July 24, 2020, by Brigitte Nerlich
Pandemic blogging: Taking stock
Over the last few months I have written a number of blog posts about the social and cultural impacts of the current pandemic of COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2. In this post I want to provide a brief overview of the various topics I have covered, from metaphors to politics.
As early as January this year I wrote a quick literature review, focusing in particular on my own work on war metaphors. This was the time when world leaders around the world began to use war metaphors to talk about how they’d tackle the pandemic. War metaphors were embraced by some and rejected by others.
During March I really homed in on metaphors starting with a post in which I tried to give an overview of metaphors for the virus, for dealing with the virus (here I returned to war metaphors), for how the virus spread, as well as uses of the virus as a metaphor to talk about other things. I added to that post throughout March and April, making it slightly unwieldy, but still informative, I hope.
In some other posts I looked at emerging metaphors in a bit more detail, sometimes provoked by events or speeches, sometimes by other people’s articles. An article by Ed Yong entitled ‘Our pandemic summer’ contained, for example a lot of interesting metaphors centred around the containers and barriers, as well as journey metaphors, where paths lead out of containers (lockdown) and across barriers.
I explored some (good) journey metaphors used in a speech by Dominic Raab – an exception to the general rule of government press conferences. The Dominic Cummings affair gave me the opportunity to ruminated on the expressions ‘moving on’ and ‘getting on with it’.
Journeys happen through a landscape. During the pandemic various landscapes were evoked in speeches about pandemic policy. Here we have a convergence of metaphors and mathematically models, graphs and images, which is an important topic for disease management, especially COVID-19, where ‘flattening the curve’ became a mantra for a while.
From there it was no great leap to exploring other pandemic landscapes, their peaks and plateaus, tunnels and waves.
In my last pandemic post so far I turned my attention to something completely different, namely the history of ‘bubbles’, a way of permitting people to return to some semblance of normal life during the pandemic, first explored in New Zealand.
During the pandemic I not only kept an eye on words and phrases but also on texts, images and music. I looked at emerging images of the virus, at music and songs composed and performed apart-together during national lockdowns and in times of social distancing (a post co-written with Martin Döring and Pernille Bogø Jørgensen), and, of course, I looked at pandemic poetry as well – although I really only scratched the surface here! This led however to a nice correspondence with the poet Maureen Sutton.
Pandemic science and politics
Now I’ll come to some posts that deal more directly with science and politics during the pandemic. In early February, when rumours about the virus were swirling around in China, I reflected a bit on the more positive aspects of rumours as social tools to foster resilience. Of course, that goes out of the window when rumours become conspiracy theories.
After rumours came science and with science came the once ubiquitous but so mysterious ‘R number’. So in one post I tried to get my head round that one.
In another post, which also deals with some metaphors around sanitation and sewage, I jumped directly into the then heated debates about science, SAGE and policy. The post also dealt with the ‘follow the science’ slogan discussed by so many.
It might be good to repeat what I said at the end of the post, namely that “scientists and their expertise can then be misused for political ends, as, for example a ‘cordon sanitaire’ or as scapegoats when things go wrong. This misuse may include the ideal of the ‘linear process’ of science advice itself, which can be used by politicians to abdicate responsibility for their actions. How do they do this? They can frame themselves as just ‘following’ the science, rather than as using science constructively and critically to inform, not determine, their political decision making.”
And finally, I wrote a post about all the wonderful efforts that people are making to communicate and engage around COVID-19, stressing that amongst all the misinformation swirling around there is also some good communication going on, and we should not forget that. I called this Covidcomm (rhyming with scicomm).