Discover "Reasonable Frippery" - a podcast from the Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker Center - exploring science and beyond, delving into the known and building intuitions about the unknown.
Lauren Cubellis, PhD, MPH
Sheena Bartscherer, MA
This project considers how the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped possibilities for making sense of data, both in and outside of the sciences. The pandemic has generated an unprecedented situation in which the pressure on data to inform, guide, and correct emerging policy procedures and financial investments is immense. This data is multi-faceted and malleable, sourced from a wide-variety of experts, clinics, and research settings, and moves quickly, influencing institutional responses at state and local levels. Crisis situations can serve to generate innovative and unforeseen possibilities amid great uncertainty, and the consequent negotiation of variable situations demands adaptable forms of risk assessment, and responsive understandings of responsibility and social participation. In this case, scientific and public perspectives regarding the pandemic have become newly plastic when taken up in the context of crisis, foregrounding questions such as: how should changing rates of infection be evaluated? How do policy makers, in consultation with health care providers and scientists, establish meaningful thresholds for response? How do individuals and communities adjust their work and care practices to account for constantly changing information and instructions? One of the critical questions this project will ask is how such data are translated into actionable practice in everyday life, by both researchers and laypersons, and what are the consequences for establishing reliable ways of knowing in the face of protracted uncertainty.
Drawing on media reports and academic literature, as well as extended interviews and conversations with anthropologists working internationally on questions of risk, temporality, and solidarity, this project addresses the complex task of understanding responses to emerging data and shifting social relations during the Covid-19 pandemic. It considers how the development and distribution of vaccines holds not only epidemiological significance, but also reverberates through social, familial, and professional relationships and differentiates the accessibility of social participation. It examines how risk – imagined differently by scientists, politicians, and individuals – is negotiated in the face of a massive public health crisis and changeable data. It asks how responsibility, and similarly, concepts of social solidarity, are newly shaped in response to these pressures. Finally, it turns a reflexive gaze on the practices of social scientists during this time, interrogating what qualitative methods offer in the face of a crisis at once intensely quantified and deeply social, and questions the boundaries we once held between the self as scientist and the self as participant in life in pandemic times.