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Open access

Anthropological Responses to COVID-19 in the Philippines

Gideon Lasco


This article reflects on the roles anthropologists have played in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines, and identifies the challenges – from the methodological to the political – they faced in fulfilling these roles. Drawing on the author's personal and professional experiences in the country, as well as on interviews with other anthropologists, this article identifies three major roles for anthropologists: conducting ethnographic research; bearing witness to the pandemic through first-person accounts; and engaging various publics. All these activities have contributed to a greater recognition of the role of the social sciences in health crises, even as anthropologists struggle to gain the same legitimacy as their clinical and public health counterparts. The article concludes by making recommendations that can better prepare local anthropologists in responding to future health crises.

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Anxious Mobilities

A Visual Inquiry into Pandemic Disruptions of Urban Railway Mobilities in Tokyo

Christoph Schimkowsky


The COVID-19 pandemic has not just prompted the widespread deceleration and halting of human movement, but also reconfigured enduring mobilities. This visual essay examines work commutes on Tokyo's urban railway system as an example of an urban mobility practice that partially withstood the immobilizing effect of the pandemic. Combining text and comic-style drawings, it explores the viral transformation of passenger practices and experiences during Tokyo's first “state of emergency” (April–May 2020) to ask how passengers on one of the world's busiest urban railway systems learned to move with viral risk in a city that refrained from imposing official mobility restrictions. The essay introduces the notion of anxious mobilities to highlight how mobility experiences and practices in pandemic cities came to be characterized by a sense of unease. It calls attention to undulating processes of (de)sensitization to risk that mobile subjects may undergo when movement becomes associated with danger.

Open access

ASEAN's “actorness” and “effectiveness” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic

Vincent Rollet


The COVID-19 pandemic represents a new significant test for the role of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in regional health governance in Southeast Asia. Assessing ASEAN's role during the pandemic through the concepts of “actorness” and “effectiveness,” the article argues that while ASEAN displayed all the attributes of actorness during the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to its effectiveness, the capacity of the regional institution to reach the objectives it committed to has been rather limited. Explaining the reasons for such “effectiveness–expectation gap” and, considering the last policy development in the region related to regional health coordination, the article identifies several conditions for ASEAN to strengthen its capacity to act effectively on regional health cooperation, and to contribute to the strengthening of a regional health response to a possible future epidemic threat.


El COVID-19 representa una nueva e importante prueba para el papel de la ASEAN en la gobernanza sanitaria regional. Al evaluar su papel durante la pandemia a través de los conceptos de “actuación” y “eficacia”, el artículo sostiene que, si bien la ASEAN mostró todos los atributos de actoría durante la pandemia, en lo que respecta a su eficacia, su capacidad para alcanzar los objetivos a los que se comprometió ha sido limitada. Explicando las razones de esa “brecha entre eficacia y expectativas” y considerando el último desarrollo de políticas de coordinación sanitaria regional, el artículo identificó varios prerrequisitos como ineludibles en su búsqueda por reforzar la eficacia para garantizar la cooperación sanitaria regional en el Sudeste Asiático y mejorar la respuesta regional ante una próxima amenaza sanitaria.


La pandémie de COVID-19 représente un test significatif pour apprécier le rôle de l'Association des nations de l'Asie du Sud-Est (ASEAN) au sein de la gouvernance sanitaire régionale en Asie du Sud-Est. En évaluant le rôle de l'ASEAN pendant cette pandémie à travers les concepts d'actorness (capacité à agir) et d'effectiveness (efficacité), cet article montre que si l'ASEAN a exprimé sa capacité à agir pendant cette crise sanitaire, son efficacité, i.e son aptitude à atteindre les objectifs qu'elle s'est fixés, a été plutôt limitée. Les raisons d'un tel écart entre efficacité et attentes (effectiveness-expectations gap) sont expliquées dans l'article qui identifie plusieurs conditions pour que l'ASEAN contribue efficacement au renforcement d'une réponse sanitaire régionale indispensable face à une éventuelle prochaine menace épidémique.

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Childbirth during the COVID-19 Pandemic

An Analysis of Fødselen [The birth] by Norwegian Cartoonist, Blogger, and Nurse Hanne Monge Sigbjørnsen

Adriana Margareta Dancus


This article provides a close reading of Fødselen [The birth], a powerful and provocative comic by cartoonist, blogger, and nurse Hanne Monge Sigbjørnsen aka Tegnehanne in which she depicts her own negative experiences with childbirth during the COVID-19 pandemic. I first place Fødselen in a historical and sociocultural context, highlighting how Tegnehanne draws on the legacies of Nordic feminist comics, participating in recent trends such as COVID-19 comics and graphic reproduction, and tapping into central feminist debates in contemporary Norwegian feminist activism. I then discuss the complex and engaging ways in which Sigbjørnsen depicts the pain of labour and how Fødselen gives important insights into the negotiation of touch in obstetrics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open access

Community engagement, shared knowledge, and resilience

Implications for the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Harlan Koff and Carmen Maganda

As has become our tradition, we begin this new issue by wishing our readers a happy new year in 2022. This editors’ note introduces volume 12 of Regions & Cohesion, our second as an open access journal. Already we view 2022 as a promising new year. The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, but we are showing signs of adaptation at different levels. The arrival of the Omicron variant has resulted in fewer fatalities than previous variants. New vaccines and alternative treatments are being developed, and despite numerous logistical, political, and ideological challenges, the percentage of the vaccinated global population is increasing (Shet et al., 2022). These developments, combined with promising research on neonatal immunity and children's immune tolerance indicate that we are heading in the direction of increased resilience.

Open access

Embedded Social Science and the British Government COVID-19 Response

An Ethnographic Study

Alex Tasker and Lucy C. Irvine


The complex and evolving nature of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic poses significant challenges to national and international emergency preparedness and response. Governments must navigate streams of emerging data in real time, synthesising knowledge from diverse sources to inform policy. The UK government drew on experiences from earlier pandemics to bridge perceived gaps between social science research and policy through the secondment of early-career academics as embedded scientists. In this article, we present comparative ethnographic data describing embedded social scientists’ contributions to UK COVID-19 preparedness and response. We find that the liminal position, loose identities, and high degree of autonomy of embedded scientists allowed these individuals to navigate multiple networks to strengthen and legitimise the role of social science within policy debates.

Open access

Ethnicity Past and Present

A Transnational Virtual COVID-19 Interview with Ulf Hannerz

Marek Jakoubek and Lenka J. Budilová

The beginnings of the interview date back to 2019, the year when we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (Barth 1969). We used this event as a springboard for looking back at the rich professional trajectory of Professor Ulf Hannerz, in which ethnicity and other forms of collective identities play one of the key roles. The interview was started after a lecture by Professor Hannerz, ‘Fifty Years of Diversity Watching’, given at the Department of Ethnology of Charles University in Prague in September 2019, and it was finalised during the COVID-19 pandemic online via e-mailing the questions and answers back and forth between Stockholm and Prague.

Open access

A Framework for Social Science in Epidemics

Santiago Ripoll, Annie Wilkinson, Syed Abbas, Hayley MacGregor, Tabitha Hrynick, and Megan Schmidt-Sane


In epidemic preparedness and response, it is now commonly accepted that insights from social science disciplines are important in shaping action. Unfortunately, the role of social science is often confined to risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) efforts. In this article, we propose an analytical framework that would allow researchers and practitioners from different disciplines to employ social science insights to enrich their understanding of epidemics and formulate more effective and sustainable responses. The framework goes beyond simply unpacking social, political, economic and cultural dimensions of context; it situates disease itself – as it is shaped by the contexts in which it circulates – and views it in dynamic relation to response. It also explores how different individuals, social groups and institutions shift their knowledge and practices during an epidemic through power-laden processes of dialogue and learning, or even through silencing and side-lining. It is our hope that this framework will enable responders to engage more deeply and systematically with the contexts of emergencies, so as to ensure activities are more adaptive to local dynamics.

Open access

Indigenous Leadership, Anthropology and Intercultural Communication for COVID-19 Response in the Rio Negro Indigenous Territory, Brazilian Amazonia

Danilo Paiva Ramos, Alex Shankland, Domingos Barreto, and Renato Athias


Around the world, Indigenous groups have been among the communities most severely affected by COVID-19, and the ability of health systems and social policy responses to support Indigenous responses to the pandemic has been affected by challenges of intercultural communication, sometimes compounded by racist and exclusionary social and political attitudes. The Brazilian Amazon has been a particularly extreme case. This article reflects on the experience of a group of Indigenous leaders and non-Indigenous anthropologists working to promote intercultural approaches to epidemic response in the Rio Negro region of Northwestern Amazonia. It brings together findings from in-person fieldwork on Indigenous responses to infectious disease outbreaks that affected the region before the COVID-19 pandemic and from remote research on COVID-19 response conducted in 2020 and 2021.

Open access

Introduction to the Special Issue

Operationalising Social Science for Epidemic Response

Megan Schmidt-Sane, Catherine Grant, Santiago Ripoll, Tabitha Hrynick, and Syed Abbas

This special issue of Anthropology in Action presents a collection of articles that reflect on and analyse the role of social science in epidemic response. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep social and economic inequalities within and across countries which produce unequal COVID-19 outcomes. Researchers have long noted the connections between socio-economic inequalities and infections, and there is growing recognition that epidemics are also social and political events (Bardosh et al. 2020). Anthropological and other social science research has contributed to epidemic response, through attention to cultural and politico-economic context, reframing community ‘resistance’, bolstering community engagement in preparedness and response, and informing response activities, including risk communication (Abramowitz 2017; Bardosh et al. 2020). Despite this, much of the work has been ad hoc and not systematically integrated into the systems of epidemic response, with the exception of the Centres d'Analyses des Sciences Sociales (CASS) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This special issue is timely, in that it builds on foundational work in social science and epidemic response, draws on tensions and experience from recent epidemics including COVID-19 and Ebola, and charts a way forward at both a theoretical and a practical level.