Project Human Sociality in the Age of Covid-19


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The crisis caused by Covid-19 at the beginning of 2020, the prevention measures successively undertaken by governments to contain it, the reorganization of public and private life within the crisis and its aftermaths, concern not only human health, but also fundamental aspects of human sociality. Multiple constraints imposed to social interaction have treated the body primarily as a vector of contagion. However, they concern not only the bio-physiological body but also the social body, by affecting and transforming practices that are constitutive of the interactional order.

The project Human Sociality in the Age of Covid-19 studies the embodied and verbal practices in social interaction during the Covid-19 crisis – beginning with its prodromes before the lockdown, continuing during the lockdown, and after it. From within a perspective based on conversation analysis and ethnomethodology, the project is interested both in the foundations of human sociality as they are revealed by the crisis – conceived as a natural breaching experiment – as well as in the transformations of social action during the pandemic, and what it reveals about local orientations towards crisis, risk, and normative impositions in this context. The crisis makes observable that, by changing their embodied conducts, people orient to health risks and prevention, but also to the fundamental need of intersubjective, mutually recognizable practices for managing social interaction.




The project Human Sociality in the Age of Covid-19 is based on a unique corpus of data. Since the prodromes of the crisis, in March 2020, we have continuously collected video recordings in a variety of settings in public and institutional spaces, including at the university, in cafés and shops, on markets, parks, and squares in the city of Basel (Switzerland). The video data document in a continuous way the early covid-19 crisis, the peak of the sanitary crisis and the lockdown, as well as the post-lockdown period. The amount of data collected were 30h at the end of April, 60h at the end of May, 80h mid June – and the collection is still going on. Despite the practical difficulties with doing fieldwork in this specific situation, recordings have been made with the participants’ informed consent by adapting the procedure of contact and consent with the participants to the pandemic situation (maintaining distance, and avoiding forms of contact that could be risky).




On the basis of these data, the project Human Sociality in the Age of Covid-19 is focusing on the following analytical points:

• historical change of micro-practices in social interaction

• the transformations of the intersubjective accountability of embodied action as routine actions are suspended and changed

• the orientation to external norms and rules and how this affects embodied conduct

Ongoing analyses are targeting the following issues, with a special attention for interacting bodies as they are positioned, arranged and moved:

• the organization of openings and greetings in public space,

• the organization of formats of actions as constrained by preventive measures

• the changing formatting of actions including the use of material objects related to hygiene and safety (masks, gloves, disinfectant, etc.)