Distraction Free Reading

COVID-19: Views from the Field

COVID-19, or the vernacular “coronavirus,” hardly needs an introduction. By the time of this writing, there are over 1.2 million active cases spread across nearly every country worldwide. There is hardly an area of daily life that remains unchanged by the new and unfamiliar terms of coping and coexisting with a pandemic. Social relations are disrupted, mobilities once taken for granted are halted, forms of connectedness have suddenly become threatening. Social scientists have been quick to respond; our expertise enables us to contextualize novel, emergent events with theoretical insights from mundane life. Much of the focus has been on the indeterminacy of the present moment, and the uncertainties of pandemic life.

Academics, of course, have not been immune to those interruptions and uncertainties. For ethnographers actively conducting fieldwork especially, the cutting off of social interaction forces a renegotiation of their place in “the field.” Some of us find ourselves sheltering in field sites where borders have already been closed, leaving us in the liminal position of suspended research in place. For others for whom “the field” and “home” are layered in a single space, pandemic life can entail new and shifting boundaries between personal, everyday life and ongoing research. Regardless, in-field ethnographic researchers offer diverse perspectives on COVID-19 from geographic and social spaces that are rarely accessible through journalistic takes, while forcing a rethinking of the actual practice of social scientific research within a global crisis.

Over five weeks in April and May, Platypus will release a piece each Thursday written by ethnographers who, for one reason or another, have been in the field through the COVID-19 pandemic. Each piece is part auto-ethnography, documenting the writers’ particular, personal experience with navigating the new landscape of a pandemic-affected field, and part ethnography, offering new insights into the landscape of the pandemic from the vantage point of their own, ongoing fieldwork.

The series will culminate in a recorded roundtable discussion that will highlight both the ways in which our fieldwork intervenes in conversations surrounding the pandemic, but also how the pandemic is becoming part of the practice of ethnography. It is our hope that this series will spark conversation about the place and boundaries of “the field” within a global pandemic, and the new relations that necessarily develop between ethnographer and a post-coronavirus field.


  • Tony Pham says:

    Is Platypus taking submissions for “COVID-19: Views from the Field?” I have a reflection piece from my time in the field this year that may be appropriate.

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