Policy Network’s engaging series Aftershock: Society and Politics after the Pandemic has managed to illuminate and also propose solutions to the overlapping crises facing society in the aftermath of COVID-19. The greatest public health emergency for over a century has undoubtedly accentuated inequalities, revealed the lack of effective political leadership, and underlined the need for global governance and co-ordination. The contributors to the series discuss different aspects of the COVID-19 societal challenge, and explain why contemporary politics and society will no longer be the same after COVID-19. Of particular interest is the belief of many contributors that we must find ways to reorder our economies and societies and make human health a top priority in the aftermath of COVID.
For Francesco Gualdi and Francesco Galletti, the pandemic is likely to produce an economic recession which will make the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis pale by comparison. Nick Pearce notes that not only global trade flows have been seriously disrupted by the pandemic, but the old model of globalisation has been rendered virtually irrelevant. Hannah Fuchs draws attention to the plight of migrants and other frontline workers, and Rachel Kay argues that business leaders have not done enough to convince us that the interests of corporations are compatible with those of society at large. The international repercussions of the pandemic include issues such as the deterioration of British-Chinese relations, the crisis of American leadership, and the inability of the European Union to rise to the occasion and help effectively its members. These domestic and international problems are not necessarily caused by the pandemic, but they assume more acute forms because of it. However, what the sociologist Goran Therborn recently characterized as the ‘Great Unequalizer’ in the pages of the New Left Review, also offers opportunities to reorganise our societies and politics in order to address deep-seated problems and inequalities.
Gualdi and Galletti call us to rethink the structure of the welfare state and accept the need for regional coordination. Brett Hennig makes the case for Citizens’ Assemblies following the French model, and Stefano Sotgiu argues that public consultation and participation are important to public health. Achieving work-life balance, promoting gender equality, and encouraging sustainable living, are also essential aspects of a desirable post-COVID social landscape and are critically explored and debated. Although it might be premature to talk about an emerging field of COVID-19 studies, the variety of perspectives included in the series demonstrates the need for co-operation between academic and non-academic researchers, and between different academic disciplines, in conceptualising COVID-19 as a social phenomenon. As the science journalist Sonia Shah points out in The Nation, contagion is not simply an issue of microbial invasion, but it has very much to do with how we arrange and intervene in the social and natural environment. Far from being an act of external aggression, contagion should be attributed to a web of social relations and human behaviours that contribute to the dissemination of the disease. The Aftershock series brings into relief many of those factors and contributes to the search for solutions.