Much scholarship has centered on the very real decline of U.S. religious service attendance. Such a focus side-steps the ways in which religious organizations remain central to the fiber of U.S. social life, evidenced by the fact that more than 40 percent of U.S. adults attend religious services) at least once a month and many more belong to a religious organization (Maness 2020; Jones 2019). In a post COVID-19 world, sociologists of religion are needed partners in the scholarly quest to examine the collateral social and economic impact of the virus.
As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans had been killed by COVID-19, and provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the devastation is disproportionally shouldered by racial/ethnic minorities. Nevertheless, it is way too early to assess the population effects of this deadly virus.
Perhaps the most poignant image of the coronavirus pandemic captures desperate family members, with tears streaming down their faces, their noses pressed against hospital doors, barred from entry to visit their loved ones. But families are not just tragic icons at life’s end; they are often its choreographers. A large national survey that predated the pandemic found that 70 percent of Americans over age 60 who required medical decisions during the final days of their lives lacked the capacity to make them.
Four axioms show the effect of the COVID-19 situation on human rights and the relevance of the sociology of human rights in the current era. Each axiom is followed by U.S. (Fukushima) and global (Savelsberg) illustrations.
(1) According to philosophers and international covenants, all humans may be endowed with rights, but actualized rights are always the result of social struggle. A pandemic (and responses) shift the balance of power between different players in this struggle.
Educators of all sorts have been suddenly thrust into online teaching amidst the global pandemic. But who might be left behind as we adapt online? Digital inequality research points to three questions that help us understand the current landscape for K-12 students: How robust is the global technological infrastructure? How ready are educators and students? And how might students be unequally rewarded as classes go online?
Sociologists of culture think a lot about morality—about where our judgments come from and how those judgments shape our actions. Two approaches commonly lead the way: Bourdieusian practice theory, which argues that acquired cultural dispositions guide our judgments quickly, automatically, and without conscious awareness, and Swidler’s (1986) toolkit theory, which suggests people consciously use cultural repertoires to construct strategies of action.
Perhaps the image of COVID-19 that evokes the deepest fear is that of a person on a ventilator, alone in a hospital room. It is a visceral image, the isolated body as victim to the virus. But embodied social experiences go beyond hospital rooms. Social routines and the risks associated with care work all produce physical changes in a pandemic, and they do so in ways that reproduce inequality.
One of the greatest professional challenges facing sociologists dealing with the coronavirus is to quickly analyze and interpret the vast amounts of relevant epidemiological, demographic and social data, and present those data to both the academic community and, most importantly, the public at large. This is especially important given the tendency by some politicians and social media outlets to present misinformation to the public.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans are under stay-at-home and organizational closure orders from their state governors or city mayors (Washington Post, April 2, 2020). These orders may carry legal weight but have rarely been strictly enforced by police. Yet as of March 30, 53 percent of individuals were complying (CNN Ipsos poll, April 1). By April 7, 87% practiced social distancing (Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, April 17); 80% supported social distancing even if it damaged the economy (Politico poll, Star-Tribune, April 18).
As unemployment skyrockets during the COVID-19 pandemic, our occupational identities may not be the first thing on our minds. But the social changes we are facing may threaten these core identities, which endangers our mental health. The reality of unemployment, reduced hours, or furloughs is pervasive. For those of us fortunate enough to remain employed, the nature of our work has changed. Many white-collar workers are suddenly working from home, in a virtual environment, often while trying to balance work with parenting.