COVID-19: How the crisis affects society

Ettore Recchi, University Professor and Research Director at the Sociological Observatory of Change (OSC), is coordinating a new research project that brings together several researchers and engineers from the OSC and the Centre for Socio-Political Data (CDSP).

"Coping with Covid-19: Social Distancing, Cohesion, and Inequality in France in 2020 (FR)" is being launched at the height of the confinement period. The study will look at French households before, during, and after the crisis. 

Ettore, as a sociologist, what do you make of this period of acute crisis that we are currently experiencing?

The majority of social phenomenons have a tendency for inertia, for persisting over time, even in an era like our own, which we think of as more prone to social change. Sometimes, however, there are ruptures or discontinuities which are particularly eye-opening. This is what we are seeing right now. We are all dealing with an event that has completely upended our lifestyles. Will this be an interlude or will it be a crucial turning point for the way in which we behave, structure our social lives, and govern our societies? In any case, we can expect that the pandemic will leave its mark in the minds and the imagination of at least one generation, as has been the case time and again following wars, uprisings, and the falls of political regimes throughout history.

What does sociology bring to the situation? What can you show the French population through your work?

As human beings, as citizens, and as researchers, we have all been affected by this invisible virus that we hope to eradicate as soon as possible. Virologists and pharmacologists are, naturally, focusing on researching vaccines and treatments. They are on the front line. Behind the scenes, sociologists can try to measure the social effects of the epidemic, as well as the effects of political measures that have been deployed in response. This is particularly the case when we have a virus whose spread must be countered using social rather than medical mechanisms: distancing ourselves from others and avoiding all forms of sociability! Is this causing or will this cause more inward-looking attitudes, loneliness, social fragmentation, and therefore become a possible threat to social cohesion in the future? Furthermore, will this epidemiological and political solution of a lockdown (and other measures to come) have an equal and fair impact on all members of society? As sociologists, social cohesion and inequalities are the lenses through which we carry out our research.

How have you structured the research process? What distinctive features does it have? 

The project “Coping with Covid-19 (CoCo)” brings together a Sciences Po research centre and a service unit of the CNRS, in a mutually complementary process. The OSC brings its expertise in the analysis of inequality and social change; the CDSP contributes with its capacity for rigorous survey methods and the ELIPSS panel. In fact, the panel is the cornerstone of the project. It provides information on a representative sample of the French population from before the Covid crisis, and therefore allows us to track changes in behaviours and attitudes that have been caused by the pandemic and the lockdown. This is a crucial distinction from other sociological studies of Covid-19, which are tending to view the situation like a snapshot, without recording in “real time” the changes in social practices that may take place over time.

You’re a specialist in mobility, especially intra-European mobility, and more widely in European integration… Is that world falling apart right now? Have your areas of research, your reference points and your convictions been suddenly turned upside down?

It’s tempting to say that “all that is solid melts into air”. Personally, I’ve always said that European integration and the freedom of movement, which constitutes its fundamental pillar and sociologically unique character, are historic constructions not necessarily meant to last forever (see the final paragraph of my 2015 book Mobile Europe). The present crisis is taking place against a background of rising neo-nationalism that has long been advocating for the restoration of national borders as a tenet of socio-political reorganisation. The question is whether or not this ideology can exploit the health crisis to reinstate a world made up of hermetically-sealed national societies. In my opinion, the future will be more complex than this, because there are economic and cultural powers that will fight against this on a global level. The future will play out at the conjunction of three major forces: economic privilege (which is best defended by national structures), individualisation (which pushes for freedom and mobility), and the environmental crisis (which demands global action). These forces - and, above all, their political manifestations - will extract divergent lessons from the current situation. How people live through this unprecedented and difficult period will also be important for deciphering what will be the most likely path forward. 

Find out more

Tommaso Vitale Appointed Dean of the Urban School

Tommaso Vitale Appointed Dean of the Urban School

Mathias Vicherat, President of Sciences Po, has appointed Tommaso Vitale as Dean of the Urban School. Mr. Vitale succeeds Patrick Le Galès, and will take up his new position as Dean of the Urban School in September, after a transition period commencing on June 1. His appointment follows deliberations by a search committee composed of members from within and outside Sciences Po, set up in early March to select the best-suited candidate for the role of Dean of the Urban School.

More
Ethan Zuckerman at Sciences Po: “We need to imagine a better Internet”

Ethan Zuckerman at Sciences Po: “We need to imagine a better Internet”

Despite the internet’s many benefits, there is a widespread consensus that today’s tech structure and social media is harmful in multiple ways for individuals and society. What should be the future of social media? On May 10, 2022, Ethan Zuckerman, Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, and Director of the UMass Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure, discussed this question alongside President of ARTE Bruno Patino and Sciences Po Associate Professor of Economics Julia Cagé. A conference organized by the McCourt Institute in partnership with Sciences Po’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

More
Congratulations to the graduates of the 10th cohort of the Sciences Po - Columbia Dual BA!

Congratulations to the graduates of the 10th cohort of the Sciences Po - Columbia Dual BA!

The 10th graduation ceremony of the Dual BA Programme between Sciences Po and Columbia University took place in New York on Monday 16 May 2022. This year, 69 students will receive both their Sciences Po and Columbia Bachelor's degrees during a ceremony marked by emotion and the inspiring words of those who make it all happen. Also present were students from the classes of 2020 and 2021 whose ceremonies had been cancelled due to the pandemic.

More
CIVICA: focus on Joint Courses

CIVICA: focus on Joint Courses

On 29 April 2022, students from the joint course “Welfare States in Transition” taught by Bruno Palier of Sciences Po and Anke Hassel of the Hertie School were finally able to meet one another in person at Sciences Po. A debrief on this novel pedagogical experience with Frank Stadelmaier (CIVICA Senior Manager) and Carly Hafner (CIVICA Project Manager, Department of Studies and Partnerships).

More
A powerful exchange between Volodymyr Zelensky and the students of France

A powerful exchange between Volodymyr Zelensky and the students of France

In front of packed lecture halls adorned with blue and yellow flags, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky conversed for more than an hour on Wednesday 11 May 2022 with several hundred students from Sciences Po, the Institut National du Service Public, Ecole Polytechnique, Inalco, Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Université de Paris II Panthéon Assas, the IEP of Lille, Sorbonne University, Université de Haute-Alsace, the Ecole du Louvre, Université de Lyon and Sorbonne Paris Nord. All over France, dozens of auditoriums were opened, and tens of thousands of people were able to follow, in person or online, this unprecedented exchange.

More
Insights on the War in Ukraine: Sciences Po's Response

Insights on the War in Ukraine: Sciences Po's Response

Over the course of the last few days, all eyes have been turned towards Ukraine and the war being waged on the orders of Vladimir Putin. Aggression on this scale, in direct violation of international law, and the unbridled disregard for the value of human life that have been witnessed over the past few days has left many feeling at a loss, unsure of how to process the events that are unfolding on the global stage.

More
Meet Farrah Trari, Recipient of the Marion Bruley Scholarship

Meet Farrah Trari, Recipient of the Marion Bruley Scholarship

Sciences Po students doing an internship in the United States have the possibility, subject to resources, to apply for the Marion Bruley Mobility Grant, financed by the Sciences Po American Foundation. This year a student from the School of Public Affairs, Farrah Trari, was chosen as the recipient of this scholarship and is currently doing an internship in New York. 

More