Scientific analysis of COVID-19 is dominated by medical and pharmaceutical questions of vaccines and risk minimisation. But meanwhile, social scientists must track the emerging social orders where new conventions and senses of self and kinship are forming. They are finding that a brand new coronavirus culture is emerging, and with it, many unexpected questions.
The social scientist asks: what new types of everyday practices are emerging? A useful example is social skills for new media.
Have you noticed in online meetings, for example, emerging etiquettes of when to “raise your hand” or blurt out your contribution, or when to type a message in chat? These micro decisions, far from arbitrary, are the active cultivation of the new etiquettes and vernacular that reflect hierarchy and other sensitivities.
And this isn’t just happening online. These new sensitivities affect how we use our bodies to be social, ranging from when and how to elbow bump, to how to smile with your eyes when your mouth is concealed.
What are the new etiquettes of who gets to pass first when distancing? Are there ever circumstances when it is acceptable to embrace? Can we do a “stop and chat” in a supermarket when there is a queue outside?
Of course queuing, that defining chestnut of British anthropology – with its attendant culture of tutting – is a minefield for new forms of everyday transgression and irritability. Indeed, what are we to think of people not wearing a mask?