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The Will

Morena Tartari

Once upon a time, there was a mother and a son. The mother was a researcher. Her work carried them to different countries in Europe to study the problems of someone who was a mother like her. She considered herself lucky compared to many mothers she had met for her research: she had studied, had a job, and a healthy son. However, having to compete for academic work with men and women without children, the mother never rested, never cried, her thoughts never stopped, her fatigue was so great, her face marked, her hair whitened.

The son was a primary school pupil. Travelling he had learned a new language and had listened to many others. He loved stories, nature, and science. His humor was a valuable resource and adults and children usually loved him.

Together, the mother and the son had started from a Mediterranean country, Italy, where they had left a grandmother and friends. If the child sometimes felt nostalgic for their home, the mother had no nostalgia for the efforts made to make ends meet. From Italy, they had migrated to Belgium and soon left for Scotland, which was just outside the borders of Europe.

In Scotland, they had immediately felt at home. The son loved school and classmates. The mother adored colleagues; he wrote and worked tirelessly. People were hospitable. Nature was intriguing. It was all they had always wanted.

But an epidemic came.

Perhaps read about only in schoolbooks, for many the word epidemic had an ancient sound. Frequent comparisons were made with the Spanish plague and fever, but most seemed to have forgotten what an epidemic was. Having studied ancient Greek, the mother knew that ἐπιδημία (epidemìa) is something that “is in the people”, circulates, takes possession of them, governs them, does not discriminate, but exacerbates inequalities.

In Italy, the epidemic had spread early and quickly compared to other countries. In other countries, it had come more slowly. In others, it was spreading. However, the life of the mother and son flowed normally, in that Scottish city, hospitable and rich in culture, where the mother and the son could not give up cinemas and theaters, libraries and book stores, museums and gardens. The virus seemed nonexistent. It was enough to think so.

In those weeks between February and March 2020, among the people that the mother met in that city, the epidemic was discussed as an invention of the mass media, a non-existent danger, a constructed panic, an economic speculation, a normal flu, a mistake by the Mediterranean countries, which were considered unable to manage economic and health resources.

In social media in Italy in those same weeks, the epidemic was considered as an enemy invasion, the result of uncontrolled and dangerous immigration, the result of a conspiracy. Furthermore, some people celebrated the epidemic as a liberation brought to humanity: it freed old and sick souls to facilitate their renewal. It “cleaned”.

The mother and the son were unable to fully experience the feelings of their compatriots: skepticism, the anger of being invaded by an “immigrant” virus, anxiety about health, the terror of being deprived of personal freedoms, the fear of contagion among those who had chronic diseases. The mother and the son were unable to understand the abnormality of the situation.

One morning in March, while her son was at school, the mother returned home to get some documents and stopped for a few moments to read the news from her country. On the web page of a newspaper, she saw a video: in the night a column of army trucks transported dozens of corpses out of an ancient town to many other towns, because no cemetery had more place to house the dead, for the cremations there were long waiting lists. The video was silent, only the noise of the engines running. Faced with those images, the mother sat down and began to cry. She could only cry. It was not important that they were elderly or sick. They were dead. In the following weeks, the dead multiplied.

The following weeks seemed endless. For the mother, media and social media were simultaneous windows on the social realities of the country from which they came, Italy, of the one in which they resided, Belgium, and of the one in which they were, the UK. The windows opened contradictory views: the naturalness and the artificiality of the virus, underestimation and overestimation of the danger, hundreds of deaths, a few deaths, different preventive measures, distances of one meter, distances of two meters, open schools, closed schools, seven-day quarantine, fourteen-day quarantine, closed borders, open borders. Each country was developing its own beliefs. In Belgium, it was happening what almost a month earlier the mother had seen it happen in Italy and that she expected would happen – and then it happened – in the UK. It was like living and reliving a déjà-vu.

One afternoon in March, the son came home from school and said to his mother, “My classmates beat me because I am Italian and they say that I brought the virus here. But we, mom, went to Italy only for Christmas.” It seemed to the son and mother that a spell had broken. But they didn’t tell each other. They felt alone in a foreign country.

The announcement of the restrictive measures finally came. The first few days after the announcement, many women the mother had in her contacts lost their jobs. They were mostly single mothers, with a single income. They fell one after the other, like apples from the tree of the precariousness, shouting their despair to acquaintances and strangers through Facebook. There were women who wanted to hide their condition for fear of losing their children. Women who had no money for rent, taxes, groceries. Women who could not go out to do their shopping being alone with young children. Women who feared to die from the virus and leaving orphaned children. Women who made a will. Women who, with joint custody, feared that the coming and going between their home and that of their former partner would facilitate contagion.

Working was difficult for the mother. Time went by looking for information on the virus, on the restrictive measures themselves, on the number of deaths, on the forecasts. It was a whirlwind of one’s own and others’ thoughts.

Later, with a child in primary school and a closed school, the mother was able to work a few hours during the day and a few hours during the night. She accumulated tiredness and worries in her bones, but she continued to feel lucky to be able to work from home.

One day in May, a board denied her a publication because she sent it four days after the deadline. Explaining her family circumstances did not help. At the end of the pandemic – she thought – childless men and women would emerge victorious in the academic competition. Perhaps she too, shortly thereafter, would fall from the tree of precariousness.

Despite everything, the lockdown also presented opportunities. The immobility of staying at home allowed the mother and son saving two or three hours a day by not traveling and commuting. Therefore, there was a lot of time to talk, explain, remember, plan, dream together. Working online from home allowed them to multiply the opportunities in the geographical space: she attended seminars and workshops in the United States or Australia while sitting in their living room, and her son online attended his school in Belgium and video called his classmates in Italy.

The mother rediscovered many childhood memories and taught her son what her father – a primary school teacher – had taught her. In other times, he would not have had time to regain possession of these memories and turn them into new learning.

But, above all, the mother and the son could walk in the meadows and parks, whose colors, after hours and hours closed in the house, shone extraordinarily. Being able to go out once a day in a powerful spring meant making many discoveries that started from the ground on which they placed their feet up to the sky beyond the branches of the trees. They felt free to breathe, look, touch, and listen. They felt they were citizens of a natural world without borders. They wished that their ideas could spread without borders, feeling everywhere at home, free to become part of every living thing: like a virus.

Together they were writing a will.

About the author

Morena Tartari is, currently, a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the Department of Sociology, University of Antwerp, Belgium.

She is carrying out a comparative research study (STRESS-Mums) in four European Countries about single mothers and judicial institutions. In 2012, she completed her Ph.D. (Sociology) at the University of Padua, Italy. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she was a visiting Research Fellow at the School of Social and Political Science of The University of Edinburgh and she participated as a postgraduate student in the discussions sparked by Lynn Jamieson’s sociology class on Intimate Relationships.

A letter from Sydney, Australia 11 May 2020

Lucy Nicholas

I write this as a settler colonial person living and working on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation that were stolen, with this theft and its related genocides never acknowledged and the land never ceded.

I’m a queer, child-free person living alone during social distancing in Sydney, with my partner a 10 hour drive away in Melbourne and my family in UK. I returned from the UK mid March and had two weeks of total home quarantine, followed by social distancing and haven’t hung out with anyone IRL for 2 months. Look, I’m doing fine. My job is stable, I can work from home, I have excellent income, I have zoom, but this vantage point allows me a particular perspective on some of the discourses I see coming out of the media at this time. 

One thing that has been irking my sociology of gender brain is the repeated invocation of ‘families’ by Government spokespeople. How they are working to help Australian families. Never people, citizens, always families. They love that discourse here in Australia and we all know what it means: nuclear, heterosexual, white families. Your regular mum and dad Australians. It is this constant barrage in the media of how families can struggle through Covid, how couples can balance home schooling, how it would be preferred if you don’t visit your country / beach property (!!), how women are bearing the brunt of home schooling. And my life is so.far.from.this. And it feels sometimes that even the critical people have slipped in to an extreme reformism, a really liberal feminism where we are talking about how to acknowledge and manage that (heterosexual, parenting) women are unequally disadvantaged by lockdown and will suffer in their careers, and don’t really talk about why they are and how we could avoid it in the first place. And I’m like yes let’s be mad at how institutions don’t acknowledge the realities of heterosexual parenting women’s lives but CAN WE PLEASE BE ANGRY AT THE MEN! But more so at heterosexuality? And gender? It is this constant tension we have in politics or social change in general of dealing with and minimising the negative impacts of the world as it is (heightened in a time of crisis) and avoiding the accidental reification of the fundamentally social things that make the world how it is. It is a constant tension in my work and in feminism and gender politics. That of keeping one eye on the gender order as is and naming it (in my last book with Chris Agius we used the more 80s term masculinism to talk about it), without reifying it so we always have another eye on getting rid of it, of radically altering it. So, I wanna talk about BOTH the reality of how many of my heterosexual parenting women colleagues will be doing even more in this time, and how compulsory, state sanctioned heterosexuality causes this. 

So, I leave my house and I walk down the street in my neighbourhood where I see queer couples holding hands, single people, and big extended Vietnamese families sharing houses and all hanging out in the yard or the restaurant they run (now take away, phew), to remind myself that this Australia of the news is indeed not the Australia I live in. I love my gaybourhood, one of many in one of the world’s gay capitals that I live in, I love the multiculturalism where communities keep their languages and foods and family ties, and I wish the media would stop trying to erase and deny this reality of what makes Australia awesome.

Shop shut

Mary Holmes

It was a beautiful morning: warm, summery. I decided to go out on my isolated walk early. This meant it was quiet and I was able to stop and take photos of some of the closed notices in the local shops. It gives just a taste of some of the small local businesses affected by Covid 19.

Thursday clap 7 May

A foreshortened clap was recorded at the Thursday clap last night, 7 May. We had just got going when it was noticed that a neighbour was missing who had been at all the others. No lights in the house but car still outside. A distance conversation took place about this, as there are cases of coronavirus in this small village, in others surrounding, and in the local market town. We don’t know yet. The clap this week was an anxious business.

Thursday clap 7 May

Early morning thoughts

Chloe MacLean

The mind and body are separate? Oh aye, gid yin Descartes! Try tellin ma body that. It kens what I’m thinkin’ before ma brain consciously understands it. I woke up at 5:45am today, a Sunday, unable tae sleep anymare. This not-sleeping-at-night is becoming an infrequently frequent pattern for me. I was a bit shocked when I woke because yesterday I had a really good day. In the morning I delivered an online group exercise class for ma pals via zoom, and went a long walk tae the meadows. The meadows is absolutely beautiful just now, the cherry blossom trees are in full blossom sprinkling the air with pink petals. The trees make me feel hopeful, I don’t know why, but they do. Maybe it’s a feeling of continuity – that they blossom every year – or that there is always beauty tae be found in horrible times. I also had ma fav dinner last night – fajitas – and a chatted to ma pals on zoom. So it was a good day. I felt calm. Felt content. I felt ‘things are alright’.

But I find maself with under 6 hours of sleep lying wide awake with an anxious buzz across my body. I’m not entirely sure what this buzz wants me to dae, or what its anxious about. It’s a feeling that’s been supressed, but now I feel the anxiety buzzing in my arms and chest, and I canny sleep.

Really, if I was tae think about it, I’ve been thinkin a lot since the pandemic about ma contribution to…life? What am I doing and what can I be doing to help the wellbeing of others? I’ve always kent that time is short, so I’ve always had these thoughts since I was a wee girl tae be honest. But now time feels more pressin. I feel like I have a lot of thoughts in response tae those questions, but, those thoughts are all over the shop. They are flyin all over the shop, fast, so I canny even pick them up to put them in the right order. Ma thoughts are messy, knotted, and difficult to unravel. These thoughts are moving with panic.

There is a storm coming that ma body is bracing itself for. Ma heart canny take the thought of the austerity to come. It’s possible that now I’ve got a gid chance that my bank account will be okay after the pandemic. I’m from a working class background but work as a lecturer now. If there are redundancies to be made at ma work, once the temps and 0hrs staff have been cut, then, I guess, staff that are still on probation like me are easier tae cut. But, even if that was tae happen, I’ve saved as much as I can since starting my first academic post two and a half years ago, so I’d be okay for a bit. I grew up on benefits, I don’t need much money to get by. Without being told I’ve been taught to hold onto money when you get it cause… well, you don’t want the really skint days. And even though the likelihood is that I’ll be economically okay, ma body still feels that panic. Its alert system is on. Ma partner, ma dad, some of ma pals, ma neighbours – things look a lot less certain for them. What’s gonna happen tae the communities like the one I grew up in? Ma heart canny bare it.

These thoughts I feel across ma body as a sickening anxious buzz. So, I am awake at 5:45am trying, with urgency, tae make sense of it all. Maybe tomorrow will be a good day again.

A letter from Glasgow, Scotland 7 May 2020

Carrie Purcell

For me, work is as busy as ever. 

I’ve just finished reviewing applications for Wellcome’s Humanities and Social Science funding stream and the Covid-related submissions were fascinating, not least for how quickly social scientific teams can mobilise and produce a proposal. Whether they’re asking the questions we really need answers to, on the other hand, remains to be seen I suppose…

Myself and my abortion research colleagues are doing some swiftly put together data collection on women’s experiences of accessing abortion across the UK during the pandemic, with support from Wellcome (linked to our current Sexuality and Abortion Stigma Study). I think it will be interesting because there are obvious implications regarding a highly time-sensitive and gendered healthcare issue – referrals to abortion services are down nationally, what will that mean for women further down the line? We’ve also seen a long-blocked shift to telemedicine for abortion finally happened, which removes a real barrier to access for many. 

Meanwhile my new project is on hold as it involves training frontline NHS staff and recruiting people living with heart failure. But we’re thinking about opportunities to fully digitise the home self-care programme that the project is due to evaluate. This could potentially make it more accessible for users and health professionals alike, and generate a really useful tool if we have to maintain social distancing longer term. 

So the pandemic is creating restrictions and opportunities for change at the same time, and it will be good to track where that goes. 

Thinking Comparatively

Graham Crow

The sociological habit of thinking comparatively across time and space proves particularly useful at times when the familiar world is turned upside down and we are forced to reflect on what is ‘normal’. To-day my principal role was to act as internal examiner for a PhD viva in the changed circumstances of COVID-19 ‘lockdown’. The ‘new normal’ is the viva conducted virtually (in our case via Skype), and the whole thing passed off successfully aside from a delay to our schedule related to connection issues. Certainly academic standards were not allowed to slip.

In the run up to the viva I had remembered a passage from Harrison E. Salisbury’s book about the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War when the city was surrounded and Hitler’s troops and their allies sought over a period of nearly three years to starve the population into submission. Defiance by the city’s occupants was famously crystallised by Shostakovich’s Symphony number 7 and its remarkable performance in the city (as well as elsewhere). But Salisbury’s book recounts many other acts of resistance, including the example of which I was reminded this week: ‘The presentation and defense of doctoral dissertations had gone on without pause in Leningrad, all through the terrible winter [of 1941-2], in air-raid shelters, in cellars. There had been 847 defences of dissertations in the first months of the war. In December [1941] the Leningrad Party Committee warned the academic community “not to permit any liberalization in evaluating the work of students” just because of the war and its hardships. So the intellectual life of Leningrad went on….’ [1].

Estimates of the people who died during the 900 days vary but at well over a million dwarf those for the current pandemic. Moreover, the conditions in which those who survived had to exist – not only starvation but also shelling and bombing, intense cold, and the risk of falling victim to cannibals – in no sense provide a direct comparison to our current travails. But such episodes can still reveal much about human behaviour and resilience from which we can learn, as well as about the appropriateness or otherwise of likening the fight against the coronavirus to a war.

And one comparison can lead to another. Within a decade of the siege of Leningrad being lifted the Soviet leader Stalin was dead, and the search for a new normal for the country was being sought. His eventual successor, Nikita Khrushchev, wanted to ease the restrictiveness of the Stalinist regime but feared the consequences of relaxing restrictions too quickly and too much. As he put it, he was ‘afraid the thaw might unleash a flood, which we wouldn’t be able to control and which could drown us’ [2]. Once again, the land of Stalin’s secret police and Gulag camps and our own more limited restrictions on movement and association are not directly comparable, but there may nevertheless be some food for thought in considering the challenges faced not only in maintaining restrictions but also in managing their relaxation. Khrushchev was indeed ousted from power in 1964, but survived long enough to write his memoirs. He is also remembered for his unconventional means of gaining people’s attention [3]. But that is another story.


  1. Harrison E. Salisbury, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, London: Pan Books, 2000, p.496.
  2. Quoted in Stephen Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, p.111
  3. Roy Underhill, Khrushchev’s Shoe and other ways to captivate audiences from one to one thousand, Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2000.

A letter from central coast, California, USA 4 May 2020

Lisa Kalayji

The pharmacy department is a fair way down the length of the enormous store – past the pet food, greeting cards, stationary, and toiletries, across from an olfactory sea of scented candles and shelves full of colourful coffee mugs that say things like ‘Mondays don’t like me either’ and ‘good day for a vaycay’. I dodge to and fro on the way there in a vain attempt to keep two metres distant from each person in an obstactle course of nervous pensioners, small gaggles of giggling teenagers, and weary parents with carts full of Legos and craft supplies.

I stand on the floor sticker designating an appropriate distance from the other patrons until I’m called forward. I recognise the person behind the cash register – I worked at the Starbucks kiosk at the front of the store during the winter holidays, just after I arrived back in the US, and she often came there on her breaks. She doesn’t seem to recognise me as the former peppermint mocha jockey (or maybe she just can’t see enough of my face under the surgical mask currently digging crevices into my lower eyelids), and even if she had, she seems too tired to make small talk. She wears a lanyard with a clear plastic pocket hung from it, but instead of a photo ID, it contains a card inscribed with a single word in large, boldface print: ‘IMMUNOCOMPROMISED’. I pay a merciful $15 for a generic antibiotic and make my way out, slowing to glance around the eerily vacant, unlit café by the door as I leave.

Symptoms of the infection don’t abate until I take the last day’s tablets, and a week after picking up the medication, I’m curled up in a ball on the living room sofa and back on the phone with the clinic. I’ll have to come in person this time, they say. Now as before, the appointment will cost somewhere between $130 and $400, but they couldn’t risk hazarding a guess. If my one-time $1,200 stimulus payment from the federal government had arrived even a couple of weeks later than it did, I’d be staying at home with cranberry concentrate supplements and hoping not to develop a kidney infection that would eventually become septic shock. After hanging up, I complain bitterly to my housemates, fondly remembering the kidney stone surgery in Scotland for which I paid nothing and indulging in a brief diatribe about the merits of nationalised healthcare to an audience that needs no persuading before reaching for my keys.

I arrive at the clinic to find a nurse standing outside querying people at the door.

‘Hi!’, she chimes brightly. ‘What’s your issue today?’

‘I’m here for a follow-up appointment about a persistent UTI’, I explain.

‘No other issues going on? No fever or cough or anything like that?’, she asks, an almost apologetic ‘I have to ask this question’ nested in her vocal inflection.

‘No’, I respond, smiling knowingly and shaking my head.

‘Ok, just have to check. Sorry for the violation of your privacy.’

She hates this. She holds the door open for me as I thank her and step into a near-empty reception room.

I sit down to fill out some paperwork and wait my turn. As I tick symptom boxes, a TV mounted high on the wall opposite the reception desk emits the familiar vocal drone of a news broadcast: ‘Nearly 47,000 now dead in the US from the Coronavirus, and the numbers are climbing’. The woman sat opposite me breathes heavily into her polka-dotted fabric face mask.

I’m taken through to be tested for signs of infection before seeing the same nurse practitioner I had met a week earlier through a screen. She refers me to a local lab for tests, but prescribes a different antibiotic to try until the results arrive. I pay the $170 consultation fee – a bit more than last week’s ‘telemedicine’ appointment – and then later, $17 for tests at the nearby lab and $15 for the second generic antibiotic.

There is a letter in the postbox when I get home. I ‘may qualify’ for a state-funded healthcare programme for low-income residents. The local social services office ‘may contact’ me. The letter doesn’t specify when, but the online application mentioned something about 45 days. In the meantime, any existing insurance policy must continue to be paid for, and steep tax fines will be levied against anyone who remains uninsured. Laying the letter aside, I pick up my phone to check what’s been happening back home (‘back home’ meant California when I was in the UK – now it’s the other way round). The death toll amongst medical practitioners continues to climb. The NHS, which still lacks adequate personal protective equipment for staff, is now funded in part by private citizens’ warm and fuzzy fundraisers – sort of like the Go Fund Me campaigns Americans use to pay medical bills, except cuter. Britons are still expressing their support by clapping for the NHS.

Five days later, I’m back on the sofa and trying to sit up without using any of my abdominal muscles. To my very great relief, the nurse practitioner makes good on her promise and prescribes a third antibiotic without requiring me to attend and pay for another consultation. The lab results came back, so hopefully this more specifically targeted drug will work.

Back ‘home’, Boris Johnson has returned to work after having recovered from his own bout of COVID-19. He urges Britons to hold their peace while the consequences of many years of funding cuts to the NHS, a dystopian ‘herd immunity’ response to the virus, and weeks too late, the implementation of a shelter in place policy play out. The news headlines prominently feature his name: have you heard that he and his partner have just had a baby?

‘Difficult Conversations’ Podcast series on COVID-19: from sex work to motherhood, NHS to the economy

Poppy Gerrard-Abbott

Poppy Gerrard-Abbott is a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh looking at sexual violence in universities. She is also a sociology tutor, feminist activist and has just started a sociological podcast on the COVID-19 pandemic, Difficult Conversations. She works as the lead researcher for the Emily Test charity creating a Gender-Based Violence Charter for Scottish Universities and Colleges and she often runs women’s circles focusing on gender-based violence.


Respond to this blog:

What has happened to us all? Coronavirus is a health issue, yes, but there’s something about such a crisis that brings out the pessimist, the optimist, the conspiracy theorist, the journalist, the judge, the social media influencer, the feminist, the radical revolutionary – even the yoga pro, pastry chef and the wannabe broadcaster in us. It can also bring out the resentful, the angry, the fearful and the blamer in us. It brings out the doomsday in us. Can we break free from ‘it’s the Chinese trying to take over the world’ / plague sent by God / the end is nigh? Yes, I believe we can, and as social scientists, I think sometimes we are sometimes well-positioned to help cut through looming, dark dystopia. Such sentiments are also telling us something – people have a lot to say right now, and we perhaps have a responsibility to hear and record it. 

In March, I recorded a podcast with my colleague and friend, PhD researcher on digital intimacy and sex work, Eva Duncanson, because we were due to deliver two lectures together. These were cancelled due to the sudden outbreak and then came a lightbulb moment (that I wish had occurred much earlier on in my PhD so I could spend less time stressing and more time writing the damn thing): in a crisis, I don’t have to produce things that are perfect. Wow – who knew? It took a pandemic for me to realise that under stress and change, something is better than nothing. So in 48 hours, we mashed the lectures together into a podcast, decided to put it up on Youtube, spent a couple of hours swearing and then it was uploaded. 

When the Edinburgh Decameron website was about to be published, I was asked: ‘How did you come to have the idea for the podcasts and how did you make the podcast happen?’ Well, with my newfound attitude of ‘imperfection is always better than nothing’ (I am hellbent on making this last) the Difficult Conversations podcast was born following on from my podcast with Eva. Firstly, I enjoyed it so much that I thought ‘why end it here?’. Secondly, when the pandemic broke out, I had moments where I felt like nothing else really mattered in social science research except crisis: climate change, why Trump is Trump, and COVID-19. I pondered about submitting an ethics application to do some formal research on sociological approaches to COVID-19 but I knew there would be others better resourced than a self-funded PhD student like me working two to three jobs at any one time. Plus, with such a workload, I didn’t want to chain myself to writing a coronavirus thesis on top of my PhD and the other research work I do. I didn’t want the isolation of writing, the head-spinning document corrections, the slowness of writing a paper. I craved for something that brought people together, got us talking, let off steam from the crisis, allowed for both laughing and seriousness, and got content out fast. 

This approach was hugely complemented by the ‘it’s either imperfect and finished or perfect and unfinished’ attitude I learnt early on in the pandemic when I just couldn’t find the right online birthday gifts for friends and family and I never got further than item one on my to-do list because my workload increased so much from the pandemic (teaching, working in gender-based violence, looking after people). At first, I was worried that I couldn’t release anything until I had a professional microphone, 25 audio editing tutorials under my belt, and a graphics qualification. I then remembered that we were in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic, with limited stocks, slow deliveries, fast-moving policy, people at risk and people literally dying. I put the perfectionism down and decided that a rough-around-the-edges approach was exactly what I needed to re-learn and what the world needed to expect at these times. 

It’s punk rock academia, that’s what I’m convincing myself: me, three days in the same leggings, my dipping Wifi connection, my cereal-bowl covered desk and my laptop. We’re going to create a podcast series together. That’s right. In the words of my next door neighbour “Well, pirate radio changed the world”. Yes, I thought. Pirate radio station operators weren’t concerned with capitalist productivity and shiny studios. 

Completing this picture is an Argos microphone – which, by the way, was one of the few brands not out of stock. I am currently imagining how many Dads have bagged such microphones and are currently in their garages living their dreams and ticking through the pandemic by DJ-ing their favourite 60’s playlist to three listeners. It fills my heart with joy. 

I kept my philosophy in sight: forget perfection, just produce content that matters. Record what’s going on, and get people talking. During this pandemic, I learnt that I’ve had a gendered and subconscious belief for years that I just cannot understand technology. I don’t like it and it doesn’t like me. It was a load of rubbish – everyone, absolutely everyone, is always in process. 

Since it began the podcast series has covered sex work, feminist approaches to COVID-19, single mums, the higher education strikes, supermarket workers, and pandemic financial difficulty. I recruit guests through colleagues, friends, social media. It has amazed me how people are feeling such immense pressure and stress but are still willing to share, connect and donate their time. Some people I’ve found, have felt desperate to be heard during the silences of the lockdown. 

This week, I’m releasing one on gender-based violence and coronavirus, and one with newly qualified nurses. Coming up, we have episodes on whether there will be a financial crash after the pandemic, the psychology of lockdown, and on death and grief with some ‘death positivity’ activists. I am also hoping to do an episode looking at sociological approaches to conspiracy theories. It is a time for us to listen as well as talk, to understand rather than laugh or judge, to observe rather than over-analyse. This is what the podcast is aiming to do and what I think our wider role as sociologists needs to return to more often. It aims to find a balanced, calm, serious – but at the same time, informal and light-hearted – approach to the crisis. I want it to contribute to academic material that isn’t just focused on the production of knowledge. I want to help, in my own, tiny way, to cut through some of the panic and hyper-anxiety and help bring shreds of reflection and clarity whilst also lifting the voices of those that need to be heard right now. It is a panicked time, yes, but where we can find our own small corners to do so, we can find ways to connect with ourselves and others and choose not to live in constant misery.

It goes without saying that COVID-19 is only partially a health crisis. In my recent article on women and the virus, I talk in-depth about how it is a political, economic, social, institutional and gendered crisis. The podcast wants to cover the less-represented angles of all this. What is happening to sex workers right now? What do supermarket workers think when they’re off shift? How does lockdown shine a light on patriarchy? How can we bear the grief this time brings? I want it to bring something a bit more human than a paper would have allowed me to do. I’m also recording short readings from some of my favourite books on the podcast – it’s cheesy, but what better time to go on a personal journey? I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow to me or anyone I know or love, so I want to share some of the writers and subject matters that have shaped who I am. 

I have learnt a lot about myself whilst being in four walls for a few weeks. One of the biggest learnings is that life can whizz by me when I’m working multiple jobs and unfortunately I don’t get much time and space to go ‘yeah. That thing you did – that was great’. The most surprising thing is the self-realisation that has come from the project. I have learnt I am resourceful, resilient, compassionate, forgiving, and could be way less hard on myself. I hope I can continue on that upwards trajectory of not shedding my self-doubt. I wish that for you, too. 

You can find the Difficult Conversations podcast on Youtube, with new episodes being added weekly. It will soon move to Spotify once I have mastered it. 


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