The coronavirus as the topic of public discourse and intellectual discussion is here to stay for some time. Its longevity will be determined by the solution (cure) of the coronavirus. Until then, the talkfest surrounding coronavirus will continue. So, what kind of discussions should we be involved in?
This piece suggests that discussions about coronavirus need to be multidimensional involving medical scientists as well as social scientists.
For a long time political figures, populist leaders, and anti-science activists have been engaged in delegitimising the power of social sciences to solve society’s problems and afflictions.
In relation to coronavirus epidemiologists, biologists, medical experts, clinicians, and medical doctors have been acquainting us with hard facts, that is, the pandemic doesn’t stay stagnant but moves every day, its strength is greater than flu, and it takes thousands of lives in a single swoop in different parts of the world.
However, social scientists can also offer facts that are indisputable, valid, and indispensible. The virus itself is a biological agent that may infect a pool of individuals, but not everyone in that pool will be affected in the same way because our bodies react to it differently and the virus’ consequence is not only death but various other adverse outcomes.
Thus, we have learnt that the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a sanitary crisis but a multidimensional calamity. It is also a socio-economic and political crisis which has produced major transformations in our lives, our societies and our global village.
While often dismissed by policy makers, bureaucrats, technocrats, and politicians the contribution of social sciences as petty, the fact of the matter is that social sciences have proven that their dealing with the coronavirus pandemic have been as pivotal as, and in many ways complementary to, hard sciences.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a very strong return of the nation-state across all realms of life. States have placed border restrictions and in many cases have shut-down their borders and the citizens have turned to their national government for assistance, guidance, security, care, and protection.
At the same time the international institutions such as the United Nation and the European Union have disappeared in the global crisis and the transnational solidarity has been rocked to its core. How can we understand all this?
Using various tools of social sciences we can not only understand all this and better understand the urgent challenges we face in times of pandemic but gather successful experiences, warn on threats, and develop solutions and combative strategies to design for ourselves a better life and sound feasible alternative future.
It was the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979 to 1990) who gave the impetus to a social revolution in which nationally owned industries were privatised and the welfare state was significantly diminished in size. She did this to transfer the responsibility of life from the government to the individual and practically made the society disappear. She, therefore, famously said that “There’s No Such Thing as Society”.
For the last thirty years we have been living with her legacy of a societyless society or a soulless society where economically rationalised way of life has been the norm – a deregulated economy, a free market economy, privatisation of state-owned industries, and a reduction of the size of the welfare state.
Almost thirty years later in the same country her successor, incumbent British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his self-isolation realised that Margaret Thatcher was wrong because the coronavirus crisis proved that there really is such a thing as society.
This was very heartening to hear for social scientists as they have shown over and over again that societies shape individuals and individuals shape societies – there is inseparable reciprocal relationship between the two.
One only needs to gaze at the coronavirus to see this. Social scientists such as sociologists have been helping us understand human collective behaviour and its social implications. For example, what is panic-buying (the toilet paper hysteria)? and the role of online communities during a global crisis.
In a pandemic like the coronavirus being isolated and stuck at home can be demoralising and has painful consequences and therefore sociologists highlight and explain the fact that being connected to others matters greatly for human wellbeing.
They show that we need social connections to survive and succeed in the society, especially during a crisis. They explain to us that social isolation and loneliness have terrible and lasting consequences to individual health and the vitality of the community.
An absence of social connection reduces individual satisfaction with life, increase the risk of a series of illnesses such as depression and chronic pain, and exclude us from society.
Whilst it is true that COVID-19 is making our lives miserable and wrecking widespread havoc, it is at the same time giving us an opportunity to seriously reflect on our way of life and reconceptualise our society in which we want to pursue life.
We need social sciences to assist us with this and help understand what is currently happening and how to navigate through it and envision a better future. Now or ever is the time to dismiss the contributions social science can make to solve society’s problems.