Throughout 2020 and 2021, bells have rung in a variety of COVID-related rituals in the West, ranging from large-scale religious and civic rites, to ad hoc neighborhood and hospital initiatives, to anti-racist memorials that simultaneously spoke to the health crisis at hand. Taking stock of how these COVID bell-ringing rituals were formalized, their structures and actions, and the historical precedents from which they drew their meanings, this article investigates what the sounds of bells and the rituals of bell-ringing communicated about COVID, how they shaped our personal and collective experiences of the crisis, and what functions they were expected to serve during this liminal period. It reveals how, owing to the historical polysemy of bells on the one hand and the social uncertainties of living with COVID on the other, those rituals generated vivid symbolisms and mobilized powerful emotions that sometimes brought about unintended consequences.
Campanology under COVID-19
Migration Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Aydan Greatrick, Jumana Al-Waeli, Hannah Sender, Susanna Corona Maioli, Jin L. Li, and Ellen Goodwin
This article draws on our experiences of carrying out PhD research on migration during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all involved with the University College London Migration Research Unit (MRU), and our PhD research explores the lived experiences of migrants and people affected by migration. This is the first of two articles in this issue of Migration and Society addressing the implications of COVID-19 on migration research from the perspective of postgraduate researchers. In this article, we firstly reflect on how “crises,” including the COVID-19 pandemic, inevitably shape contexts of migration research. We then share how COVID-19 has shaped our relationship to “the field” and our formal research institutions. Finally, we share how we have adapted our methodologies in response to COVID-19 and, considering the complex ethical and practical challenges posed by this context, reflect on what it means to make methodological “adaptations” in times of overlapping crises.
Talking about Agency
Annette Schnabel and Bettina Ülpenich
We analyze how the coronavirus is fabricated at the interface between science and the public in order to be addressable by political strategies. By means of a content analysis of Christian Drosten's podcasts, we follow (1) how SARS-CoV-2 is constructed in order to be understood by non-scientists, (2) how the specialist becomes a public expert, and (3) how this co-fabrication takes place. This provides insight into the “fabrication” of meaning and of how uncertainty is transformed into knowledge during times of major risk through focusing on the perception of the virus itself. Out of a perspective of speech act theory-informed assemblage thinking, the analysis emphasizes the role of the known-unknown and of the temporality of developments in formatting both virus and expert.
French Journalistic References to Bookstore Strolling and Fashion Walking
Flânerie, or the practice of urban strolling described in nineteenth-century French print and visual culture, has evolved throughout modernity, expanding its reach into more global literary traditions and becoming an important topic of research in numerous fields of academic study. Various phenomena have shaped the evolution of how we walk in the city and how artists, essayists, and journalists record it, none more so than the forced lockdowns associated with the global Covid-19 pandemic. Journalists in France invented expressions like flânerie inversée, impossible flânerie, and librairie flânerie to describe new city practices. They looked to figures like the fashion flâneuse on the catwalk as a means of sublimating the stillness and monotony of the coronavirus confinement. This article traces the emergence between March 2020 and April 2021of these variations in shopping and fashion contexts, which underscore the enduring legacy of the practice and its everlasting presence in French culture.
The Public Humanities as a Vaccine for Coexistence
This article examines the role of the public humanities in France during Covid-19 for self-preservation, coping with isolation, understanding an upended world, creating a sense of connection and belonging, and cultivating empathy for others. For instance, in dealing with the existential angst of confinement and economic woes, one of the novels that resonated the most in France and globally was Albert Camus's The Plague. At the very moment that France enforced measures to restrict access to places of culture, many French people turned to the humanities for comfort and perspective. The pandemic accelerated the need for libraries, galleries, bookstores, museums, concert halls, opera houses, theaters, cinemas, and nightclubs, as well as places of dialogue like cafés and bistros. Dialogue and the cocreation of physical and virtual communities were needed as the spread of false information relating to science, vaccines, and nation exacerbated pre-pandemic divisions in French culture.
Religious Rituals’ Reflection of Current Social Conditions in the Middle East
Peoples’ practising of religious ritual is never isolated from the social and political setting in which it takes place. It is therefore inevitable that ritual practice somehow contends with the current social context. Examining Muslim ritual practices across the Middle East, the authors of the articles in this special issue discuss religious ritual as a tool for accomplishing something in the real world. They provide examples of which social concerns are addressed in ritual practice, who is involved and how the ritual practice is affected. The studies show that current ritual practices are embedded in multi-actor social spaces, and they also reflect on the ritual as a multi-actor space where the power to define ritual form, meaning and importance shifts between different categories of actors.
France in the Age of Covid-19
Éric Touya de Marenne
What does Covid-19 reveal about France today? What are its effects on culture, politics, and society? One of the contentions of this special issue is that measuring its impacts takes on full significance when approached in the context of other crises that have affected the nation in recent years. These include growing inequality and social and political division, and the rise of populism. This special issue examines how these existing predicaments shed light on the impact of Covid-19. It also seeks to explore ways through which we may give meaning to this tragic moment in French history through art and the public humanities.
Work, Grace, and Race
Tessa Ashlin Nunn
The spaces in which amateur and professional dancers practiced their art greatly changed during the Covid-19 pandemic due to the closures of theaters and dance studios, yet dance continued to bring people together online. This article studies the media presence of the Paris Opera Ballet (POB) between March 2020 and May 2021 to analyze how the aesthetic and moral concept of grace has evolved. During this difficult year, dance took on a therapeutic role as POB dancers offered free online classes and performed in video work, in addition to taking on a political role as discussions about racism in ballet sparked public debates.
Inequalities, Divides, Populism
Éric Touya de Marenne
The article examines how the current Covid-19 crisis in France crosses into existing socio-economic, political, and existential crises faced by the nation in recent years. It considers the pandemic's impact in the context of the criticism that the French government response provoked in opposition parties regarding its preparedness and strategies. Beyond the multiple budget cuts that have affected the health-care system in France in recent years, and significantly lessen, according to critiques, the country's ability to tackle Covid-19, a growing number of French people link the failure of their government and the rise of violence in society to France's growing dependence on the EU and the decline of French sovereignty in a globalized world. The pandemic's impact is measured through the prism of the current socio-economic crisis, triggered by months of confinements and curfews; the rise of unemployment and populism; and what it could mean for the future of democracy.
The Case of Egypt
Nadeem Ahmed Moonakal and Matthew Ryan Sparks
Throughout the Islamic world, the era of COVID-19 has witnessed controversial changes to highly ritualised traditional Islamic funeral rites. To combat the pandemic in Egypt, the government and Al-Azhar implemented restrictions surrounding group prayer and burial which many Egyptians viewed as impinging on their religious duties as well as on their ability to mourn. Utilising participant observation, interviews, and deductive research, this article explores the social and anthropological ramifications involved in the modification of traditional Islamic burial rituals in the era of COVID-19 and the negotiations involved amongst different actors, looking specifically at cases in Egypt.