus time. To be human is to carry the imprint of virus responses in our immune systems and DNA. Viruses have their own biological historical record. Edinburgh is scattered with monuments to the medical history of the place. There are statues to medical pioneers, far too many plaques to read and grasp, each marking the struggle between humanity and mortality. On Princes Street sits a statue to James Young Simpson, one of the pioneers who developed chloroform as an anaesthetic. Another imprint of disease and public medicine is less pronounced but more chatty, the folds in the land . There are the plague mounds, cemeteries, and the plague barriers, remnants of barriers between folk designed to ensure social and contagion distance, and the draughty working class housing that was an attempt to get a grip on miasma and contagion. 

The collision between theories of humanity and theories of disease contagion is worth attention. It is written stone and earth. In creates new ways of governing humans, tagging and sorting them and shifting some to the edge of the expanding city, to new sites like Niddrie. Improvement moral, economic, social and sanitary reshaped the city and resorted its inhabitants. Planners theorised how bodies would mix. The vertical social segregation of the Old Town gave way to the horizontal separation of the new suburbs. Internal and external architecture was informed by ideas about hygiene and sanitation alongside privacy, ownership, divisions of domestic labour and time.  

The evidence of past social innovations and public health crises is visible in the physical form of the city and also its social dynamics and the cultural and imaginary distance between places. The current pandemic will produce its own legacy in the physical and organisational infrastructure while as a society we move onto the next worry. Looking at past pandemics is going to be crucial to understanding the challenges involved.