A postcard from my envelope of space-time

Mariana Marcondes

Dear Liz,

Since leaving Edinburgh in February and trying to settle back into my hometown, São Paulo in Brazil, I have been thinking a lot about space and place. Doreen Massey, whose work you recommended to me (thank you again!), has been particularly helpful, as her idea of a progressive sense of place nicely brings together time and space. 

I have been musing about my feeling of dislocation between the city I left in 2016, and the one I arrived back in this year. If places are, as Doreen said, always constructed out of articulations of social relations, well… this society I am back in has experienced a political turn in the few last years, and I cannot say I feel warmly towards what seems to be the mainstream values of my fellow compatriots. Which can feel isolating. More personally, as we are under lockdown, and I have been so since shortly after arriving, and will continue for the foreseeable future, I am away from my family and friends just as much as I was living in Hong Kong and then Edinburgh, timezones aside. Additionally, I am living in a new apartment, in a new neighbourhood, which is a place that is older and more urban than my previous addresses in this city, so in a sense it is more similar to where I lived in Hong Kong.

Then there is time. As one would expect, I am significantly different from the person I was four years and some countries ago. As I unpack both what I have brought from abroad and all the stuff that had sat packed up for years here in Brazil, things that have never previously shared the same space or the same time are now coming together, which makes me feel a bit like a time-traveller. I am still noticing some sort of breaks on the time-space continuum which are  caused by this and that testify to very different ways of living.

So, right now, I am trying to knit together a present in which these stories from different places and times can come together. There is time for that now in my life, as I am sheltering in a place with no conditions about planning for the future. I wonder how things are and who is writing what about the histories happening  in those apartments that were a home for me when I was abroad in Hong Kong and Edinburgh. Now I am trying to find some coherence and identity in this non-place and non-time that I am in. Which is fine because, as Doreen said, the identities of places are always temporary, uncertain, and in process.

As is customary everywhere at this trying time, I finish by saying that I hope this finds you, your family, friends, places, and all other affections, healthy and fine.

Mariana Marcondes

São Paulo (Hong Kong, Edinburgh), July 2020

Invisible touch

Angus Bancroft

What do you touch most everyday? Your face? Your hair? Someone else? Coffee cup? Door handle? Keyboard and screen?  A lot of our social, leisure and work lives were conducted digitally before lockdown and now it seems nearly all of it is.  Now imagine each digital element was tangible. How much does a click ‘weigh’? What’s the mass of a like? How much momentum does your tweet have? What’s the force of an insta? The calorific value of an email? 

The question I have been dicing with during lockdown is how the digital is tangible as a physical force. It has been estimated that the internet weighs between 6 micrograms 60 grams depending on how many electrons are factored into the calculation. Rather than being this literal – what energy does it consume – I think of it in reverse. How much of your energy does it consume. What physical properties does it imbue in the user? Marshal McLuhan noted that watching television was a physical experience. A person watching it has their metabolism change, their brain changes to devote more resources to the bright little square in the visual field. The digital also rearranges selves, demands devotion, shifts sleep cycles, changes appetite.

The question matters for how we apply digital methods. As we recognise the digital as material this helps us examine how it has effects as a set of social things. Digital systems stabilise some realities and destabilise others. The design of digital platforms makes the social tangible in ways that we can examine. In a way this just brings us back to the original questions of sociology – what is artificial, what is natural, what is social and how do real things have real effects. We have never been without technology, from the cooking pot to the lifestyle pharmaceutical. Technologies order life. Now we can examine how sociality incorporates computational effects, the touch of the algorithm.

We already deal with this materiality in many ways. A spreadsheet has material effects. Double entry bookkeeping brought us modern capitalism. Lotus 1-2-3 brought us predictive capitalism. Lenonardi identifies that as the effective production (‘the practical instantiation’) of theoretical ideas. Software creates capacities for action and constraints on it as any technology does.  One of the effects I have noticed in digital drug dealing is how it reworks the experience of waiting. Social time is a comprehensible, graspable form of sociality which is currently overwhelmed and articulated by machine time, by the nanoseconds of algorithmic calculation. Drug buyers’ discussion of waiting – waiting for a dealer to respond via the market system, waiting on the postal service to deliver the drugs they want – put social time back in. I noticed how often concepts of dopesickness – drug withdrawal – were showing up in the same discussions as references to time and waiting. The obdurate waiting times dictated by the delivery infrastructure, such as shipment times, and by the market infrastructure, such as the time for bitcoin payment to clear and an order to be confirmed, were endured. Waiting because the dealer keeps you waiting is not endurable. Users who perceive indifference on the dealers’ part then find time is experienced more harshly. Dopesickness becomes more painful, and anxiety grows. One reason for that is that the user is concerned that the drug may not arrive at all. That feature of the infrastructure then changes the texture of dope time for the user. It reminds them that the power in the relationship fundamentally lies with the dealer. The user worries that they may be thrown back on an unreliable face to face market, or have to go without. Time waiting becomes physical. The drug market system produces a physical response. System users experience the system as touching them.

The example I have used here shows how digital systems have matter. They are not only communicative but have force, weight on the world. It needn’t surprise us that the weight lies on those already marginalised (Noble, 2018). 

Leonardi PM (2010) Digital materiality? How artifacts without matter, matter. First Monday. DOI: 10.5210/fm.v15i6.3036.

Noble SU (2018) Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. NYU Press.

Why so many BAME COVID victims?

There has been coverage of the disproportionate numbers of Black and ethnic minority deaths during the pandemic. Colleagues at the University of Edinburgh have written about the social determinants of covid 19 and bame disproportionality in their post for the British Sociological Association blog: Discover Society. It is important reading.

Worries about the future and the collective

Julia Marques da Silva

Cailin Healy and an unidentified friend, both of Calabasas, take a selfie together as beachgoers enjoy warm summer-like weather in Huntington Beach amid state and city social distancing regulations mandated by Gov. Newsom.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

One of the most nerve-racking activities during the pandemic for me was to walk down to the California beach on a hot day. Signs reading that beaches are closed from 11am to 5pm, with the exception of water sports, should stop the masses coming to escape the heat, but it has become more a coronavirus vacation.

Families do not think twice about setting up their tents and umbrellas to spend the day and ignore the state mandate of wearing a mask at all times outside until they need to get food for their hungry child, or they want to enter a shop to purchase something. I personally have quickly adopted the new reality of wearing a mask at all times outside of my house and have been met with weird side glances and sometimes even sniggering from people passing by. But one of the most bizarre reactions is from those who aren’t wearing one and don’t even acknowledge that you are wearing a mask. They are fine seeing others take the required precautions in the pandemic while they are actively failing to do so themselves. This becomes more absurd because with the masses of the people at the beach, it is exactly how it would have been last summer. A summer without coronavirus.

This perception of a pandemic free summer is created mainly by how people are forgetting that the pandemic is still an issue. By not wearing a mask or failing to follow guidelines, there becomes two different realities between people who are living in the same community. The two different realities of pre-pandemic and post-shelter in place life. While these realities are always intersecting with each outing outside of my home, they aren’t met with any uneasiness or conflict. At least where I live, they both coexist.

But this coexistence of these realities is what makes me, personally, perturbed. The difference in general social norms and the perceived obliviousness of people who do not realize that the pandemic is still happening in real time has created a stark difference in behavior amongst individuals. People are still able to find moral harmony amongst others even in the extreme circumstances that we see today.

Their sense of comfort in public without following any guidelines reflects on their lack of ability to realize that social life is drastically changing and being modified constantly. Most of the latest news is about people across the country arguing why they should not be required to wear masks by citing that it is an infringement of their rights, they are not terrorists, or the worst reason, “I can’t breathe”, which undermines another American crisis that has erupted in the past weeks over hundreds of years of racial injustice. Not only does this reveal an ignorance of racial issues, it highlights that people do not see that the pandemic has a racial element as minorities across the country are disproportionately affected.

The majority of these concerns about masks has the stance on the self with a huge emphasis on “I”, as a human being and individual being oppressed for being forced to wear a mask. This feeling of oppression that many people feel reflects on how social institutions have been working for their own personal benefits are now being rewritten as everyone is put in danger with the pandemic. This new emphasis on being an individual is dangerous for how America is going to recover after the pandemic, if it is even possible.

It is the lack of understanding of our new social reality as a society that makes me worried for the future of my community and country overall. To put it in simpler terms,  Americans were capable of politicizing a piece of cloth and making a pandemic into a personalized issue without recognizing the impact that it has also made on other people around the world. When a vaccine becomes available to the public, it is highly predictable that will be another battleground of debate that will not be seen overseas in other countries. It only marks a future struggle for the country, especially as we move through the phases of re-opening.

The ignorance that is seen by refusing to wear a mask reveals to me, as a sociology student, that they do not understand that taking these precautions are for the community and the people they live around is more for them than for yourself as an individual. The pandemic is forcing people to realize that we are dependent on our community to a certain extent. It is a measure that is supposed to keep other people safe, while they keep you safe by wearing their own mask.

Wearing a mask should not be up for debate. One thing that many individuals do not understand is that this is not an issue that only affects them, but the whole entire world. It is not just your region, state, or country, but every human being has felt some sort of impact from the pandemic. By neglecting basic guidelines, people fail to recognize that humans are more intertwined with each other than they actually appear. Just like social networks on the Internet, this virus has reminded the whole world that we are all interconnected in distant ways.

At the end of the day, people not wearing masks are implicitly telling others that they do not care about other people’s wellbeing, all of the healthcare providers that are risking their lives, and the world that this is not their priority.  

But what most people don’t recognize that for everyone to move forward and get back to the normal of post-pandemic life, we, as a community, must be able to help each other and cooperate. It is essential to recognize that it is not the time to be thinking about ourselves. In a place where people are supposed to ‘pull themselves up by their boot straps’ and work towards their own individual goals, right now, more than ever, we need to remember that we are dependent on each other as a community to do the right thing, so we can get some amount of normalcy that people crave from the post-pandemic life.

Julia Marques da Silva is about to begin her second year as a sociology undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh

Narrating Covid-19

Liz Stanley


Interested in narrative approaches to researching and understanding the very very varied experiences that people, organisations and countries have of Covid-19? An excellent resource has been provided by the Centre for Narrative Research at the University of East London. This provides links to a wide variety of projects that use a broadly-speaking narrative approach. Much food for the mind and for thought can be gathered through visiting them, not least because they are a source of really good ideas for investigative strategies.

Go here.

Another letter from rural south-western Connecticut, USA 4 July 2020

Emilia Sereva

My brief, infrequent and unnerving pilgrimages for groceries and other household necessities have led me to notice an interesting change in local small talk. Specifically, I have noticed a shift in the regionally-conventional greeting: ‘Hi, how are you?’.

For a number of years now, New England retail store cashiers have frequently greeted customers with a, ‘Hi how are you?’. In reply, the customer is meant to say, ‘I’m fine, thank you. How are you?’ This sounds like a nice-enough exchange of pleasantries until one realises that neither party really listens to or cares about the other’s answer. It’s conventionally normative for Person A and Person B say their halves of the exchange, and then both continue on with their days. On past occasions, mainly to see what would happen, I have attempted to highlight the hollowness the ‘Hi how are you?’ exchange by turning it into a mini breaching experiment of sorts: when a person greeted me with ‘Hi how are you?’, I would answer with an honest account of my day and state of mind. It was a relatively pointless exercise that mainly seemed to cause confusion. Sadly, calling attention to the emptiness of pleasantries is rarely enough to change them.

However, soon after Connecticut began observing state-wide stay-at-home rules, I began to notice a difference in the ‘Hi how are you?’ exchange. I first noticed a difference whilst at the checkout counter of my local grocery market. On this occasion, the cashier asked ‘How are you’ with a surprising tone of sincerity. In turn, I found myself responding with sincerity. On that occasion and frequently since then, the cashiers’ ‘Hi, how are you(s)?’ have seemed to convey genuine interest in my answer, and perhaps also some degree of gratitude that shoppers were wearing face masks, following store-mandated social distancing rules, and continuing to shop at their place of work; my reply of ‘I’m fine, thank you. How are you?’, likewise felt relatively honest. All things considered, I am indeed ‘fine’ because I’m not ill with a mysterious virus. I also realised I was genuinely concerned for the grocery market cashiers, and hoped none of them caught coronavirus or lost their jobs.

I have been wondering about how and in what ways the coronavirus pandemic might potentially foster unity, and perhaps the newly sincere ‘Hi how are you?’ exchange is a small affirming indication. On a grander scale, the coronavirus pandemic has presented the world’s people with a common problem and a common set of related concerns. On a local level, at least in my area of Connecticut where people are overwhelmingly sensible, the coronavirus pandemic seems to have encouraged people to act in terms of others’ safety more than they otherwise would have in the past. This could all be wishful thinking, but my hope is that some positive social norms will rise from the ashes of this frightening year.

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.

Wuhan: Life After Lockdown

A BBC Our World podcast

An excellent 25 minute podcast in the consistently good Our World series on BBC Radio is available, featuring the accounts of many people in Wuhan. This longer version is only available after signing in, and so is accessible only by people who have a BBC licence in the UK. However, in addition a shorter version focusing on some of these people in particular is available via the BBC News app here. ‘Inside Wuhan: Life after coronavirus lockdown’ is concerned with Decameron stories as told, not by the original Italian privileged and rich plague story-tellers, but the ordinary extraordinary folk of Wuhan.

BBC Our World. Producer: Natalia Zuo; Filmed by: Hong Chutian; Edited by: Natalia Zuo, Gordon Watt; Assistant Producer: Yitsing Wang; Executive Producers: Claire Williams, Adam Grimley, Howard Zhang

Finding the Words

Derek Morris

In times like these, it is hard to find the words. For me, searching for the words help to give meaning to what I am feeling. Hiraeth is a Welsh word with a meaning that is hard to translate. It is said to have a meaning close to homesickness, but this doesn’t quite capture it, as a sort of hiraeth-lite explanation. Others have described it as a “longing for where your spirit lives”.[1] That is closer, maybe. It has a kinship with other words in different languages such as the Portuguese word saudade, which expresses its similarity as a longing for something that is not there. Another close word brings to mind my time in Istanbul: this is the Turkish word hüzün, the sense of melancholy and past that hiraeth can convey.[2] I am unsure as I don’t speak these languages with any fluency. But hiraeth and its kindred help to give some sense to these ungraspable moods, and may do the same for many people now in these times. These words are also often associated with immigration, and I am a migrant. I do know I certainly feel a sort of melancholy and longing for something, perhaps a place that no longer exists. These times feel a lot like that: losing the world we knew, wondering if it will ever return. Words help for what I feel, especially when I see my homeland in the news or talk to others, back there, in the United States. 

Being far from home has always been difficult, and now the virus makes everything more so. Although I am a migrant, my situation is quite comfortable compared to that of other migrants. Home, for me, is Oklahoma. My first journey to live abroad began with a year in Iraq in 2003 as a US army soldier. This period, like now, also required unfamiliar forms of communication with my loved ones. It was only letters home at first. Then, our entire company shared a phone. One hundred people. Eventually, there were call centers, a huge step-up from what past soldiers endured, but still difficult with the time zone difference amongst myriad other issues. In Iraq, spending time with Iraqis and also people from all around the US, my former beliefs were also challenged, and I returned home feeling somewhat like an outsider myself, something common amongst migrants that return home.

I eventually met someone who understood this aberrant feeling. My future partner had returned from France with the same sentiment. The wanderlust it produced in us both eventually returned us abroad. Zygmunt Bauman, a migrant himself, wrote on migrants being “rule-breakers,” breaking one of the biggest rules: the rule of staying put. Their countries of origin regarded it as “their original sin”.[3] We made the decision to live in Istanbul, Turkey, as sinners. 

C. Wright Mills once wrote, “in Europe an American discovers America”.[4] I agree. Again, my beliefs were challenged and in between Europe and Asia I discovered another America through fresh eyes and ears. I heard the critiques. I heard the praises. I read the love. I read the hatred. I tried to read and listen to all those in between. Next, the move was to Ireland. I again learned of new ideas from a different context and diverse views. Not only did a new country offer novel views, a master’s course on race, ethnicity, conflict made me even more aware of my country’s racist and colonial past. 

We returned home for a few years, but again pieces of us didn’t quite fit after those many years abroad. Those old feelings returned. We once again returned abroad where I find myself now, in Scotland. Here I am working on a PhD in a concentrated sociological study of my life through the method of autoethnography and the Documents of Life approach. Each time with each new place, it felt like our old world was lost. This does not mean we left that home behind though.   

Weeks ago, I had a 6+ hour phone conversation with one of my oldest and best friends from back home. He was having a crisis. The call ended early in the morning. There may have been drink involved. As mentioned, home is Oklahoma, which is about 5 time zones between us. He was having trouble in a long-term relationship where kids were involved. We have been having long conversations, for several weekends now, over the phone, that stretch well into my mornings. There tends to be lots of nostalgia to annoy my partner. In Covid-19 lockdown, this seems to be a much too common experience for us all. My partner and I spend a lot of time now on the phone and messaging with family, friends and friends that feel like family, back home, at our former homes and even in our new one. Over the years we formed a kinship with many who have a similar sense of hiraeth.

Back home, which is a terrible focus of the current outbreak and the dramatic failure of the Trump administration, my friends are in shock. It is a weird time where you see different countries having different responses: some hailed as good, some great, some bad, some infuriatingly bad. One of my friends mentioned to me how horrible the US response has been (as perceived from her perspective). She lives in a country with a suppressed media landscape. This left her wondering aloud in a WhatsApp recorded message if the response she was observing was partly to do with how it was portrayed to others abroad or if it was, in fact, that unbelievably bad. Had the US sunk to the level of the semi-dictatorial government she lived under now? There is a feeling to want to go to somewhere where things are better. Yet, if you keep moving, where will that place ever be? And there is the guilt you feel about those left behind.

Now, there is a new crisis in America. This piece was mostly written before the events succeeding the murder of George Floyd in the US. I hesitate to bring it up late in this piece of writing because a discussion on matters of race requires much more in-depth discussion, but I feel that not bringing it up would be a bigger error. In many ways it is not a ‘new’ crisis at all as the oppression and injustice wrought by what is considered ‘white’ in America on minorities has a long history. Much longer than America’s founding, it is a part of history than can be traced back across the Atlantic to the country I write in now, in the UK; it is a place that also shares a long history of oppression and injustice. It seems in the US, in 2020, the only people who are served proper justice are rich, white, heterosexual men and everyone else receives theirs in varying degrees to him. Something has to change.

Perhaps words such as hiraethhüzün and suadade do not do enough to bring what we are feeling “home”. Maybe words fail and action needs to take place. Maybe I am not missing a place, but a feeling. Maybe the words should be kept simple and in English: solidarity. 

Derek Morris is a PhD student in Socio-cultural Studies at the University of Edinburgh and a former US Iraq War veteran with research interests in soldiers and their relation to society through autoethnography, narrative inquiry, and the Documents of Life approach


[1] Kielar, Samantha, ‘Hiraeth,’ Word of the Week, Sites at Penn State, April, 2016, https://sites.psu.edu/kielarpassionblog2/2016/04/02/hiraeth/

[2] Petro, Pamela, ‘Dreaming in Welsh,’ The Paris Review, September, 2012, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/09/18/dreaming-in-welsh/

[3] Bauman, Zygmunt, ‘On Writing Sociology,’ Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 17 (1): 79-90, 2003. Page 83.

[4] Mills, K. and Pamela Mills, C.Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Page 208.