Walking, we ask questions.
We do not run as we have far to go.
Times of crisis are usually characterised by a sense of urgency, a perceived need to act swiftly, and a turn to existing expertise in the search for (more immediately) meaningful interventions and potential solutions. The current moment is no different. Governments, civil society formations, the health sector, academic and other research institutions, as well as individuals across the world have rapidly swung into action in different attempts to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects - to treat the individuals it has made ill, to stem and prevent its spread, and to confront already existing problems in the economy and society that it has made worse, as well as new challenges and difficulties presented in its wake. Many of these responses have been necessary. The value of some are, however, being questioned, producing disagreement and debate. In their totality, these responses have not been enough. Uncertainty and unpredictability continue to dominate in spite of all our attempts to know, to map, and to mould – what is and what is to come…
As SWOP, the position that we occupy in academia and society has allowed us to take a step back from the current fray and to consider more carefully how best to contribute as a collective to addressing this crisis. Long before Covid-19, we had already begun to shape our approaches to understanding ‘the making and unmaking of social order’ with a recentering of the question of alternatives – what possibilities for a different social order might exist today given the uncertainty and lack of clear solutions to problems and challenges that shape contemporary capitalist society. We turned to the wisdom encapsulated in the two quotes borrowed from the Zapatistas above. We turn to them now once again as we shape our collective programme in the context of Covid-19. Firstly, we begin by acknowledging that we do not yet know everything that we need to know or can know. We might also not yet know what it is that we need to know.
We recognise too that we do not yet have the solutions to the crisis we confront. And, that it is in our coming together and walking the common path laid out for us by the pandemic that we will both develop the questions we need to ask and the answers to them that might allow us to shape different paths, paths that we choose, paths that we shape. Secondly, we accept that, in spite of our desire to be rid of this virus and its most immediate effects now, it is likely that we will have to contend with its presence and more widespread effects for a much longer time to come. In fact, we are likely to see fundamental changes to society in all its aspects, that will shape our present and futures in ways we had not previously imagined. We begin our collective journey, then, with small steps, moving slowly, in ways that will hopefully allow us to understand the present in order to develop the questions needed for us to develop the longer term possibilities and alternatives we desire. In doing this, we will draw from past experiences and experiments, their successes and their failures, as we imagine and create anew.
We have also taken into consideration the new constraints imposed on us in terms of our ability to meet and engage in the ways we are accustomed to. In spite of the difficulties we are presented with, we want to make use of this moment to explore and experiment with new ways of conducting research, producing knowledge, and engaging critically in an always- expanding community (and communities) of scholars. One space that allows for such experimentation is our website. We will use this space both to share research and writing, and to facilitate democratic and ongoing engagement.
We have begun by identifying seven different aspects of the current crisis as important to understand in shaping and defining our journey:
Different approaches to facilitating democratic engagement about each of these focuses will be experimented with. This is just the beginning. What comes of and from this will depend both on our ongoing research and writing at SWOP, as well as your active participation in and contribution to the discussions here.