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

Prof. Kevin Parthenay: “The Romanticism of Latin America”

Prof. Kevin Parthenay: “The Romanticism of Latin America”

Latin America is a continent of writers, of passion, and of revolutions. But that’s not all! In his class “International Relations in Latin America”, Kevin Parthenay invites students on the Poitiers campus to take up a new perspective of this continent that, far from taking a back seat, is at the heart of many global dynamics. 

More
FEMPO: Period-Proof Underwear Made in Sciences Po

FEMPO: Period-Proof Underwear Made in Sciences Po

FEMPO are the first period-proof underwear made in France. When Fanny Abes, at the time a third-year student in Vancouver, met Claudette Lovencin, the idea for the product was born. They are now both Sciences Po graduates. We met with them to speak about their career paths and business.

More
Prof. Marine Denis: the Geopolitics of Climate Change

Prof. Marine Denis: the Geopolitics of Climate Change


What does it mean for a region such as South-East Asia to be simultaneously an agent and a victim of climate change? Or for a country like China to be recognised at once as one of the biggest polluters and one of the pioneers of environmental diplomacy? When large-scale international organisations can decide to survey… or to punish? The debate begins! This way to the “environmental galaxy”, where we find Marine Denis and her brilliant students...

More
The Historic Class of 2020

The Historic Class of 2020

After two years pursuing a Master’s degree or five years pursuing first a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s, the Class of 2020 has obtained their prestigious Sciences Po diploma! But they’ve also accomplished something completely unprecedented: they completed their final semester in the midst of a pandemic. What impact will this historic period have on their lives in the future? Until we find out, here are the profiles of a class unlike any other. Congratulations graduates of the Class of 2020!

More

"From history to herstory": a new look at old galleries

Cécile Fara and Julie Marangé met on the first day of their Master’s degrees at Sciences Po. Together they founded Feminists of Paris, an organisation that offers walking tours and museum visits ‘through the lens of feminism and gender equality’ in Paris, Lyon, and Bordeaux. Cécile and Julie spoke to us about their entrepreneurial experiences with Feminists of Paris and how the history of feminism in France resonates today. 

More
Prof. Odile Goerg: On Africa’s complex history

Prof. Odile Goerg: On Africa’s complex history

“The idea is to do away with the myth that Africa had no history before colonisation”. Africa’s long and diverse history comes alive in this class by historian Odile Goerg, a storied traveller of the continent who teaches history armed with a catalogue of hundreds of adventures.

More
Goodbye Plastic, Hello Koovee

Goodbye Plastic, Hello Koovee

A committed ecologist and graduate of Sciences Po in 2015, Tiphaine Guerout has channeled her entrepreneurial ambition towards an environmental cause. She is the founder of Koovee, a startup that offers an alternative to disposable plastic cutlery: forks and spoons made of biscuit, made in France, that have the particularity of being sufficiently resistant so that one can eat with them. Interview with a young graduate who hopes to flood the French and European markets in the years to come.

More