IIM Indore conducted a webinar on Changing Social Dynamics After COVID19. The panel consisted of renowned social psychologists namely, Professor Stephen Reicher (Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews & Fellow of the British Academy), Professor R. C. Tripathi (Former Director GB Pant Social Science Institute Prayagraj, Retired Professor, Allahabad University & ICSSR National Fellow) and Professor Janak Pandey (Former VC, Central University of Bihar, Retire Prof. Allahabad University & ICSSR National fellow); along with Professor Shruti Tewari, Assistant Professor, IIM Indore. Around 300 participants from India and abroad registered for the webinar. This panel deliberated on key insights from social psychology to deal with social crisis created by COVID 19.
The thought behind the theme for the webinar was how the current pandemic scenario challenges the public health system and demands a substantial amount of economic and social transformations. The panelists believed that from lockdown 4 to unlock 1, we are heading towards unprecedented social and behavioural changes, such as limiting our social interactions with others, dividing people in terms of red, orange and green zones and inescapable fight of corona warriors and those belonging to lower strata of the society. Social distancing, quarantine, and containment zones have become the ‘new normal’. This pandemic has challenged our social existence to the core. Social psychologists can play a crucial role in understanding and analyzing the challenges of changing social dynamics due to COVID 19.
Referring to the countries which are effectively dealing with COVID 19, Professor Reicher suggested that 80 percent of compliance can flatten the curve. ‘Epidemiologists can advise desired behavioural precautions to stay away from infection however we need social psychologists to advise how to bring compliance to these behavioural changes in the society. An interdisciplinary approach is demand of the hour’, he said.
It has been observed by all the experts that common fate of disaster leads to sense of we-ness which in turn leads to empathy, cooperation, and better health. Feeling connected to people is incredibly important to enhance helping behaviour and empathy which initiate the mutual self-help aids. We are fighting with an infectious disease, where on one hand, the physical proximity may precede infection, and on the other hand, social isolation slays us. A body of research has shown that social isolation is worst than smoking, drinking and bad eating habits in terms of affecting our health and mortality. So, the question is how one will connect staying apart? How government can nurture positive sense of group identity which in turns brings empathy and cooperation in the society?
Rhetorically framing of pandemic in collective terms is foremost important. We need to talk about ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead ‘I’ i-e. what we should do together. Drawing upon the group norms and group identity, practicing the power of who we are and power of what our traditions are some of the way to reach it—shared social identity of we-ness need to be communicated to citizen by state. Shared identity is a precious asset and need to be used wisely. It can change perceiving others as potential victims who need our help and care rather than potential carrier of infection.
Building mutual trust in society is another important point. The states should priorities building mutual trust among all the stakeholders through engaging in normative procedural justice. Persuade people to believe that laws are made for them. The belief that the policy makers and policing authorities are one of them comes when the former treat everyone from respect and transparency. The fragile and flexible social norms sometimes lead to variety of emotions from threat, fear to anxiety. To reduce the negative emotions and uncertainty, we often look towards government. Misinformation and lack of clarity of the future may compound the threat and anxiety, which results in pain and suffering among those who are marginalized.
In the recent past we witnessed the unprecedented crisis among the unorganized sectors. Prof. Pandey draws parallels between the suffering of migrant laborours’ and Bidesia culture of colonial era. We have strong tendency to affiliate to our roots in search for trust and safety and take impulsive decision such as walking miles and mile to reach to the village at the cost of one’s own life. More research is required to understand the challenges faced by unorganized sectors.
Lastly, the collective narratives should qualify higher external validity. It needs to be transformed from intentions to actions. Practicality should not be ignored in drafting and executing social policies. If people will not get food to eat, they will violate the norms and rules. Concrete reality brings social change not the abstract sense of equality. Unfortunately, social inequality motivates some people to violate rules, attracts blame and stigmatization by others. It may also lead to intergroup conflict. The experts have warned that such intergroup conflict can bring tsunami of hatred across the world.
They concluded the session mentioning that a pandemic can bring out best from us; the power of collectivity, positivity, solidarity, and mutual respect. It can also bring out worst of our behaviour; discrimination, inequality, and hatred. Physical distancing and social proximity are the sustainable solution in the current pandemic. Common categorization, sharing things together, living together and collective framing of pandemic by both political and social leaders are the ways ahead to preserve the very social nature of human existence.