Social scientists around the world are taking stock, as the impact of COVID-19 has brought international travel to a standstill, stymied supply chains, created tsunamis of unemployment, brought key industries to grinding halt, and isolated individuals and communities in the midst of a rapidly rising death toll.
And while some would say the pandemic will catalyse the end of globalisation, sociologist, Dean of External Engagement and Research and Director of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at the University of South Australia, Professor Anthony Elliott argues that beyond an economic understanding of globalisation, the pandemic has highlighted the strength and potential of other aspects of our globalised world.
“Amid all the significant human devastation, there has been a speedy, creative response to the pandemic across societies and industries, reshaping social activities, work practices and everyday lives, and that response has relied on global connectivity,” Prof Elliott says.
“The world we return to post COVID-19, will be different but globalisation, our interconnectivity, may be the mainstay of our recovery.”
Prof Elliott says that while COVID-19 is perhaps a prime expression of our super-global world, spreading everywhere due to the forces of globalisation, it that same global reach that is driving close scientific collaboration across border to find advanced treatments and ultimately a vaccine.
“Globalisation is both a condition and consequence of the virus – the very global forces that unleashed this worldwide pandemic are also deeply implicated in its possible eradication,” he says.
“And when we look at the two key dimensions the situation is impacting, both how we work and how we live, the virus has acted to accelerate both the digital revolution and our virtual connectivity.”
Faced with government directives concerning social distancing, Prof Elliott says the central response from industry and enterprise has been to shift many core activities into cyberspace.
“Offices, schools, universities and other work centres have moved from face-to-face to digital interaction and now that the genie is out of the bottle, the very definition of work and employment is likely to change permanently,” he says.
“Working from home, or remote working, is now unlikely to be considered a ‘second-best’ option, as home based virtual workstations are supporting thousands of workers around the world to work efficiently, away from their physical offices – at the safe time saving many more workers from the unemployment queues.
“These innovations are also evident in healthcare with telemedicine ramping up to provide healthcare remotely by general practitioners during Covid-19. This has been a proof of potential and is unlikely to be dumped when the world eventually recovers, instead finding an important place in the healthcare mix.”
Prof Elliott says even the hardest hit sectors, such as hospitality and restaurants have been quick to start planning for a different future – one where digital ordering and payment are the norm and where social distancing becomes a rule of thumb for good restaurant design.”
Facing the enormous personal challenge of social distancing and isolation has also fuelled a surge in creativity, Prof Elliott says, with people experimenting with internet-mediated co-creation of music and performances, families and friends setting up virtual dinner parties and those formerly resistant to social internet platforms, dipping into a new social realm online.
“We are attending virtual funerals, concerts and birthday parties, we are connecting in real time to friends and family around the world to make sure they are safe and well and provide support,” he says.
“This level of engagement is unprecedented – we are trying out novel social experiments in defining our communities and what it is to be a part of them. Coronavirus quarantine has persuaded people to develop different lifestyle choices many of which will continue to impact on our social relationships long after we come out of lockdown.”
Prof Elliott says while we can not rush to predict the post COVID-19 future, it is clear globalisation in its fullest sense is not a casualty.
“What the virus has shown us is that institutions and individuals have imaginatively responded to immense challenges to reshape social activities and, as a result, to reinvent their lives in the shadow of Coronavirus,” he says.
“How this plays out in the future, what insights we will gain about our adaptability, our capacity to collaborate, our sense of self and our place in wider social and global groupings is yet to be seen and studied.”