A return to normality?


With the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the globe, societies in all corners of the earth are wondering when they’ll be able to return to their pre-lockdown lives.

Here, Dr Luci Attala, a senior lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David considers the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on society and how it’s likely to change the way we live our lives forever.

Dr Luci Attala

Dr Luci Attala, UWTSD.

The number of pleas for a return to ‘normality’ are increasing. People are fed up with lockdown…but any calls to open up again are almost always immediately countered with the caution that “things can’t go back to the way they were before”. Clearly in association with the blood chilling numbers of fatalities in the UK and around the world, many families’ lives will never return to what they were before the beginning of 2020. And, as all of us will have lived through the ‘Time of COVID-19’, we will all have tales to tell about it in the future. But what does a return to normality mean and why can’t things go back to the way they were before the lockdown?

Well, on one level, this is just quite simply because this virus is here to stay; we aren’t going to get rid of it any time soon, if ever. Just like all the other infectious diseases that we spread around in various ways, Covid-19 is locked in with us, and, obviously, until there is treatment or a vaccine, many so-called ‘normal’ social behaviours are going to have to adapt to discourage the spread.

Rather mundane, but nevertheless vital, changes will have to support effective infection control first. This will, of course, be done by simple physical distancing.  However, keeping a distance will impact on almost everything. What were once considered ordinary innocuous activities such as the good old face palm will have to change. Similarly, greetings; washing hands; shopping; using public transport; attending meetings; negotiating rush hour; accessing education and entertainment, amongst countless other activities, will all be on the table for reconsideration and reform. In addition, how buildings, walkways, and all of the many social spaces are designed will need attention, as will certain types of employment. While getting the car MOT’d might be easy to do at a safe distance, going to the dentist or getting one’s hair cut, certainly are not.  Plus, I imagine that wearing face masks of some kind in crowded places will become the norm – even an offence, if not adhered to - as we live through the various waves of this virus that are guaranteed to come. And an interesting plot twist to all this is that our growing hatred for plastic has been replaced with gratitude as it has helped saves lives.

While it is abundantly clear that we were not prepared for this and have struggled to adapt, that doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt successfully in the future. Humanity is a creative species with lots of skills and I have no doubt that fascinating innovation will emerge and perhaps even improve our lot in the long run – as the reduction of emissions, for example, might be illustrating.

Continuing tentatively on this more positive note, many families are spending what used to be called quality time together: gardening, cooking, dancing, singing and - who’d have thought it - reading! Personally, it has afforded me the space to ‘get off the clock’, to find my own rhythm to the day and I believe it is better for me to live this way. I am still productive, still sit in meetings, but am not rushing around, trying to find parking and making sure I have brought everything I need. Plus, I am not disturbed by the endless interruptions one has by default in a corridor of offices, which suggests things might become more efficient in some areas. However, I am aware this is not the case for a significant slice of the population of the UK and other nations and that global suffering as a result of inequalities is enormous, exacerbated and terribly worrying.

The pandemic offers everyone another opportunity to think harder and more carefully about what they maintain is genuinely valuable and what should be given time, energy and extra consideration. Said another way: the virus is elucidating that some of the fundamental values woven into the social fabric of everyday life are problematic and may need to be phased out and finally consigned to the mistakes of history drawer.

From current events, I believe that the health and care sector has emerged as the clear front runner for most important and valuable social institution, presenting itself as necessary above ‘the markets’ and all the economic fluff that circulates that drain. A society that fails to hold health, in the broadest sense, at its heart will undoubtedly suffer and fail to thrive.

I would like to see health and care form the core around which society circulates in the future, rather than, as it is now, bald economics. By this I mean that decisions are reached by working out what is necessary rather than what is financially possible. I don’t think that society can afford to do this any other way now when it has been amply demonstrated that without those items that help the population stay healthy, safe and alive, nothing can work well. I would like to see decisions framed around the health and care of citizens, of the environment, of non-human animals, communities, employment, education, the legal system and so on. That way, not only would we be prepared to help each other, but we would hold and articulate care for each other in everything, every change, every item, every service we produce.

About Dr Luci Attala

Dr Luci Attala is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology based at the University’s Lampeter campus.  She is also a Senior Fellow of the HEA; a Green Gown Award winner (2015) for her work on sustainability, and recipient of UN Gold Star Award (2014) for work in Kenya.

Dr Attala’s research interests are underpinned by a focus on materialities with specific attention afforded to water. She is currently exploring the role water plays in shaping lives in rural Kenya, Spain and Wales, but also considers water’s part in organizing human bodies and social behaviours more widely. Taking inspiration from post-humanism, the morethanhuman move and multispecies ethnographies, her work asks the question ‘how does water make us human’ and adopts a new materialities framework - that draws the physics of relating substances to the foreground - to obtain an answer.

Dr Luci Attala is currently co-editing a series of books entitled Materialities in Anthropology and Archaeology with fellow Lampeter Academic, Dr Louise Steel.  Published by the University of Wales Press, this series offers a timely investigation into the material world and the place of peoples within it. 

For further information on the Anthropology programmes offered at UWTSD, please visit the Anthroplogy page on the University's website. 

Further Information

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