ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Crisis of the Social Sciences

The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Crisis of the Social Sciences

This article raises wider questions like whether the social sciences have been able to provide any meaning to the Covid-19 crisis by exploring the life worlds of body, time and nature. It also focuses on the role of policy and the connectivity between social science and democracy.

The historian Robert Conquest once made an observation on the social sciences that was fascinating. The social sciences, he said, dealt with facts but facts do not always add up to insight or perspective. He cited the example of American intelligence agencies, which collected enormous range of facts about Joseph Stalin, yet never fully grasped the depth of his authoritarianism or evil (Lays 2011). Conquest and other critics like the Polish poet Czesław Milosz pointed out that literature had the power to expose authoritari­anism in a way social sciences could not.

In confronting the crisis of COVID-19, we face a similar situation. A literary friend of mine complained that COVID-19 was a failure of storytelling. Here was a crisis on the epic scale of a novel and yet all one got were policy documents and newspaper jottings. In fact, my friend added that the COVID-19 pandemic had the scale of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, with every crisis to be as a tale of strategy and leadership. COVID-19 also demanded the intensity of a Fyodor Dostoevsky to understand the tortuous psychology of emotions that haunted it. Yet the social science lacked such a language to capture the nature of suffering or the demands of ethics. The breakdown of concepts and categories created too many black boxes and silences. The crisis of the social sciences around COVID-19 stems from a flatness of language and an emptiness of concepts. One required a different langu­age for ambiguity, ambi­valence, for folds and hyphens, linking disparate worlds. Yet beginning with a perspective from literature gives us an advantage. One begins holistically. One senses the need for connectivity. As a result, one will avoid the standard ­social science survey which inspects every field and delivers a report card, which has no sense of the whole. The usual Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) policy report in fact mimics and per­petuates the crisis of narrative.

Dear reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Updated On : 20th Oct, 2020

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top