Social action counts!

23. Mar. 2020

Lessons (to be) learnt from living with Covid-19 (#1)

by Klaus Schuch

The Covid-19 crisis remarkably demonstrates that social action and cooperation counts to mitigate the risk of the virus. Worldwide, we are managing the containment of the virus by comprehensive social innovations, and we will most probably succeed in doing so. Technology (e.g. new vaccines) cannot help at this stage yet. However, we will need technology too to further limit the damage of the virus, because the current measures that change and stress our social fabric cannot be sustained forever. Our coping with the Covid-19 crisis clearly shows how important it is to progress as a society, but also to progress with responsible technology and socio-technological arrangements. Much money is now invested to find technological solutions for Covid-19. This is necessary and right. It would, however, also be important to spend budget for social scientific research to analyse the effect of the measures, to identify the economic and social rebound effects, to scrutinise the areas, which are under stress and to learn the lessons for improving the situation in the future.

ZSI will reflect our life with Covid-19 during the next days and weeks. We all are - in that sense - participating observers.

ps1: of course, social behaviour and action is not only a solution, it is also a cause for the situation (e.g. stress on the environment and our food security; irresponsible behaviour of individuals and companies; smashing of public health services and infrastructures and much more). The same is true for technology and the ways we use it.

ps2: The cooperative social measures currently taken (voluntarily and by regulation) are a good example of ZSI's non-quasiteleological understanding of social innovation: Social innovation is defined as new combination or figuration of practices in areas of social action, prompted by certain actors or constellations of actors with the goal of better coping with needs and problems than is possible by using existing practices. An innovation is therefore social to the extent that it varies social action and is socially accepted and diffused in society. 

Social innovations are good for certain problems, but may fail in other circumstances. Social innovations are not necessarily benefitting all but some, and they are inherently influenced by (competing) interests and power relations too. Context and perspectives count. Social innovations can also be misused, e.g. by authoritarian leaders who are eager for more power (e.g. Hungary could become such an example - we will carefully observe the situation there).

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