Sabrina Germain and Adrienne Yong

This post is the first in a series of blog posts on COVID-19 and inequalities from a multidisciplinary and international perspective. A work-in-progress symposium on 9-10 June 2021 on the forthcoming edited collection tentatively titled as above is under contract with Bristol University Press sits within the Bristol Studies in Law and Social Justice Series.

During 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold globally, claiming countless lives but more widely throwing everyday life into disarray for countless more. As the pandemic unfolded, it became more and more obvious that whilst everyone was susceptible to contracting the virus, there were stark social inequalities being brought to the fore in many areas outside direct health consequences. Three thematic strands emerged from considering inequalities beyond just the virus itself: on power and governance, on gender and sexuality and for marginalised communities. It is under these three themes that this edited collection seeks to uncover how unequal the pandemic truly is. The collection gathers perspectives from law and social sciences and different countries with the objective of bringing stark attention to the social inequalities that have been exacerbated as a result of this public health crisis, as a first step towards achieving social justice. It critically analyses how these inequalities have played out in the context of COVID-19.

The collection examines social inequalities brought to stark attention by the COVID-19 pandemic under three thematic strands: power and governance, gender and sexuality, and marginalised communities. It brings together a range of international scholars from multiple disciplines (law, sociology and politics) to showcase a diversity of perspectives on these themes. The unknowns around this novel virus and the scale of the epidemic makes COVID-19 and its inequalities a timely subject. Understanding each of these issues from the perspective of multiple disciplines, with law at its centre, is the first step towards tackling them concretely and achieving social justice. The thematic coherence on social inequalities from international and multidisciplinary lenses is the project’s central feature.

Whilst many other studies have focused on the medical impact of the virus as a global health crisis, few have considered the multifaceted, international and multidisciplinary issues around social inequalities. There is an urgent need for scholarship like this to highlight social inequalities that have existed for many decades and that will persist beyond the sole context of a global health crisis if not brought to attention. The edited collection’s main original contribution is thus to consider these in relation to the pandemic, by focusing on three thematic strands to gain a greater understanding of these issues, including how the law, or absence of it, has exacerbated inequalities. The pandemic brings forward the interrelatedness of the aforementioned themes. Governance reinforces power dynamics that have heightened existing inequalities related to gender and sexuality and issues specifically affecting marginalised communities. As such, each of the collection’s chapters speak to these different expressions of social inequality, providing a plurality of intellectual and geographical outlooks on inequalities alongside an overall coherence within the collection itself.

The first section of the collection focuses on the theme of inequalities in the context of power and governance, specifically how the exercise of power and governance across the world has been seen to apply unequally during the pandemic. Two chapters consider the unequal effect of lockdown in the UK, one using a theoretical framework to analyse questions of liberty, the other examining the phenomenon using an empirical approach and qualitative methods. Power and governance is also examined more holistically in chapters on Israel and the province of Quebec, Canada offering contrasting case studies. The second section of the collection considers inequalities related to one’s gender and sexuality, with chapters examining the gendered effects of the pandemic on access to justice for women around the world, then looking more closely at public perceptions of female experts in the UK, gendered labour for women in higher education in Jordan and the stigmatisation of LGBT communities in South Korea. Finally, the book closes by considering the effect of the pandemic on marginalised communities, with chapters looking holistically at ethnic minorities in the US and UK, then more specifically at prisoners in Brazil and migrants in Canada as case studies of marginalised communities representative of both the Global South and North.

As seen above, this edited collection does not solely focus on a Western nor national perspective. In doing so, a rounded view of inequalities is favoured over a narrow approach, boasting an international and diverse platform for scholars from ethnically and gender diverse backgrounds giving a voice to under-represented groups. Its uniqueness of perspectives is celebrated by incorporating cutting-edge and topical research from law, sociology and politics with an international flavour. It also deliberately does not focus on black letter law or direct medical responses to the pandemic as this complex phenomenon calls for a more diverse multidisciplinary international examination of the issues. As many issues relating to social inequality and the pandemic remain understudied, the purpose of the project is not to offer a comparative or bridging perspective, but rather to provide the reader with a wide-ranging overview of issues on different scales and affecting countries differently around the world.

Contributors for the edited collections are as follows:

  • Professor Buhm-Suk Baek, Associate Professor of Public International Law, Kyung Hee University (South Korea).
  • Professor Louise Bernier, Professor in Health Law & Bioethics, Law Faculty, Université de Sherbrooke (Canada).
  • Dr Gwilym David Blunt, Lecturer in International Politics, Department of International Politics, City, University of London.
  • Dr Mylaine Breton, Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Sherbrooke (Canada).
  • Dr Valentina Cardo, Associate Professor in Global Media Management, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton.
  • Dr Yin Yuan Brandon Chen, Assistant Professor (Common Law Section), Law Faculty, University of Ottawa (Canada).
  • Dr Marie-Ève Couture Ménard, Associate Professor, Law Faculty, Université de Sherbrooke (Canada).
  • Professor Jean-Frédéric Ménard, Professor, Faculty of Law, Université de Sherbrooke (Canada).
  • Dr Naomi Finch, Lecturer in Social Policy, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York.
  • Professor Roy Gilbar, Professor, School of Law, Netanya Academic College (Israel).
  • Professor Simon Halliday, Professor in Socio-Legal Studies, York Law School, University of York.
  • Dr Nili Karako-Eyal, Senior Lecturer, Haim Striks School of Law College of Management (Israel).
  • Dr Jed Meers, Lecturer in Law, York Law School, University of York.
  • Dr Aya Musmar, Assistant Professor in Feminism and Architecture, University of Petra (Jordan).
  • Dr Zainab Naqvi, Senior Lecturer in Law, De Montfort University.
  • Professor Muna Ndulo, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of International & Comparative Law, Cornell Law School (USA).
  • Dr Natalia Pires de Vasconcelos, Assistant Professor of Law, Insper Instituto de Ensino e Pesquisa (Brazil).
  • Professor Matiangai Sirleaf, Nathan Patz Professor of Law, School of Law, University of Maryland (USA).
  • Dr Joe Tomlinson, Senior Lecturer in Public Law, York Law School, University of York; Research Director, Public Law Project.
  • Dr Mark Wilberforce, Senior Research Fellow, Social Policy Research Unit, University of York.
  • Dr Diana Yeh, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Culture & the Creative Industries, Department of Sociology, City, University of London.

More information about the edited collection will be confirmed in due course. Details on the work-in-progress symposium can be found here including registration and further details about chapter contributions.