Broadening the perspective on Covid-19

Broadening the perspective on Covid-19

While the pandemic has led many to first seek biomedical and epidemiological expertise, we should be careful not to overlook inputs from different scientific fields that could provide important insights in the current crisis. Here are some early academic responses you might have missed.

Many scholars at CWTS are now working hard, as they are elsewhere, to make some meaningful and helpful contribution in the current crisis. Being neither biomedical specialists, nor specifically engaged in topics related to disease or epidemics, a Science and Technology Studies research center like CWTS might not be the most logical of places to start doing Covid-19 related research projects. Surprisingly, however, a host of quite different but promising ideas are actually being developed by many CWTS researchers as we speak. These projects are very diverse, envisioned for either the short or long term, with some more scientometrics-based while others rely on qualitative research methods, and all variably focused on looking at the past, present, and/or future of funding, literature and research relevant to Covid-19 and its multidimensional contexts. I hope that more of them will soon follow my example and share with you all the (very!) interesting stuff they have already uncovered.

In the meantime, however, a plethora of other institutes and disciplinary communities - just as far removed as we are from the typical biomedical and epidemiological research and literature that many now turn to in these trying times - are already way ahead of us, and have already started building academic responses, providing meaningful commentaries, and compiling relevant syllabi and literature lists. Our own small project, part of an ad hoc Covid-19 research group brought to life by Ismael Ráfols entitled ‘Broadening the Perspective’, is meant to gather some of this literature about Covid-19 - or more generally the relevant literature on epidemics, the interaction between crises and socio-cultural inequalities, social distancing, loneliness and so forth – that originates outside of the expected biomedical and epidemiological fields, and which stems from areas that are usually not included in a first selection of relevant expertise when responding to this type of crisis.

This latter selection criterium is, as I am well aware, a vague one. However, the point is exactly that: to look to places where things might indeed become a little vague and seek out the scientific literature that our scientometric sisters and brothers might not find as easily when first scouring the landscape for Covid-19 relevant literature and knowledge. To see where and how others - in fields in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) for example - might provide potentially crucial and valuable responses that could otherwise be overlooked by those not connected to these fields.

This idea of ours appeared to be not only a reasonable one, it was in fact (of course!) already being done. Indeed, it didn’t take long for us to find (in our immediate circles no less) ever-expanding syllabi and literature lists being created at high speeds in a lot of different areas. Rather than providing a broader perspective on issues and knowledges related to Covid-19 ourselves, we are still very much trying to play catch-up and getting some perspective on this seemingly vast and expanding network of files, fora and lists that are already doing much of that work for us.

This blog post is in many ways simply meant to be another link in that network as it is coming into being: providing readers with some links to the work of others, who can in turn provide you with more interesting links to more interesting work of others. However, it is also to force ourselves (as was rightly suggested by a blog editor) to maybe step outside of our collective comfort zones and automated academic responses, which often drive us to try and work towards some sort of finished project or end product before sharing our thoughts, and instead communicate in the here and now about what we’re seeing. Thus, what I present below is both a list under development of an already amazing amount of links to Covid-19 responses, compiled literature lists and more, all stemming from various corners of academia, and my own initial and brief notes on their content, written while I have been searching for and looking through all of this as we try to ‘broaden the perspective’ on Covid-19, its related crisis (crises) and possible responses.

The list starts with several links to syllabi and literature lists made and continuously updated by collectives of academics working in different areas of the social sciences or humanities, which each provide enormously rich lists of sources relevant to the social and cultural aspects of disease and epidemics in often unexpected ways. Some prominent themes here include plagues and epidemics of the past; the role of expertise in governance and society; misinformation and media; psychological strain and mental health; social distancing and solidarity; COVID-19 as ‘syndemic’; relations with economics, biopolitics, capitalism and neoliberalism; the Risk Society; ‘outbreak narratives’; comorbidity and social inequalities, ableism and gender relations as co-determinant in disease spread and burden, and much, much more.

List 1. Continuously updated and crowdsourced academic syllabi and online collections of sources related to COVID-19.

Teaching COVID-19: An Anthropology Syllabus Project March 6, 2020 - Ongoing Syllabus specifically started to collect resources for anthropologists (connected to the 'Teaching and Learning Anthropology journal), but clearly useful to social scientists in general, as well those seeking to teach on themes in connection to COVID-19. Sources are categorized in very specific topics and themes. (Initiative/editing by Nina Brown, Angela Jenks, Kartie Nelson and Laura Tighman)
Humanities Coronavirus Syllabus March 12, 2020 - Ongoing Syllabus 'which focuses on literary, historical, philosophical/religious, and cultural aspects of the current health crisis and its history'. Has a strong list of literary, history, as well as relevant popular culture suggestions. (Initiative/editing by Sari Altschuler and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon).
#coronavirussyllabus | a crowdsourced cross-disciplinary resource March 12, 2020 - Ongoing Syllabus based on literature initially gathered through the use of the twitter hashtag #coronavirussyllabus. No sub-categorizations of books/articles, but it contains full and standardized bibliographical info and links to all works, info on open/closed access for each item, as well as an expanding list of podcasts, films, music, etc. (Initiative/editing by Alondra Nelson)
Teaching Coronavirus—Sociological Syllabus Project March 13, 2020 - Ongoing (mostly) Sociological literature arranged according to themes, which more or less correspond to prevalent topic categories in sociology and, like the anthropology syllabus, useful to social scientists in a broad sense. Especially strong in connecting issues to critical perspectives. (Initiative/editing by Siri Colom)
Coronavirus Readings by The Syllabus March 15, 2020 - Ongoing Index of Corona related content with daily updates made by 'The Syllabus'. Based on a combination of "algorithmic and human curation": "each week, our algorithms detect tens of thousands of potential candidates – and not just in English. Our human editors, led by Evgeny Morozov, then select a few hundred worthy items". Useful for keeping track of new contributions in a variety of outlets/channels, rather than finding past relevant publications. Also available as a newsletter.
A COVID-19 Syllabus: An Interdisciplinary Exploration for Students, Faculty and Staff in Higher Education March 2020 - Ongoing Syllabus meant to gather sources to help students 'make sense of what to do, how to think, and how to cope in a world upended by COVID-19'. Contains the widest variety of disciplines in its listings, including visualizations, artist responses and accessible literature suggestions arranged in themes. (Initiative/editing by Kimberly Poitevin)
COVID-19 Reader Project March 2020 - Ongoing "Reading materials include scholarly works from the history of science, technology and medicine, medical anthropology, and STS, as well as newspaper articles, letters from the universities, images and videos, and even memes capturing what it is like to live in the time of a pandemic". Includes a particular focus on learning from past epidemics and links to some great digital archives. (Initiative/editing by Yeonsil Kang)
The Coronavirus Tech Handbook Ongoing "The Coronavirus Tech Handbook is a crowd-sourced library for technologists, civic organisations, public and private institutions, researchers, and specialists of all kinds working on responses to the pandemic. It is a rapidly evolving resource with thousands of expert contributors". Impressive scale of information, providing 'tools' meant to find information on wide scale of techical, social, economic, etc. issues
Treating Yellow Peril: Resources to Address Coronavirus Racism Ongoing A collection of resources to map out, teach on and discuss racism in relation to the coronavirus outbreak (Initiative/editing by Jason Oliver Chang)
Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) - Feminist Resources on the Pandemic Ongoing Impressive collection of old and new works and commentaries on the intersection between COVID-19 and gender politics, arguing for a feminist COVID-19 policy

But, next to these collections of old and recent relevant literature, there is also a host of more direct academic responses to the COVID-19 outbreak. Although our dominant infrastructures of communication through peer-reviewed journals prove very ill equipped to move at the speed of a virus, academics from all across the spectrum have sought to respond and share knowledge through opinion pieces, blogs, curated forum discussions and so on. My list therefore also includes both a set of curated collections of academic forum posts, blogs and essays (see list 2), mostly centered around a specific discipline or theme, as well as a more extensive list of individual contributions I have gathered and selected myself (see list 3). This latter list also includes things like short essays, individual blogposts and contributions to some more popular science journals, but excludes (with maybe one or two exceptions) everything published in more regular news media outlets (which means I may have missed some very valuable contributions made by scholars in newspapers and the like). Moreover, the selection is unquestionably subjective, and probably relies more heavily on sociological and anthropological contributions than on those from any other fields due to my own disciplinary backgrounds. Nevertheless, I am still very happy that it actually includes some singular contributions from fields as diverse as economics, psychology, classical studies, literary studies, history, art, art history, philosophy, theology, journalism and communication, and environmental studies. Though each contribution is thus coupled to some notes that I hope might guide you in choosing things of interest to you, I have ordered all of them chronologically (unless it entails a direct response or follow-up) rather than according to something like discipline or theme. This is primarily due to the practical issues of maintaining such strict classifications here, but at the same time I’m hoping it might also arouse some curiosity, entice some readers into investigating something unexpected, or ‘broaden someone’s perspective’ as they move through the lists.

List 2. Themed or disciplinary collections of (short) essays, papers, blogposts and discussions on COVID-19.

Covid-19 Response CollectionsDateDescription
Somatosphere - Series: Dispatches from the pandemic February 28, 2020 - Ongoing Tag for collection of COVID-19 articles published on Somatosphere, which covers ''the intersections of medical anthropology, science and technology studies, cultural psychiatry, psychology and bioethics". Includes the below fora, but also more extensive pieces on a broad range of interrelated topics well worth the read
Somatosphere - COVID-19 Forum - introduction March 6, 2020 Forum presenting series of early academic responses to COVID-19 outbreak presented by 'Somatosphere'.
Somatosphere - COVID-19 Forum II - introduction Follow-up: April 6, 2020 Follow up to the well received first forum series of Somatosphere
CEPR Press: Richard Baldwin and Beatrice Weder di Mauro (Eds.) - Economics in the Time of COVID-19 March 6, 2020 Collection of articles from economists writing on COVID-19 published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) in a free eBook
Leiden Anthropologists Reflect on the COVID-19 Pandemic March 23, 2020 Collection of blogposts from anthropologists responding to the COVID-19 crisis
Corona Times: Understanding the world through the Covid-19 pandemic March 26, 2020 - Ongoing "Corona Times is a blog written and curated by engaged scholars from across the world, coming together across multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, with a strong grounding in humanities and social sciences, and in dialogue with public health knowledge".
European Journal of Psychoanalysis - Coronavirus and philosophers
March 2020 Collection of old and new philosophy writings on, or relevant to, the COVID-19 outbreak, from M. Foucault, G. Agamben, J.L. Nancy, R. Esposito, S. Benvenuto, D. Dwivedi, S. Mohan, R. Ronchi, M. de Carolis
The National Bureau of Economic Research (USA) - NBER Studies March - April 2020 Working papers from the NBER on COVID-19 and related topics
Contexts (Rashawn Ray and Fabio Rojas) - Covid-19 impact on Asia and beyond April 1, 2020 Collection of short sociological essays on COVID-19 ( also has other indivual relevant essays on COVID-19)
MAT Virtual Issue: Outbreaks, Epidemic, and Infectious Diseases April 6, 2020 Special virtual issue of Medical Anthropological Theory, with a retrospective collection of crucial & relevant publications
American Anthropological Association (AAA) - COVID-19 Resources Ongoing Collection of webinars, responses, observations and other resources hosted by the American Anthropological Association
STS-Disaster Research Network (Duygu Kasdogan, Pedro de la Torre III, Tim Schütz and Kim Fortun) - TRANSnational STS COVID-19 Project Ongoing "The TRANSnational-STS Covid-19 Project brings together researchers in the interdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) to follow and analyze COVID-19 as it plays out in different settings". (See more at

Before finally coming to my last (highly tentative) list, an important note: All of what you see here is built on the hard work of others (as academia generally is) and they deserve all the credit. They have on the whole been sharp and quick to respond in variable meaningful ways in what will undoubtedly also have been hard times for them, as it has been for the rest of us. All I hope to have added here for now is to share some of this relevant and compelling literature with those that may not have come across it yet. It is in no way meant to be comprehensive nor complete; you will undoubtedly disagree with my decisions on the usefulness or relevance of what I have in- or excluded; what is included is without any doubt extremely biased as it has been collected via mostly personal and disciplinary networks (and many disciplines so far still lack any representation); and much of it may very well become outdated in a week’s time (though I doubt it!). However, rather than presenting the final conclusions on what SSH can say about Covid-19, this blog post is meant as a tiny contribution in linking thoughts and ideas to people, and as such I hope very much you will be joining me in doing the linking. So please: look through it, add and recommend more, criticize me for all the important things I’ve obviously overlooked, but by all means also share it with those that may find it useful! 

List 3. Written commentaries, projects and responses to the COVID-19 outbreak by scholars or scholarly collectives.

Individual responsesDateDescription
Katherine Hirschfeld - Microbial insurgency: Theorizing global health in the Anthropocene October 23, 2019 Article in the journal The Anthropocene Review actually predating the COVID-19 outbreak, but assessing the relevance of multidimensional macro-level shifts for current global pandemic responsiveness
Julie Smith - Gender and the Coronavirus Outbreak February 4, 2020 Argues for the inclusion of relevant knowledge on gender inequities in formulating outbreak response
Gideon Lasco - Why Face Masks Are Going Viral February 7, 2020 Exploration of reasons why people wear facemasks
Gideon Lasco - Could COVID-19 Permanently Change Hand Hygiene? Follow up: April 8, 2020 "An anthropologist tackles the slippery subject of hand sanitization in a world torn between concerns over contagion and antibiotic resistance"
UC Berkeley - Ivan Natividad - Coronavirus: Fear of Asians rooted in long American history of prejudicial policies February 12, 2020 On anti-Asian prejudice at UC Berkeley and its historical precedents
Choujun Zhana, Chi K. Tseb, Yuxia Fuc, Zhikang Laic & Haijun Zhangd - Modeling and Prediction of the 2019 Coronavirus Disease Spreading in China Incorporating Human Migration Data February 19, 2020 Medxiv preprint on modeling disease spread and human migration, written by engineers using Chinese app data
Joshua Neves on the Coronavirus (COVID-19), anti-Chinese racism, and the politics of underglobalization February 21, updated March 11, 2020 Brief comment on contradictory political understandings of China & Chinese response to the outbreak
Robert Peckham: The covid-19 outbreak has shown we need strategies to manage panic during epidemics February 21, 2020 Opinion piece by historian Robert Peckham on the phenomenon of 'panic'
Georgio Agamben - L’invenzione di un’epidemia February 26, 2020 Critical theorist Georgio Agamben on 'The Invention of an Epidemic' - Translation is present here:
Anastasia Berg - Giorgio Agamben’s Coronavirus Cluelessness Response: March 23, 2020 Critical response to Agamben
The Chuang collective - Social Contagion: Microbiological Class War in China February 2020 Elaborate academic and critical political article by anonymous collective writing on capitalism in China
Robert Peckham - COVID-19 and the anti-lessons of history March 2, 2020 Brief response by historian Robert Peckham on COVID-19, similarities and differences with historical precedents
Isaac Chotiner - Interview with Frank Snowden - How Pandemics Change History March 3, 2020 Interview with Frank Snowden, history professor and author of 2019's “Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present"
Joey S Kim - Orientalism in the Age of COVID-19 March 4, 2020 Critical comments on the reproduction of orientalism in crisis periods
Geoffrey Gertz - The coronavirus will reveal hidden vulnerabilities in complex global supply chains March 5, 2020 On relations between COVID-19 and international trade
Karin Fischer - With Coronavirus Keeping Them in U.S., International Students Face Uncertainty. So Do Their Colleges. March 6, 2020 Discussion of the effects of COVID-19 for international students in the US
Clare Wenham, Julia Smith, Rosemary Morgan (on behalf of the Gender and COVID-19 Working Group) - COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak March 6, 2020 Lancet article on the gendered impact of disease outbreaks, COVID-19
Sandro Galea - The Poor and Marginalized Will Be the Hardest Hit by Coronavirus March 9, 2020 How COVID-19 and its effects relate to public health policy and specific social groups
Zuzanna Stanska - Plague in Art: 10 Paintings You Should Know in the Times of Coronavirus March 9, 2020 Discussion of plague related art works by art historian Zuzanna Stanska
David Evans & Mead Over - The Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Low- and Middle-Income Countries March 12, 2020 Early analysis from the Center for Global Development on the economic impact of COVID-19
Jeffrey Sachs interview - Capitalism Versus Coronavirus March 12, 2020 "Columbia professor and economist Jeffrey Sachs joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss American capitalism’s failure to deal effectively with the coronavirus"
Zheng Jiawen - How COVID-19 Changed the Conversation About Chinese Journalism March 12, 2020 Piece on Chinese journalism by Zheng Jiawen, researcher in Journalism and Communications
Joel Christensen - Plagues follow bad leadership in ancient Greek tales March 12, 2020 Classical Studies perspective on ancient plagues
David Jones - History in a Crisis — Lessons for Covid-19 March 12, 2020 Article in the New England Journal of Medicine on the history of epidemics
Thomas Nail - Why a Roman philosopher’s views on the fear of death matter as coronavirus spreads March 12, 2020 Philosophicsal perspective on the relevance of Lucretius for the current crisis
Joseph Baines and Sandy Brian Hager - COVID-19 and the Coming Corporate Debt Catastrophe March 13, 2020 Political economy blog on COVID-19
Naomi Klein interview - Coronavirus Is the Perfect Disaster for ‘Disaster Capitalism’ March 13, 2020 Interview with Naomi Klein
Liesl Schillinger -What We Can Learn (and Should Unlearn) From Albert Camus’s The Plague March 13, 2020 Literary studies perspective on epidemics through discussion of Camus' The Plague (1947)
Urban Political Podcast - The Urbanization of COVID-19 March 14, 2020 "Three prominent urban researchers with a focus on infectious diseases explain why political responses to the current coronavirus outbreak require an understanding of urban dynamics".
Mike Davis on Coronavirus: “In a Plague Year” March 14, 2020 Political critique of capitalism in the context of COVID-19
Eric Klinenberg - We Need Social Solidarity, Not Just Social Distancing March 14, 2020 Widely shared opinion piece by sociologist Eric Klinenberg
Karen Kendrick - Is This What Sociology is for? March 15 2020 Reflective piece by sociologist Karen Kendrick
Slavoj Zizek - Monitor and Punish? Yes, please! March 16, 2020 Philosopher Slavoz Zizek's critical response to earlier comments made by Georgio Agamben
Katherine A Mason - Gasping for Air in the Time of COVID-19 March 18, 2020 Closer examination of the Chinese response, relating to air polution
Rupert Beale - Wash Your Hands March 19, 2020 Partially reflexive piece by clinician scientist Rupert Beale
The Point - Quarantine Journal March 19, 2020 - Ongoing Collection of literary and philosophical reflections on quarantine conditions
David Harvey - Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19 March 20, 2020 "As Marxist geographer David Harvey argues, forty years of neoliberalism has left the public totally exposed and ill prepared to face a public health crisis on the scale of coronavirus"
Jennifer Beam Dowd, Valentina Rotondi, Liliana Andriano, David M. Brazel, Per Block, Xuejie Ding, Yan Liu, Melinda C. Mills - Demographic science aids in understanding the spread and fatality rates of COVID-19 March 20, 2020 Short paper on the relevance of demographic data & research for COVID-19 and governmental responses
Julia A Thomas - The Blame Game: Asia, Democracy and COVID-19 March 25, 2020 Historian Julia Thomas critiques reproduction of false East-West dichotomies in Western media commentaries
Dimitris Xygalatas - Why people need rituals, especially in times of uncertainty March 25, 2020 Anthropologist comments on the emergence of rituals in new COVID-19 context
The COVID19 Mobility Monitoring working group - The reduction of social mixing in Italy following the lockdown March 25, 2020 Presentation of early data from Northern Italy on the effects of mobility restrictive policies, by Emanuele Pepe, Paolo Bajardi, Laetitia Gauvin, Filippo Privitera, Brennan Lake, Ciro Cattuto, Michele Tizzoni
Bruno Latour - Is This A Dress Rehearsal? March 26, 2020 Bruno Latour in Critical Inquiry on relating COVID-19 to the climate crisis
Joshua Clover - The Rise and Fall of Biopolitics: A Response to Bruno Latour Response: March 29, 2020 A critical response to Latour
Emily Mendenhall - Why Social Policies Make Coronavirus Worse March 27, 2020 On Covid-19 as a syndemic & its relation to (US) social policy
Adrian Ivakhiv - Pandemic politics: on disaster capitalism, socialism, and environmentalism March 30, 2020 Discussion of COVID-19's relation to ecology and environmental governance
Andrea Vicini - Life in the Time of Coronavirus March 31, 2020 Reflections and discussion on Corona virus from Professor of Moral Theology and Bioethics Andrea Vicini
Jeff Roy & Drake Paul - The Art of Quarantine March 2020 Collection of iconic art remade to relate to social distancing
Giacomo Lee Interviews J Roy on The Art of Quarantine - What if subjects of iconic paintings practised social distancing? Follow-up: April 2, 2020 Accompaniment to the above 'The Art of Quarantine'.
A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID19 March 2020 - Ongoing A 'curatorial consortium' project: Repository meant for 'future historians', which asks visitors 'to share your experience and impressions of how CoVid19 has affected our lives, from the mundane to the extraordinary, including the ways things haven't changed at all. Share your story in text, images, video, tweets, texts, Facebook posts, Instagram or Snapchat memes, and screenshots of the news and emails--...'
Nawil Arjani interview with Sheila Jasanoff - Science Will Not Come on a White Horse With a Solution April 6, 2020 STS scholar Sheila Jasanoff comments on the lack of attention to social ramifications of COVID-19 and governmental response
Liz Kimbrough - Field research, interrupted: How the COVID-19 crisis is stalling science April 9, 2020 How COVID-19 affects forms of field research
Dinesh Sharma - Coronavirus Unmasks Global Inequalities April 12, 2020 Examination of the multifaceted effects of COVID-19, framed in relation to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals

1 Comment

Jannes H Mulder

Corona 2.0 will presumably treated by IC's & ventilators again. Health Technology Assessment of IC's is urgent. What are the long term effects on Quality of Life of responders?

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