COVID realities: shifting boundaries

By femke@bentec

There is a lot of boundary shifting happening in geographical, professional and in social terms. How does this affect human behaviour and habits? 

Due to lockdown measures such as curfews, social distancing and working from home, most connecting is taking place within the confines of the home. Homes are now functioning as office, school class, gym, and as leisure space. Activities and relationships that used to be associated with physical spaces outside the home have collapsed into one hub of identity and activity. Dress codes changed to day and night pyjamas. Social roles are less separated by spatial contexts. All phone calls have become scheduled meetings and most meals home-cooked with nostalgic flavours such as grandmother’s stews and regional specialties. 

Geographical distance seems obliterated. Interacting with someone on another continent takes similar effort to working with a colleague who is in the same city. Without hardly any face-to-face meetings, a lot of human communication happens on some online platform. No commuting or travelling or traffic, only on the internet highway with megabyte speed limits. It seems more acceptable to meet outside the 9-5 working hours, especially when different time zones are involved. Why not another zoom call at 6pm when kids are done with homework? Was that acceptable before the pandemic? 

I think these processes are not new and they happen in the context of mass dismissals, anti-racism uprisings and livelihood destructions. In a rapidly changing context due to COVID19, different realities and conditions are more visible and have become more extreme versions of what they already were. Working from home is not new, it is currently just a reality for more people. Losing a precarious job is not new, neither is not having access to healthcare or domestic violence. However, we now look at these realities with a COVID19 lens. The way the state imposes rules and discriminates between affected groups, the way families function and the ways in which the economy produces inequalities and violence. 

We already knew how farmers exploited black migrant labour, but now we see the fear and resistance of local communities when migrant labourers arrive and are perceived as carrying the virus with them. We knew the impact of load shedding in poor communities, now people are supposed to home school and feed kids under lockdown, without electricity.   

What is important to think about: how do we negotiate shifting boundaries and check if they work, and for who they work? Which shifts are temporary and which are permanent? And finally, how do we intervene to create the realities we want?