Obligatory Mask, Forbidden Mask: Rigidity and Flexibility in the Brave New Normal*

by Wai Yip Ho, Sociology, Islamic Studies, Nantes Institutes for Advanced Study, France, Education University of Hong Kong

France: Obligatory Masks and Observant Muslims

After lifting the national lockdown caused by the outbreak of Covid-19, France made mask-wearing mandatory in public transport and high schools. The new mandate of mask-wearing and social distancing suddenly halts French traditional intimate cheek-kiss ‘la bise’ greetings, while unexpectedly encouraging artistic creativity in designing home-made masks. Nevertheless, the law of 2011 on banning face veiling mostly worn by Muslim women remains unchanged. Apparently, making mask-wearing essential but at the same time banning face veil sounds counter-intuitive and inconsistent. One of the unintended consequences of the outbreak of Covid-19 apparently exposed how the French policy of secularism (laïcité) is excluding veiled Muslim women in the public sphere. The new law of making mask-wearing obligatory to contain the spread of virus but upholding the Republic’s values of uncovering the face in public places reveals a new social ambiguity. As a result of the new era of relative normlessness (Emile Durkheim’s notion of ‘Anomie’) after the outbreak of Covid-19, it initiates the French society negotiating new practices of interpersonal intimacy and social distancing. Most importantly, the new social condition opens an uncharted path and platform of dialogue in pursing common values, identity and social solidarity in France.

Hong Kong: Self-Defence and State Surveillance

After the intense street conflicts between protestors and police over the controversial Extradition Bill, the outbreak of the pandemia spreading from Wuhan was an additional challenge for Hong Kong. Haunted by the nightmare of the SARS virus causing 286 deaths in 2003 plus social distrust to government’s initial guideline of mask-wearing being unnecessary, civil society transformed the painful lessons into a quick collective self-defence practice of mask-wearing. Hong Kong even takes pride along Taiwan to be counted as one of the successful Asian examples in subduing Covid-19. But the key factor of success largely attributes to the voluntary mask-wearing of civil society. Despite mask-wearing is proved effective in containing spreading of the virus, Hong Kong High Court surprisingly maintains prohibiting mask-wearing on the grounds of preventing masked radical protestors from vandalizing the city, as the government imposed an emergency law banning protestors wearing masks in public demonstrations. But for many protestors, the voluntary practice of mask-wearing is both: self-protection from the virus, but also a symbolic stand against state surveillance. Many protestors were wearing masks, and some of them deliberately destroyed street smart lamp posts, because they suspect that biometric data collected by the installed facial recognition technology enabling to identify protectors’ identity would be send back to the Chinese central government.

After the Covid-19 Crisis: Bringing Humanity towards ‘Brave New Normal’

In this short essay, it is through briefly illustrating the cases of France and Hong Kong how authorities conflictingly approve the necessity of a generalized use of masks in containing the spike of Covid-19 and at the same time de-legitimize mask-wearing when it poses a challenge to the legitimacy of the state’s rule. The rigidity and failure of the WHO and of governments in swiftly containing the virus outbreak leads to social distrust, liberating global civil society’s creativity and flexibility to react. The lack of clear agreed social norms or even contradictory claims of mask-wearing implies the new social condition of normlessness. As the protesting slogan in Chile, ‘No volveremos a la normalidad, porque’ la normalidad era el problema’ (‘We won’t return to normality, because normality was the problem’) suggests, the French society initiates a journey of soul-searching in seeking how to bring together the new intimate distance and the Republic’s values after the outbreak of Covid-19, whereas in Hong Kong protestors have identified a protest logic of ‘Be Water’ in new social solidarity through mask-wearing in resistance against state surveillance.

In conclusion, after the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis there will be no reverse to normal. It awakens humanity in transition from normality to the indeterminate challenges of a ‘Brave New Normal’.

* This short reflection piece is to acknowledge and express my gratitude to the invitation as the Fellow of the 3rd UBIAS Intercontinental Academia (ICA3) – Laws: Rigidity and Dynamics (2018-19) at Singapore, Princeton and Birmingham.

Digital Culture Around the “Globe”

by Stoyan V. Sgourev, Management Department, ESSEC Business School, Paris

The Covid-19 crisis is a rare event with large social and economic consequences that will most likely exceed what the optimists are expecting, but not be nearly as dramatic as what the pessimists predict. Human history is an incessant sequence of crises that shape the evolution of societies, but the effect is never detached from the past. Societies, cultures or economies mutate in an evolutionary process that major disruptions accelerate, presenting new challenges and opportunities.

The crisis will have short- and long- term consequences on a range of social domains and economic sectors. The short-term consequences are related to the need to manage the easing of the restrictions, the necessity to maintain social distancing, or the expected drop in consumption that will profoundly affect the prospects of sectors dependent on physical presence, such as tourism, culture or education. For many, especially smaller, organizations, the aftermath of the crisis will pose difficult questions related to survival and the need to reduce budget shortfalls. Governments will have an active role to play at this stage, though this role is naturally constrained by the reduced tax revenue. As economists are already warning, cranking up the money printing press can help maintain employment and prop up viable businesses in the short run, but is perilous in the long run, given the inflationary pressure it generates and elevated rates of indebtedness. Juggling between these contrasting imperatives is the new normality for governments. Elected on promises of sustained growth and lower unemployment, they are now facing the need to manage the opposite scenario – of rising unemployment, a slowing economy, and a pervasive expectation that things will get worse before they get better. This is what deep, penetrating crises do – they change convictions, invert perspectives and reinforce contradictions that up to now appeared manageable.

The cultural sector illustrates well this development. The crisis is making resurface anxieties about the role of technology, the physical experience of culture and the viability of funding models. Forcing adaptation to the exigencies of social distancing, the crisis will accelerate the digitalization of the cultural sector, overhaul funding models, reduce the dependence on physical presence and create a momentum for scaling up. Accustomed to resolving operational bottlenecks, company directors will need to conceive of new ways to hedge risks and to reduce the uncertainty related to sanitary threats.

Our collective experiences during the crisis confirmed that culture is indispensable in times of ordeal, but that it is more fragile than we think. This reminds of how cultural life helped societies cope during the Second World War and rebuild in its aftermath. However, the postwar years also underlined the insufficiency of the economic and social fabric that sustained culture. The declining personal fortunes of aristocratic patrons and rapidly increasing labor costs triggered the search for a new equilibrium: if the European societies started heavily subsidizing their cultural economy, the United States shifted the finding responsibility to the private and non-profit sectors.

Continue reading “Digital Culture Around the “Globe””

Post-Covid and multilateralism

by Wagner Costa Ribeiro, Institute of Advanced Studies and School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences, São Paulo, Brazil

Within the current international scenario, the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are the multilateral institutions that are best suited to develop cooperative actions necessary to combat the pandemic and its effects for the future. A future that will need to be different from the conditions that led to the emergence and proliferation of the pandemic.

This paper addresses, on the basis of UN and WHO actions, how multilateralism can be an alternative for the organization of social relations in the 21st century, at different scales, after the outbreak of Covid-19. Initially, we present part of the initiatives of the two multilateral organizations mentioned and then we analyze how Latin America and the European Union are walking paths of cooperation in the search for ways out of the crisis.

On January 30, 2020 – which some considered somewhat late – the WHO presented the Declaration of Public Health Emergency of International Importance when treating the disease and soon afterwards launched a plan of action (WHO, 2020). It was not the recognition of the pandemic, which occurred more than a month later, on March 11.

This delay is one of the focuses of criticism towards the WHO. For example, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, accused the slow declaration of the pandemic, which, for him, allowed a greater geographical dispersion of the virus. On May 29, he announced the break with WHO, two days after the WHO presented a manifesto in which it stated that it was necessary to go beyond returning to normal and seek new ways of organizing life and the economy in line with nature and in favor of quality of life (WHO, 2020a). Meanwhile, the WHO argued that neither the virus nor its ability to transmit was sufficiently known. This is still a matter for debate. Perhaps in the future we will have more documents that will allow us to say what actually happened. But there is no doubt that the delay in recognizing the pandemic has allowed the globalization process and intense flows of people, products and materials to continue, which has caused the virus to spread across continents.

Once the pandemic was recognized, the WHO began to develop a series of actions, often in coordination with the UN. We will present part of the activities that these international institutions have developed to fight the disease in a chronological way.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in March spoke for the necessary cooperation between countries to seek alternatives to fight the disease. On March 28, the UN launched a Global Humanitarian Response Plan (UN, 2020), based on a demand from the WHO, which was initially budgeted at 2.1 billion dollars. Quickly, the budget more than tripled: by May 2020, it was 6.7 billion dollars. Who will provide this funding? Unfortunately, the multilateral agencies are emptying out. This raises another important question: why was the international system not prepared to face a crisis like this?

Continue reading “Post-Covid and multilateralism”

Utopia as the Best Way to Overcome the Corona Crisis

by Renato Janine Ribeiro, Philosophy, University of São Paulo, Brazil

The coronavirus crisis shows us Utopia is more necessary than ever. By Utopia I mean a society whose main aims will be happiness and fairness (the latter may be synonymous with social justice). A series of public policies and social values must thus be redefined. First of all we must seriously limit consumerism. It is strongly responsible for the destruction of the environment. Some serious studies recently suggested that as we humans have been raising our standard of living we have also destroyed the borders between ourselves and nature, especially the wilderness. The hypothesis that the present pandemics originated from humans eating bats in Wuhan is quite symbolic: the habitat of animals, including wild ones, would have been occupied and even devastated by man. The balance between mankind and nature has been jeopardized. Concerning food we know grains are healthier than meat, and require less water and other nutrients, but we do not change our daily fare to make it less environmentally expensive.

Obviously this way of human life cannot last. As the Earth has presently the largest human population of its history, and these billion of humans eat and consume more than ever, the planet is strongly stressed: it is possible that illnesses of various sorts constitute one of the self-defense reactions of the living organism we call our planet.

More than one thinker has said the most dangerous animal on the Earth is man. If nature attacks us it could be a counter-attack, meaning the Earth tries to save itself from human aggression. So we need to stop our war against nature. We must consider our planet as our home, not as a stock of merchandise we can dispose of at will. It is to be cherished, not to be plundered.

Actually, there is no major distinction between our behavior towards the poor and towards nature. Plentifulness is attained at the cost of both destroying the planet and despoiling the poorest humans. To be sure, we should not consider mankind as homogeneous. Since millennia it has been strongly hierarchical. The haves always got a lot from the have-nots. In the last time, be it the two centuries and a half since the democratic revolutions of the late 18th century, be it the 70 last years since World War II, however, there has been a strong movement towards equality. But this has also implied that everybody has been trying to consume as much as the rich. We should understand it is impossible. So we should commit ourselves to a serious of important changes.

Continue reading “Utopia as the Best Way to Overcome the Corona Crisis”

Strengthening of community life as basis for a renewed humanism for the XXI Century

by Ulisses Barres de Almeida, Brazilian Center for Physics Research, Brazil, and Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, UK,
Daniel Fachin Soares, Economist, CFA, CQF
Marina Massimi, Psychology, Institute of Advance Studies of the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and
Ana Lydia Sawaya, Physiology, Instituteof Advance Studies, University of São Paulo, Bazil, and UBIAS


The COVID-19 Pandemic has confronted our global society with a condition frequently seen as superseded: that of humanity’s frailty. The enormous technological achievements have imparted us with a notion of progress that bestowed on humankind a position of near-lordship over the natural world, and nourished a generalized perception that solutions of a technical nature could alone hold the key for human progress and betterment1. Such self-conscience has proved resilient in face of the direst forecasts concerning climate change, and even the boldest past warnings of a biological threat such as we are now experiencing. But our common life experience over the past months, which has unified the globe in unprecedented ways around a common challenge, not only contested such view, but reinforced the perception of some fundamental systemic fragilities. The numerous challenges that governments and societies are facing in tackling the coronavirus, and the threats that the Pandemic has further imposed to globalization and international cooperation, clearly show that the role of science as a response to crisis is limited in face of a socioeconomic disarrangement that increasingly cripples the potential gains of technical action.

Scientific and technological progress are per se incapable to answer to our common global challenges and produce resilient societies for the XXI century. Comparative moral and humanitarian progress, which must translate into a renewed socioeconomic organization, are necessary2 to: (i) sustain democracies that can endure the regular assaults of populism and extremism, (ii) build a fairer capitalism, that can guarantee jobs and justly value all kinds of work, thus safeguarding a dignifying existence to all citizens, (iii) promote a truly humanist and scientific culture that is resilient in face of ideological impositions, and can both respect and promote people’s freedom and traditions.

Despite a reduction of global poverty3, and generally improving international cooperation, Western Society was not able to match those developments by a sense of responsibility towards others. Growing numbers of people are being excluded from the social tapestry, generating resentment from populations and a generalized lack of trust in governmental leadership, which is seen as lacking of moral authority4. In fact, the unprecedented levels of social inequality5 are fundamentally incompatible with healthy and stable democracies. The Pandemic has further exposed the weaknesses of a system where decision-taking and power to act are ever more distant from ordinary people and daily life. Entire states find themselves at times effectively subdued amidst a perverse dynamic where predatory corporate environments shifts power from people and their elected representatives to companies worth more than most sovereign states6.

Continue reading “Strengthening of community life as basis for a renewed humanism for the XXI Century”

Memory Studies for the Future. Remembering (COVID-19) as Survival Value

by Adam F. Kola, Center of Excellence IMSErt, Interacting Minds, Societies, Environments, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland

Our memory is a sign of the past. Collective or social memory stores what has passed and for some reason is vital to the community. As such, the politics of memory1 is a tool of political struggle and social engineering. Undeniably, the collective memory of humanity will keep the coronavirus pandemic in its resources. In some countries or regions, it will become an essential element of building a community. It will be so in the memory of those living in the age of COVID-19, it will also survive in the next generations—in the form of post-memory2 or social traces of disease preserved in works of art. It will also become an essential element of scientific development. It seems that never before in history such great resources have been allocated for one scientific and social purpose at the same time3. Even the most significant military projects, with the Manhattan Project at the forefront, cannot compare to this. Nor have so many scientists ever switched their activities on a global scale just to make COVID-19 collapse, as well as to seek a remedy for illness, economic crisis, social and mental problems. There is no room here to talk about the inequalities that the pandemic has uncovered, but their scale is overwhelming.

Can memory studies do something today in the context of the coronavirus pandemic? Is there any sense in reaching for tools and conceptualisations developed within their framework? Can we think about memory for the future? Are the memory studies helpful here?

The most apparent lead would be to document what is happening around us. To study the process of remembering, and in later yearsforgetting or continually changing the memory of the pandemic. One can also study the memory and post-memory (memory of the next generations) of previous epidemics that affected humanity and look at what they left behind in our community4. Both tasks are now performed. There are teams of scholars and journalists who collect, document, describe5.

However, let us reach back into the past, not so far away as to give an important example, which today seems clear, and which shapes our reality in the days of pandemic and lockdown. In the memory of most adults two situations are still alive. The first is 9/11—the terrorist attack in the United States in 2001, symbolised by the destruction of the WTC Twin Towers. The second event was the crisis of 2008. They are crucial elements of the still active memory of people living in the world today. The intensity is different; the degree of impact varies. Because although the attacks took place in the United States, with New York as the most affected by their effects—not only practically, but also symbolically—the sight of skyscrapers collapsing has written itself—in the memory of all those who saw it. Mostly on TV screens, but still they saw it. However, the image is duplicated today.

Continue reading “Memory Studies for the Future. Remembering (COVID-19) as Survival Value”

Urban agriculture: a new deal on food supply systems?

by Rinaldo Rossi, Geography, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil

Urbanization is a global phenomenon, as it is a basis of contemporary spatialization of society, settled on big cities and on their integrated networks spread throughout the countryside. As the United Nations’ data shows, more than two-thirds of global population have been forecast to live in urban areas by 2050, up to 56% more than today’s rate.

Therefore, the coronavirus crisis has a close relationship with worldwide urbanization, which creates conditions for generation and spread of multiple zoonosis. Since the first COVID-19 case registered in the mega-city of Wuhan (December 2019), the contamination’s path was clearly observed as attached to human flow across great urban centers in the world, occurring the disease’s “jump of scales”. Countryside population faces great risks with the spread of the COVID-19 disease, especially in regions with precarious health-care systems; still, cities are the starting point for hierarchical contamination and the head challenge for social isolation policies.

Over the past decades, a significant number of deaths related to zoonosis had lighted a warning sign on cities’ food supply systems, mostly based on extreme conditions of animal confinement or management that favor biological mutation, environmental impacts, and health damage. During coronavirus crisis, urban citizens from all over the world are questioning their way of life; some analysts even play with Horace’s and Russeau’s notion of “fugere urbem”, to speak of the rich famous families movement towards their vacation houses on countryside areas as they keep on working from their “home offices”. Stereotypes aside, many citizens, now deprived of urban parks or beaches, started looking after their own gardens.

It is unknown how the perspectives emerged during the current quarantine will affect cities post COVID-19, but certainly they should continue to play a great role on societies’ spatialization. On the other hand, this lockdown period comes as a great window to rethink urban space and food industry.

Urban agriculture: not an exotic solution

There is a modern myth, shaped during industrialization, about a natural apartheid between city and agriculture. This principle emerged upon post 19th century scientific society, describes the city, stating dualism as bedrock of scientific study of social and spatial concepts, diffusing a thesis on incompatibility between food production and modern spatial form.

Paraphrasing M. Castells, industrialization built a false myth of an “urban culture”¹, where, supposedly, people are not even concerned about where their food comes from. There is some truth to the statement that capitalist economies tend to push food production out of the city’s borders. In truth, the history of cities, in either ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ configurations, indicates a variety of experiences in which agriculture is a relevant function inside city’s limits. Smit, Nasr and Ratta² present hundreds of cases where fresh food production occur in urban or peri-urban areas. For Native American societies, Urban Agriculture (UA) technologies were important. Aztec chinampas (figure 1), Inka terraces and Mayan agrarian urbanism are notable examples.

Figure 1 – Diego Rivera’ painting (1929-35) shows Aztec chinampas

Some may say UA is common to ‘non-complex societies’, but not applicable to ‘modern societies’, which is a false affirmation, as pictured by industrial pioneer cities of Paris and London. For instance, in the Paris of the 19th century, UA was necessary for food supplying and sanitation, the styles of jardins ouvrier (worker’s gardens) and marais (swamps) fed people and contributed to composting.

Continue reading “Urban agriculture: a new deal on food supply systems?”


by Ana Helena German Drumond, Law, Court of Justice of Minas Gerais, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and Mariana Damiani Santana, Law, Court of Auditors of Minas Gerais, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil


The emergence and rapid spread, around the globe, of the new coronavirus imposed suddenly the need to adopt adaptive changes to the new reality. In the legal sphere, the adaptations caused an impact of even greater proportions than in other areas, given that, until now, the resistance of this branch to innovate was notorious. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it imperative to reduce bureaucratization of legal institutions, which is why the present work is aimed at the useful and necessary understanding of the online immersion of Law as well as the possible repercussions of that in the post-pandemic world.


In the midst of the various areas of knowledge that are in constant search for modernization and innovation, it is noticeable that the Law is timid when it comes tomajor changes. The legal world seems, in many ways, to have stopped in time.

Big data, internet of things and artificial intelligence have been slowly introduced into the daily lives of legal professionals. Even though some exceptions were noticed, this was not the rule of pre-pandemic Law.

Nevertheless, the increasing proliferation of COVID-19 worldwide and the need to try to prevent its spread has led to changes in the configuration of social, commercial, and, inevitably, legal relations.

Considering theguaranteeing role of the Judiciary and related entities, which consists in protecting individual and collective rights, paralyzing its activities until the resumption of normalcy was not an option. It was necessary, then, that the Law, previously hardened, despite all resistance, became more flexible and reinvented itself under the new conditions and limitations imposed.

Allying itself with the resources provided by technology, Law has been taking unprecedented forms and the amplification of its immersion in the online world is inevitable. And in this new scenario, issues related to data protection and security, which are even more relevant than before, will determine the success of the new ways of exercising legal techniques, since it will no longer be possible, nor desired, to go back.


In April 2020, Brazil was surprised by the adoption of an innovative and unprecedented measure: for the first time in history, the Federal Supreme Court held trial sessions via video conference. The sessions werebroadcasted in real time through the Superior Court channel on Youtube. Besides that, the Court allowed pleadings by attorneys, prosecutors and defenders active in the cases being tried, during the video conference1. The objective was to prevent the jurisdictional assistance from being interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At almost the same time, in May 2020, in Singapore, for the first time in the country’s history, a man was sentenced to death after being put on trial via videoconference, through the Zoom platform.2 The measure was also adopted to ensure the safety of those involved in the process, amid the lockdown enacted in Singapore due to the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.


My Peace Depends on Your Peace: A Vision of an Alternative World Already Being Built and Revealed by the Pandemic

by Erella Shadmi, Sociology, Social Feminist Activist, Beit Berl College, Israel

The new activism

Under the media radar, a lot of exciting activism is taking place – women, men, and grassroots organizations with unstoppable creativity. One can feel and hear the vibrant, diverse, and multifaceted activity. They are not waiting for the Left to re-organize, but have begun building the foundations of a new social order in Israel and around the world: the gift economy and the solidarity economy, communal families (e.g., urban communities), zoning and localism, cooperatives for work and housing, eco-villages, non-academic knowledge-production institutions (e.g., the Feminist Academy in Haifa or the University of the Earth in Mexico), grassroots services that the state fails to provide (women’s shelters against male violence, for example) or that state religions seek to obstruct (egalitarian synagogues), and courageous partnerships between so-called political adversaries (Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians in EcoPeace Middle East, for example).

These initiatives reflect a rebellion against capitalism (especially in its neoliberal version), the nation state, and the Western paradigm. They respond to the deep anxieties and insecurity of the individual standing alone (without the protection of trade unions, a stable job, the family, or the state) and confronting a climate crisis, countries that have ceased serving their residents, the corporate regime, democracies turning authoritarian, technology and artificial intelligence that profoundly transform our world, and a consumer society that wrongly teaches that the freedom to buy is true freedom. The activists who are creating the New World from below help sharpen the understanding that we are not reaching for the moon or Mars, but rather seeking warmth, care, connection, bonding, and security. To unite the disparate forces of all these initiatives, we need a new social contract and vision of a different society.

The global epidemic has revealed and clarified what many women and men have already known: our vulnerability when we are lonely and isolated; our need for solidarity, a gift economy, and bonding; the significance of human relationships, connections, and boundary crossing – such as food donations from the Palestinian Kafr Qasem to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Bnai Brak; the longing for a feeling of family. All these are practices that support us when the state fails us, exposing the wretchedness of existing institutions (political parties, the parliament, the health system) in which politicians are at a loss and the old conceptions fail at dealing with Corona just as they were helpless at dealing with inequality, the climate crisis, and human security. It is precisely the isolation, social detachment, and fears that create the opportunity for inner examination, for looking at what is important to us: our real needs, our interdependence, our craving for bonding with people and within communities. We find our shared humanity because we are all human beings, because my peace is interconnected with your peace.

Continue reading “My Peace Depends on Your Peace: A Vision of an Alternative World Already Being Built and Revealed by the Pandemic”

The democratization and decolonization of academic knowledge in a pandemic and post-pandemic world*

by Felipe Carvalho, Philosophy, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil

It was March of 2020, and I was just starting a new postdoctoral position at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. I was excited and motivated, my mind bubbling with ideas about conferences, workshops and classes I was going to teach. I was of course aware of the coronavirus and its devastating effects in Europe, but in the beginning of March the city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil was detecting its very first cases, and the situation seemed distant enough to allow me to plan a somewhat normal semester. All doors were open and the sky was the limit, or so I thought.

Immediately after my initial bursts of excitement in the beginning of March, everything moved very rapidly. By mid-March the pandemic was advancing rapidly all over the country, the university suspended all its (in-person) activities, and most of the city was shutting down under quarantine. I spent the following weeks trying to understand the situation and what it all meant, not only for my personal and professional plans, but for the future of the university, the city, the country, and the planet as a whole. But, like most people in Brazil at the time, I didn’t have a clue about whether we would soon resume our normal lives, or whether we should prepare ourselves for deep, fundamental changes in nearly every aspect of human existence. The latter option turned out to be true.

Faced with grim and uncertain prospects, I started to ponder about how I, as an academic philosopher, could contribute to the global crisis that would follow. Shortly after I saw a call for essays on the following topic: “how the world will/should change? The corona crisis as an interdisciplinary challenge.” Well, I thought, this is it! Here’s my contribution as an academic philosopher: to provide an in-depth analysis of how the world will, or should change, due to the global crisis caused by the new coronavirus. So far, so good. Except that the question was still too generic to provide an answer to my yearnings. A first problem is that “the world” seemed too big to make the question tractable, as it refers to the totality of things and relations that exist at multiple levels of analysis, from the social to the economical, from the political to the ecological. The second problem is that “will change” and “should change” seemed to point to two different questions, which demand different answers and different methods for arriving at these answers. So what part of the world am I talking about, and which aspect of “change” do I want to focus on?

Regarding the first problem, I will talk about the part of the world that about happens to be my domain of action and expertise: academic philosophy. Although academic philosophy is but a tiny portion of the world, these changes have the potential to positively affect thousands across the globe, specially the most affected departments in third-world countries. As to the second problem, we should understand the “will/should” question not as disjunction of possibilities, but as an exercise in “grounded imagination”: to imagine the world we would like to inhabit, in a way that is fully grounded in how it is actually changing right now. In this picture, the question can be rephrased as: “what kind of change do we want to see in the world, and what aspects of how the world is actually changing point us in that direction?” I will refer to these changes as “the democratization and decolonization of academic philosophy.” Let me explain.

Continue reading “The democratization and decolonization of academic knowledge in a pandemic and post-pandemic world*”

Lessons from online teaching, learning and research communications due to COVID-19 related lockdown

by Aasiya Qadir, Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir, and
Afroz Shah, Physical and Geological Sciences, University of Brunei, Darussalam

The emergence of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first reported in December 2019 in a city known as Wuhan, China. The exact source of this virus is still debated and a popular hypothesis has associated its origin to a seafood market in Wuhan, China. However, the spread of the disease is not controversial as it has reached global proportions, and is still spreading far and wide in most of the world. The nature of the infection has forced authorities and the public to take unprecedented decisions on how to live and work. This is also true to educational and research institutions where most of the activities are now online. The spread of the virus has encouraged the social distancing which led to the shutdown of educational institutes, markets, offices, conferences and businesses etc. (Peterson et al 2020). The global lockdowns have major interruption on students’ learning, as schools, colleges and universities are closed, and most of the activities that include teaching and learning have shifted to online mode. According to the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 192 countries have closed their schools and universities as of April 30, 2020. This amounts to about 90%, and on a global scale that means 1.6 billion enrolled learners have been affected. The only historical memory of a similar pandemic that had severely impacted the world was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 but the devastation caused by COVID-19 is not comparable. And some of the reasons for that could be the high levels of urbanization and a steep rise in population in the modern world, which also includes the educators and students. It is estimated that 90% of the world’s young people are enrolled in primary schools compared to just 40% in 1920 (UNICEF data). Similarly, education and research related events e.g. national and international conferences, meetings, workshops etc. have to be either cancelled, rescheduled, deferred, or shifted to online mode.

Merits of online teaching and learning

An online teaching schedule is relatively easy to handle as compared to a typical university setting where the limitation of availability of classrooms, time slots, course clashes etc. can greatly influence such decisions. The virtual teaching and learning mode allows multiple courses with ease where large audiences throughout the world can participate. Similarly, national and international education, research, and other similar meetings are now slowly shifted towards the online world (e.g. Garisson 2009), and this has the potential to drastically change the process of education and research communications in the modern times. The large global audiences, which were impossible in a typical conference setting, remain one of the most beneficial aspects of online communications. Easy access, user friendly, and interactive nature of online teaching and learning tools makes it doable with little knowledge about digital tools. Similarly, one of the most beneficial aspects of online communications is the recording facility that allows instructors to record, and audiences can replay lectures etc. whenever needed.Education and research communications often require travel to local, national or international institutions, and not all people are comfortable with travel related procedures because of various problems such as immigration, illness, physical body challenges, financial, or any other personal issue. The virtual world may prove beneficial for such a group of people as it provides opportunities that were previously impossible: they can learn at home and can socialize as well.

Continue reading “Lessons from online teaching, learning and research communications due to COVID-19 related lockdown”

Coordination by De-Integration in Pandemic Times

by Elena Esposito, Sociology, Bielefeld University, Università di Bologna

The present condition of social isolation makes most of us aware of the value of sociality – that we lack. But society is not only sociality, as we realize precisely when we mustminimize physical social contacts. In the emergency we perceive society much stronger because of a condition that appears as a global threat and seems to change everything everywhere. “There is the world B.C. – Before Corona – and the world A.C. – After Corona“ (Friedman 2020). The risk affects the entire world, from Hubei to Italy to New York to Rwanda, all sectors of society and each of us. The virus is a threat to people’s lives, but also to the stability of institutions, the soundness of finance, interpersonal relations, democracy, the maintenance of jobs, international links and many other things. In this short note, I refer to society in this global sense and analyze the coronavirus emergency with the tools of Niklas Luhmann’s sociological systems theory – primarily because it is a theory of society, and there are not many nowadays.

In the pandemic, society is perceived first of all as global interconnectedness that produces a domino effect and makes the crisis spread from one geographical area to another and between the different fields of society. In an emergency, the high interconnection of society becomes a threat. Coordination is required between different countries and also between political, economic, legal, sanitary measures to face the emergency. The most common response is to demand “tightening-up” (e.g. Gelfand 2020). If everything is connected with everything else, one claims, interventions in different areas should be coordinated according to the same approach and the same basic principles. Only in this way, one argues, can interventions be effective and avoid hindering each other. By going all in the same direction one does not get in each other’s way, reinforces each other and proceeds more quickly and effectively.

The classical notion that sociology proposes to study the interconnection of society is the concept of integration. The notion refers to what holds society together and addresses the relationship of the parts to the whole. Usually integration is interpreted in a general senseas reference to a shared unity, to a common perspective one recognizes and in which one can identify herself. Classical sociologists like Durkheim (1893) and Parsons (1977: 283 f.) use the notion of integration to deal with a widespread sense of belonging connectingdifferent parts of society, which should be preserved. Societies, that’s the idea, should be as integrated as possible, avoiding risks of anomy and coordination difficulties – especially in challenging times as the present emergency.

The principle seems plausible, but putting it into practice in a complex society is not easy. Integration in this sense is threatened by the increasing differentiation of society, starting with the division of labor. The challenge is maintaining a shared feeling of belonging not when everybody is equal and does the same things, but when everybody is different and does different things. The main obstacle is the condition that system theory calls functional differentiation, considered the basic characteristic of modern society (Luhmann 1997: 743 ff.). Functional differentiation refers to the articulation of society into different areas (or functional subsystems), each directed to a specific function: economy, politics, law, science, education, art, religion, mass media, families, healthcare. Whereas in previous hierarchically organized societies the different fields shared the same basic principles, in modern society each subsystem is guided by its own logic and criteria, which are not necessarily coordinated with those of others and cannot be traced back to a single order. The programs and priorities of the economy are different from those of science, politics, religion and any other subsystem – and success in one system does not by itself translate into a positive result in a different one. While the economy is driven by profit maximization, politics seeks consensus, research is directed towards the production of scientific truths and healthcare towards patients’ recovery.

Yet the pandemic today threatens everything – health and wealth, church and commerce, law, sport and families. Differentiation, which leads to different responses in different areas, in the face of this challenge seems to prevent coordination. Medicine needs tests to see who has the virus and must stay in isolation – while the economy requires tests to see who has the antibodies and can go to work. Restricting people’s freedom and tracing their movements is effective in countering the spread of the virus, but goes against the principles of the rule of law and the guarantees of the constitution. Reducing taxes can help companies overcome the crisis, but taxes are required to support research and equipment for hospitals. Science needs time to develop and test treatments, yet politics is in a hurry to give immediate answers (Gopnik 2020).

Continue reading “Coordination by De-Integration in Pandemic Times”