The Phenomenology of a Global Pandemic

Aerin Lai

The global Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the fractures in society and illuminated how deadly racial, gender, class inequalities can be – not that we needed a pandemic to reveal how deep-seated and endemic these oppressive social structures are (if only people listened to sociologists more). As we emerge out of lockdown into phase two, I contemplate on the experiential aspects of the pandemic and why it is important to connect embodiment with temporality and spatiality in understanding how we make sense of ourselves in our social worlds.

The day Scotland entered lockdown, I traversed international borders on a flight so empty I woke up multiple times on the plane wondering where I was. There was no crying baby or scuttling crew along the aisle. Just the consistent humming of the plane gliding through clouds. These are ‘bits and bobs’ of our social-physical environment that we associate closely with particular spaces and emotions. The anticipation of arrival in a new place for example, accompanies travel (most of the time).

My return home was the most bizarre. I got out of the cab and was confronted by my dad, standing properly distanced from me at the door, yelling in short commands “leave your bags! Go shower! Quick! Disinfect!” this chaotic scene was the prelude to a week of heightened parental surveillance before a prompt relocation to a government funded hotel room out of my own volition. I was required to complete a two week Stay Home Notice (SHN), a state-mandated quarantine from the date of arrival into the country. For fourteen days, the Singapore government sent me periodic text messages asking me to declare my location through GPS.

The first week of my SHN was spent with my aged and at-risk parents. It was an unrelenting experience of paranoia, surveillance and exasperation. I received texts from my mom in a different part of a three-bedroom flat, asking me to “please mask up, your dad and I are old”. Every trip to the toilet had to be accompanied by frenzied disinfecting. Basically, I was the personification of a virulent Covid-19 organism and my parents’ interactions with me were guided by this understanding. In any circumstances, this would have been ludicrous and offensive. But, since I travelled from the UK, even the state was wary that I could cause a potential Covid-19 cluster. This experience culminated when my mom shrieked at me for touching a pizza slice meant for her and my dad. “YOU CAN’T TOUCH THAT THAT’S DADS AND MINE” This episode ended in tears and desperate pleading for me to “stick to the safety guidelines”.

Done with the unyielding scrutiny of my parents, I decided to relocate for the remaining seven days of my SHN to a hotel paid for by the state. This shift also meant a shift from hypervisibility in the house to complete isolation from people.  I was tucked away in a room with no recourse to fresh air, social interaction or any kind of noise from the outside. That room was a sensory vacuum. No smells, sterile, no noise nothing. The scene outside of other towering hotels and an empty pool was so still it might as well have been a printed photo stuck to the frames of my windows.

It dawned on me then the extent of our reliance on our physical surroundings in making sense of our reality. Jetlagged and isolated, the line between ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Singapore started to blur. It was then that I began to notice that time was ‘felt’, in the smells of the outside, the sounds of traffic, of people, of the colour of the sun and the sky. The feeling of exhaustion from having a full day’s work at the office with the commute marking the ‘end of the workday’. Such are experiential moments that accompany and affix social meaning to the hands or digits of the clock. In this sense, in lockdown where my days are humdrum and consistent, I felt time in an absolutely different way. On days without scheduled zoom meetings, I experience time through a different modality, one that is more reliant on physical sensations like hunger.

My experience of melancholia and depressive bouts have been different during this pandemic. I can no longer distinguish between feelings of restlessness, emptiness, general despair and ‘normal’ days since there are no markers of norms anymore. The lack of demarcation between (social) space and time also translates to difficulties in making sense of my emotions and by extension, sense of being. Prior to March, when days were properly scheduled with regular changes to the physical / social landscape around me, the ebbs and flows of general depression and anxiety were more acute and jarring in relation to ‘good’ days. I could keep track of how I was doing emotionally based on how I was coping with my daily tasks, properly giving purpose to time and space. With the lockdown and upending of normalcy as we knew it, there was no meaning to time and space. In addition, the precarity of unfunded PhD life and the paranoia of racism towards Asians in this pandemic has become palpable. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ days, what I like to call ‘being in the good, medium or bad place’, have begun bleeding into each other.

Time and space need to be seen as constituents in this embodied process of sense-making and identity-formation. Rather than abstract concepts that are studied as disparate pieces of a larger puzzle, we both make sense of time and space through our bodies, while also of our bodies and our realities through time and space. Sociology needs to grapple with bodies and bodily sensations, and the significance of bodily time and space, in its pursuit of understanding the social. Moving forward, with social distancing a preferred mode of interaction, I wonder how such embodied realities can be sociologically investigated from afar.

Aerin Lai is a PhD student in the Sociology Department at the University of Edinburgh.

I befriended a homeless man

Giulia Cavalcanti

I befriended a homeless man.

It is interesting how I am choosing to write about this. This is not a ‘hero’ story. This is just a story about an ordinary human being. Me.
Yet, it is interesting how this act has remained etched in my mind.
In ‘normal’ times where we run late to work, class or to socialise with everyone apart ourselves and/or strangers, so focused on our routines and ourselves, this story is worth telling. Bear in mind, this is not a story about a homeless man, it is a story about myself…

I befriended a homeless man.

I am no hero. I am human. Coronavirus made me human. Coronavirus made us all humans. Once again.

I walk to the shop near my home and there he is. A man around his 40s, with grey short hair and beard. Always sitting with crossed legs, smiling and wishing everyone ‘a good day’. A British or Scottish version of George Clooney I must say. I am sure he was there many times before and during Coronavirus, before and after I noticed him. Always there. I must have seen him, smiled embarrassed and mumbled something like “I’m sorry”. But then one day – nothing like an epiphany – while I am walking to the shop from the safety of my home, I do wonder ‘how it is like to live under the skin of a homeless person?’. What is interesting is that only now with Coronavirus I asked myself such a question.

As now in light of the movement of Black Lives Matter, many people – including myself – ask themselves ‘how it is like to live under the skin of a black person?’. Only now, or only when some big media explodes.
Yet, Coronavirus did not cause homelessness. Coronavirus simply changed my relation towards homeless people. Homelessness has always been there, I was simply not looking directly at it. The reason most likely is that now the home is so filled with meaning and with a bit of intersectional lens we can become all aware that even the literal meaning of home is not as granted as we thought it was. It actually has never been granted!

My “epiphany” changed my attitude. I started smiling, with real intent of smiling, without embarrassment. I started looking and seeing this man’s face. I was no longer simply looking towards his face. I saw the man’s face, and notices: the short grey beard, his small eyes, small details…

I made soup and I brought it to him. I talked to him – What would you like?
And he said nothing. I was confused.
Sometimes I would ask, sometimes I would “surprise” him. Sometimes he would answer secure of what he wanted, sometimes he would not know.
Coffee.
Chocolate.
I did not buy him something every time. But he smiled at me every time. And I smiled and waved at him every time.

He was a kind man. Those people that give you the impression of calmness.

And then I realised something. I did not behave with all homeless people in the same way. That was not an epiphany moment at all. I still smiled embarrassed and mumble “I’m sorry” to other homeless people. I still did not look at every homeless people directly in the eyes. I would wait until he was there to buy something. I bought a coffee once to another homeless man. But that’s it.

So… Why him? It was not the George Clooney’s clone charm. Rather I choose to humanise that singular man. I choose to give him a face into my memory. I choose to interact with him. I choose to connect with him.
There is always something about humanising one homeless person. Usually a man. Homeless women do exist, you know. And yet again women are the one whose stories, whose existence do not change us rich white folks. I still wonder why we choose one person. And why did I choose him? And, after going over and over what I wrote I have my answer. I do not particularly like this ‘solution’. But here it is! I choose him because he does not look like the homeless person. He does not have the appearance of abusing substances of any sorts. He looks clean. He looks at you. He says: ‘have a good day’ before someone would mumble ‘I’m sorry’. He could be a male version of myself as homeless.
I choose him because our similarities allowed me to empathise with him.  I did not choose consciously, but I think my unconscious drove me to him for some reason…

Until our culture is ready to humanise everyone. Every single person. And not just the ones who look like us – Capitalism will win. And every time we walk to a shop and do not see the person who is sitting outside on the floor, capitalism will have won the battle.

I befriended a homeless man.
I humanised a homeless man.
I wish I had asked him more.
– What happened?
– What’s your name?
I still do not know his name.

So, after all, this is a short story about my failed attempt to befriend a homeless man. So, after all, this is a short story of how a virus humanised one woman and maybe all citizens overall.

Walking

Mary Holmes

Looping out from the flat and back to the flat, my walks got longer. Isolated walks, without isolation. This was walking under strict lockdown and it hasn’t changed much yet, except you can stop. You can sit down for as long as you like. If there is sun, you can sit on the grass and read and drink coffee. This is exciting and having other people near, but not too near, is starting to feel okay. Before It was a challenge to find nice places to walk that were not too crowded. The canal was no good, unless the weather was bad. Other wise the tow path made it hard to stay 2 metres apart when passing. The best place for walking was the richer neighbourhoods nearby. People with big gardens and big houses didn’t need to be out, so the leafy streets were a good place to wander and to see spring blossoms and smell grass and trees. You could also eye up the property. Dreams are free.

Lockdown walking means not really going anywhere. That is different to going somewhere for something. Like Ashley Barnwell, I used to walk to get somewhere, to go to work, to buy something. Now ‘I walk to walk’. There is an extravagance in that, but also a parsimony. What else can you do?

At first it was difficult to be polite and avoid people at the same time. Someone thanked me for thanking them when they stood back to let me pass where the pavement narrowed. These are new social courtesies, and new interaction rituals; uncertain, a little complicated, slightly too much. Between encounters, when you are walking just to walk you can think, so I thought about walking. What would a Sociology of walking look like?

Walking has a history. For sociologists that might start with an appreciation of how industrialisation and urbanisation changed why, where and how people walked. For many ordinary new city dwellers, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, it seems likely that walking long distances to market was replaced by walking shorter distances to work. City walking had its people watching pleasures, as early sociologists like Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin noted. However, as more and more people lived in urban areas, walking often became a leisure activity done in the countryside. Rambling clubs became popular from the 1930s in Britain. Later, as urbanisation turned into suburbanisation, suburbanites walked very little, getting into their cars to drive to suburban malls, where they walked to shop. As the ubiquity of cars has increased, pedestrians have been sidelined and spend more of their time watching out for cars than looking at the world around them. And yet walking is recommended as a fitness activity, good for our health and wellbeing.

Different kinds of people walk differently and we can compare. Women and men have different ways of walking, imbibed through socialisation and years of practice. Men are more likely to stride out, and women to be more contained, to take up less space. At least, that is what we might imagine if we extend Iris Young’s ideas about throwing like a girl. How we walk is also shaped by human technologies like high heels or fancy trainers or those weird toe shoes. Not everyone can afford good shoes, and various medical studies show that improper footwear can lead to back or foot problems. How much money you have also means that if we compare working class to middle class people, their options for walking will differ. Middle class people are more likely to be able to afford to access the countryside or live near parks, while those in deprived areas might be reluctant to walk around their neighbourhoods, especially if gangs are present or even just because there is a lack of green spaces nearby.

These comparisons help in thinking critically about walking, they help to consider what kinds of inequalities are attached to it. Women may not feel safe walking about the city, especially at night, constrained by fears of violence. In other places, some women may be constrained by cultural practices that do not allow them to walk out in the world  without a male relative to accompany them. Other women may walk too much, covering large distances daily to collect water or firewood. And to think critically about walking means thinking about those who cannot walk easily or at all due to a physical impairment. How are they disabled by the way in which society is organised and cities built? Think about the cobbles and curbs that can’t be navigated by wheelchair or the step-free routes that are too long for older people with limited mobility. And what about African Americans for whom a stroll to watch birds in the park can lead to racist abuse, or a walk to buy cigarettes can end in being arrested and killed by police? Power relations and structural issues like racism and sexism affect who walks where and with what consequences.

From injustice, resistance and change can come. Despite the still high levels of Coronavirus in the US, hundreds of thousands of people have been out on the streets marching together to protest over the killing of George Floyd. There is a history of freedom marches to fight against racism and walking with others has long been a form of protest against all kinds of injustice. I remember this when my daily walks feel like they are going nowhere.

Sources and further reading

Conley, J. (2012) ‘A sociology of traffic: driving, cycling, walking’ pp 219-236 in Vannini, P. (ed). Technologies of Mobility in the Americas. Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang.

Freund, P. and Martin, G. (2004) ‘Walking and motoring: fitness and the social organisation of movement’ Sociology of Health & Illness 26(3): 273-286.

Harries, T. and Rettie, R. (2016) ‘Walking as a social practice: dispersed walking and the organisation of everyday practices’ Sociology of Health & Illness, 38(6): 874-883.

‘Beneath the pavement, the beach!’

Angus Bancroft

Young people sit out in the warm night, occupying the road, chatting and laughing until late on. The moon is bright, slightly yellow and clear. The air still. 

Like most of Edinburgh my area is car cluttered. An old photograph of my street from the 1900s shows it wide and spacious, before car parking hemmed everyone in. Looking at the teens using it now I glimpse another view, of road space made available for social life, of space to breathe and circulate. The road stops being a torrent of cars we have to scurry across. Pavements stop being narrow paths we teeter on. 

The cars haven’t vanished but the fear has. An empty parking space suddenly becomes part of the communal living room. Meadows live beneath tarmac. ‘Beneath the pavement, the beach!’ was a slogan of the 1968 Paris protests against the rigid social order of postwar Gaullist France. The city needs to breathe. The people using the street as if it was a public park are doing something new. It’s not a picnic space or a play space, it’s not a street party, it’s an extension of intimate domestic space into the street. This may be necessity. The typical domestic, public spaces we use – pubs and cafes – are closed, so new ones have to be found. 

One of the constant refrains of alcohol policy discussions over many decades now has been why can’t British/Scottish drinking culture be more like continental pavement culture. This is generally a vain hope. The image of shivering with a cold pint on a narrow, busy pavement, breathing in fumes and trying to avoid catching people’s eye was not wholly appealing. This bottom up extension of home space might be more viable and appealing model to start with should we try and learn lessons from the lockdown living.

Stop the clocks

Mikaela Springsteen

‘Clock’ by Denis Mihailov

There is an old clock which sits now in my basement. It has collected dust there for years, corrosion building around a battery which ought to have been pried loose from its moorings after the clock was taken off the wall of a childhood bedroom over a decade ago. It is forever 2:52 in that basement room.

May has lasted for months in the rest of the house.

Here in the mountains, time tends to move slowly—even in an ordinary year, but the pandemic has changed this place too. It slows time for days until a flurry of activity accompanies the arrival of some new package, or a resupply run, or some other contact with the outside world. Pandemic time does not pass smoothly.

It has been often remarked that pandemic time passes oddly, too. Wednesdays are skipped and breakfast becomes lunch. The nights are getting shorter here, and the days are getting hotter, and each and every day seems to last for a week. Pandemic time is deceptive that way.

But time still does move on. The lake thawed months ago now, and loons can be heard each night. Great excitement accompanied the year’s first sighting of the local bald eagle—a sure sign of hotter days ahead.

Isolated here, time slowly marches on—but somehow little seems to change.

That is always the way of the world, it seems. In the midst of things it feels as though nothing will ever change. That the way it is is how it has always been, and how it will continue to be from here on out. Life simply goes on.

I have always understood sociology to be, in part, a study of this consistency.

This comforts me.

All of this has happened before.

History mocks predictions of systemic change in the wake of this pandemic. Systemic change is rare. Systems resist change. They are very good at doing exactly what they were designed to do, and very rarely is capacity for change written into the source code of a system.

The clock in my basement ran forwards, only and always. And now it has stopped.

Some systems are more flexible than others—the mind of a honeybee is changed more easily than the mind of a human—but I am myself evidence of the capacity for systems to change. Only a few generations ago I would not have been permitted to vote, to have been educated so, to travel so freely alone. Even then, millions were forced to wait for years more for systems to recognize their humanity. Millions more still wait.

But there is more to life—and to sociology—than stasis. Living systems require change.

Sociology tells us not that things never change, merely that any change is hard-won and rarely novel—what is new in one local context is rarely new in all contexts. There is nothing new under the sun. Sociology catalogues changes even as it marks down consistencies.

So how are we to understand change in a context where time seems almost to have stopped? Where we all relive our days as we wait for the world to spin back up to speed? What new world will greet us all when pandemic days come to an end?

I have expressed doubts about prognostication already, so I will refrain from any such pronouncements here. What I will do instead is return to the comfort of sociology.

Sociology speaks often of the ways in which individuals can be caught up in the gears of an inevitable system. But it speaks too of the parts which constitute those systems. Society, and the many smaller systems it relies on, is ultimately built up out of each individual.

In the places where a system sticks, like in my poor old clock, someone has to pry off the housing, clean out the corrosion, mend what can be mended, and make anew all that which will not.

That is the wellspring of change. The world which exists tomorrow is the one which we make today. That is the promise—both blessing and curse—of path-dependency. People work wonders, systems change, and life moves on.

The hummingbirds have returned to the lakeside now, and are making merry war over the feeder. Cherries are back in season, and it feels somehow a small miracle to find them in the shop up here. Kayakers paddle past the house now, fishers lose lures in the rocks, and I’ve been down to dig out the old clock from the basement.

Time slips strangely for us all, especially—as we all now say—‘in these times,’ and so it feels somehow right that I will lay out some tools which belong to my father, which came from his father, and from his before that. I will lay out some tools from a century ago and try to find the future in the ticking of a clock.

The last clap?

Liz Stanley

The tenth Thursday clap, on 28 May, is likely to be the UK’s last. There was that sense in the air, for the sound was louder and more varied and came from more parts of the village, from further up the hill, from the central village, to the houses at the edge, to us on Coach Road and Warton Crag. In addition to all the clapping there was a makeshift drum, many car horns, elaborate whoops and amazing whistling, and a wider variety of pots and pans used as tymphony. To the carers.

The tenth clap

On neighbourliness, a letter from Melbourne

Ashley Barnwell

Unable to visit, I speak to my favourite four-year old via video-chat. She exhibits her latest crayon portraits. I ask her if she has been to the park. Her brow furrows with confusion – surely this adult knows about …?  Just in case, she breaks the news, “Have you heard about the virus? You can’t go anywhere.” Later she sends a whatsapp voice-recording on her mother’s phone that says, “I want to go”. The word stretches out. Go somewhere, go anywhere.

People are using space differently. With the walls closing in, home blurs into the street. Neighbours I’ve never seen are outside. A young woman, two houses down, drags her desk out to the footpath and reads a textbook with her back to the sun. On the corner at night a man jumps rope under the streetlight, like a strange apparition. The lads across the road leave their blinds open and our living rooms look into each other, the glow of lights and the flicker of televisions assure that life is still living beyond the walls.

In the absence of my daily routine, I find myself missing people I don’t know. The people who also catch the 8.38am tram. The always-chipper barista at the stop who knows all their names and preferred milks. I see these people more often than I see my family. In another way, they are familiar to me. Suddenly it feels meaningful that we show up each morning and signify for one another the start of a day going to plan so far, same crew, no surprises yet.

Habits are hard to break. In the fruit market a mother reminds her two boys to “practice keeping their hands in their pockets”. Upon hearing this, I have already picked up and squeezed and put back several too-ripe avocados. Hands touching things touching hands.

Over the summer I was thinking about hands (for pre-corona reasons). I made a little zine about them, and showed it to an old friend. He said he almost wrote a book about hands being the very end of us, the part that touches the world. We sat in the bar and watched what people do with their hands. Always reaching out, tipping a glass, offering a light, acting out a story, and then closing the circuit, bringing the hand back to the self, to clasp, rub a shoulder, pick a tooth.

The news app says medics are ‘tracing contacts’. If infected, we’ll be asked to remember all the tiny touches and transfers that happen every hour. We tap the same buttons, open the same doors, exchange the same coins, breathe the same air. To forget this, we stage ‘personal space’ with collaborative acts and cues. Standing so close we feel the heat of each other’s bodies during commuter hour, we gaze down, put bags between us, listen to headphones. Now the trams roll by empty.

During lockdown, the state permits a daily walk in the local neighbourhood for exercise. Usually (in the old normal) I walk to get somewhere. I dash from the office to buy a sandwich. I race to a committee meeting at 7 minutes past the hour. I roam the aisles of the supermarket hungry to get home. A to B. B to A. Now (in the new normal) I walk to walk.

It feels properly solitary to walk for the sake of walking. But on these walks I have been thinking about intimacy, albeit of an impersonal kind. What is our ethical duty to people we’ve never met? The social ground that is now a figure.

I have been mulling on this because the question newly envelops us. It is the small print on all government bulletins, ‘how-to-handwash’ signs, graphs of available respirators, in each political speech and on every absurd protest banner. But my thoughts have also been sparked by the signs of neighbourliness that punctuate the path.

I walk alongside the Moonee Ponds Creek, one of the main tributaries of the Yarra River. A rich source of life and culture for the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations, the waterway flows from the mountains to the sea. In the colonial construction of Melbourne the creek was diverted and its marshlands filled with refuse and then concrete. On the stretch that winds through the inner north of the city, people jog and cycle along what is now a vast concrete stormwater-drain, funnelling the waters under and around the Tullamarine Freeway and down to the Docks. Graffiti and water-logged litter line the trail. It is urban, but in its expanse also feels scenic. As you cross under the shadowy 8-lane overpass, the echo of cars speeding above is damp and booming.

Most people walk alone or with dogs, but all around there are flashes of community. Old tyres bridge the muddy dips in the path. A donated dining chair sits under the rungs of the overpass surveying the bend. Teddy bears peer down from windows backing onto the creek, as part of a crowd-sourced bear hunt to entertain isolated kids. The way is furnished with the care of strangers.

Walking north, you come to a little library made for passers-by. Named the Waxman Lockdown Library (or WLL) for the street, it is housed in an old bedside cabinet, and decorated with love-hearts and bookish quotes from the likes of Frank Zappa and Anon. The shelf is stocked with scandi-noirs and half-read classics. In faithful charity, the top drawer offers necessities which are now scarce due to panic buying – toilet rolls and sachets of hand-sanitiser. The little library is a beacon in pandemic times. It feels fragile in its risk of transfer yet defiant in its ethos of trust and sharing.

Returning south, the concrete gullies are blazoned with graffiti. I notice a new piece this week, simple in line style and bold in proclamation – “I will not take dictation from you”.  It recalls a famous retort from a former cabinet minister to a conservative radio shock-jock. It’s a reminder of the toxic tangle of media and politics. It’s a reminder of all the toxic tangles we have been struggling to break from, all the battles that go on neglected while we pour our attention into this crisis – the violence of gender binaries; neo-colonial rule; climate injustice. The red letters reach out like someone shaking me from sleep.

Perhaps it is the isolation, the break from routine, the halt of busyness, that allows me to feel these impersonal intimacies more sharply. In staying home to save lives we’ve assumed a responsibility for the wellbeing of people we don’t know and will never meet. As I walk, hands in pockets, I wonder what we will make of this chance to see the usually unseen ties that bind us?

Ashley Barnwell is a Sociologist at the University of Melbourne. In 2019 she was a visiting scholar in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh.

On the backs of the working class

Elsie Greenwood

Photo by Eric Parker

The past two months have been like no other in my life, the way society has disintegrated and changed has been remarkable. In many respects these developments are a sociologist’s dream – humanity, our systems of rule and particularly our political “harmony” has been exposed for what it is: impermanent.

When I watched the PM’s recent coronavirus update I sat in disbelief, the government line was both bewildering yet blatant in its ambition. It seemed non-sensical, never explaining what it actually meant to “stay alert”, yet brazenly saying those who cannot work from home are “actively encouraged” to return to employment before any workplace safety guidance had been released. To me, this read as: “we are succumbing to the desires of the liberal middle classes and will let them sunbathe and see friends in the park whilst we will keep the economy trudging along on the backs of the working class”. Because who are those unable to work from home? It’s the cleaners, factory workers, delivery drivers and builders.

The PM’s class-less analysis of his new policy didn’t stop there, he also gave recommendation to not use public transport to travel to work. 70% of working-class people in London use public transport to get to work, most Glaswegians don’t have a car, it was no surprise the news headlines following the PM’s updates were vilifying workers “pilling onto tubes”- as if no one could have predicted such an outcome. It’s hard to understand if the government is feckless or if they genuinely see working lives as dispensable?

When contemplating such a question as the one above, we should question why we use the use of the terms “key worker” and “hero” when referring to front line workers. Whilst I am obviously in awe of the working people risking their lives during this crisis, I find issue with these terms for particular reason. I worry they are a form of comfort blanket to help those of us sat at home moralise and justify people dying for us. When a key worker dies, it is tragic, but for some reason isn’t shocking. Whilst I will note we have been doing this since the war, it’s time we stop glorifying the deaths (of frequently working-class people) in times of crisis instead of asking the government why they aren’t doing more to protect working lives.

Now contrary to the opinion of many leftist men I encounter on twitter the working class isn’t just white men and thus we mustn’t white wash the problems Coronavirus has exposed. The virus is having a devastating impact amongst the working class BAME community – who have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Black men and women are dying at 4 times the rate of their white contemporaries, and 72% of our “key” NHS workers and carer deaths are BAME. The government needs to recognise they continually fail these communities: whether it’s Grenfell or Coronavirus, BAME communities are being hurt by the negligence of the British state.

Truthfully, the outcomes of this pandemic could have been predicted. The way the world works is unsurprising, class inequality permeates every corner of society, if austerity hurts the working classes the most, why wouldn’t a global pandemic?

But, we aren’t without hope.

If the coronavirus has done anything it has thrown societies biggest issues on to the front page of every newspaper, it has made the low skilled worker the key worker. The governments ability to change policy overnight has shown us it doesn’t have to be this way. This could be the time we actually start valuing those workers who are the backbone of this country, not just with an applause but with decent pay. I believe the system is shaking in its foundations, and time is up for those who think society has to be this way.

Elsie Greenwood is a undergraduate sociology student going into her third year at Edinburgh. She has been an active member of the Labour Party for 5 years and is co-chair of LGBT Labour in Scotland. She is a member of GMB the trade union and is on the Scottish Trade Union Youth Committee as the GMB representative. Some of her academic interests include: racial and class inequalities in the justice system, policing and social housing.

Wet markets are among my favourite places to shop

Sophia Woodman

The author beside her favourite vegetable stall in the Tianjin ‘wet market’, Nov. 2008.

When I first moved to Tianjin in northeast China with my family for 10 months of PhD fieldwork, people I met often offered suggestions about how to navigate the city, including where to shop. Several of them pointed out the location of Carrefour, a global French supermarket chain that had a superstore a bus ride away from where we lived. Their assumption was that this was the most appropriate shopping location for someone like me from what they called the ‘advanced’ world, and that I would be worried about the safety of places where locals did their shopping.

Just down the road, about five minutes’ walk from our flat, was the Tianjin version of a ‘wet market’—a commonplace in many Asian countries. In this city, by the time I moved there in 2008, long-standing local street markets had been moved into large covered halls, open at each end, with shop-like stalls along each side and tables stacked with produce down the middle. When you walked in to the main entrance to the market, the first stalls were piled high with colourful displays of all kinds of fruit, and a bit further down were vegetable sellers, who purveyed an impressive range of greens at all times of year. At the far end there were butchers, with red lights shining on cuts of meat hanging from hooks on a metal bar. There was no wild game in sight—this was not an upmarket neighbourhood. The market stretched out into the open along contiguous alleyways, with one along the side selling clothing, another household goods, flowers, plants and pets, among other things. There were tailors, watch repairers, cooked food vendors and bakers selling delicious flatbreads steaming from the griddle.

We often bought these flatbreads for lunch. We frequently ate it along with the cooked wares from a north China version of a salad bar: vinegar pickled vegetables—lotus root, spicy marinated cucumber, grated carrots—and cold potato flour noodles in toasted sesame paste sauce were among my favourites. A woman and her husband prepared the dishes, presumably at home or in the back of the stall. We bought all our fruit and veg in the market, and got to know which vendors sold the nicest and freshest produce. One of the vendors I liked most was a tall young man whose family came from a rural town some distance from Tianjin. He and his family sold all kinds of things that I didn’t recognize on their vegetable stall, and he would patiently explain to me how to cook them. One example was the spring tips of ash branches, which were delicious stir fried with egg, and like nothing else I had tasted. He always had a joke and often gave his regular customers an addition to what they had paid for, along with the standard handful of spring onions and leaves of fresh coriander.

I did occasionally shop at Carrefour, but I didn’t like it much. There was nothing social about the interactions in such supermarkets, and I didn’t find that the packaging and the sterile environment made me more trustful of the safety of what I was buying. I got into the habit, like most of my neighbours, of shopping daily at the street market, buying small amounts of what I wanted to cook and eat that day. Fresh food, less packaging, less food waste and friendly chat to boot. I’ve also loved shopping in similar markets in Hong Kong and Chiangmai, and found comparable experiences in farmers’ markets in Vancouver and Edinburgh.

Since the suspected origin of the coronavirus outbreak was linked to a wet market in Wuhan where live animals were on sale, there have been constant calls for wet markets to be banned. Such calls conflate wet markets and the eating of wild game, and show little awareness of the complex interconnections involved in the emergence of zoonotic viruses such as Covid-19, which knowledgeable writers have attributed to the destruction of ecosystems on the ever-expanding frontiers of global capitalism. Attacking wet markets is often a cover for barely-disguised anti-Asian racism, and unfortunately most journalists feed into this by continuing to report on the origins of the pandemic in a simplistic way, as well as giving air time to ill-informed celebrities who repeat these tired tropes.