SFB 1187 ›Medien der Kooperation‹ an der Universität Siegen

Media of Cooperation in a Global Pandemic

At the beginning of the summer semester 2020, the CRC 1187 “Media of Cooperation” finds itself in an unexpected situation that presents new challenges for collaborative research, both in terms of organization and research. There is a controversial public debate about the appropriate measures to contain the health risks, but also the economic, political and social consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, various social infrastructures are being put under considerable stress tests: from the basic infrastructures of medical care and logistics for food and daily consumer goods to the infrastructures of digital communication. Far-reaching contact restrictions and curfews, travel restrictions, requirements for domestic care work and child care, very acute health risks for employees and students – all of this interrupts the established practices and the usual operation of a Collaborative Research Centre. Routines of research and scientific communication are being put to the test in the current situation: How can well-established formats of scientific communication be adjusted to the new situation, from lecture series with international guests to doctoral colloquia and workshops, to conferences and meetings? How can empirical-ethnographic research be conducted when access to the field is blocked? And especially with regard to the responsibility for the researchers in our joint project: How can we support employees who cannot participate in the research process in the usual way because they belong to a risk group or because personal care of family members has become necessary?

The CRC “Media of Cooperation” meets the challenge of the global COVID-19 pandemic in several ways. The subprojects, which investigate the ongoing reciprocal constitution and practical production of infrastructures and public spheres, also respond to the ongoing crisis situation.

In March 2020, the CRC started to build a Twitter-based social media archive on the topic of the novel coronavirus and related issues. Since the political reactions to the spread of COVID-19 worldwide have led to disruptions or interruptions of firmly established chains of cooperation in many areas of everyday life, the current development offers unique opportunities to investigate the effects of the corona-crisis in social media discourse: This concerns transformations of infrastructures and public spheres in general, the social role of data in the form of case numbers, statistics and test results, but also those of the very concrete research subjects of the CRC’s subprojects in particular (video telephony, contactless payment, personal assistants at home, disruptions in local public transport, etc.). Tweets are collected and made available for analysis in real time using the open source software DMI-TCAT . In the course of the  summer semester 2020, a consortium of CRC members and external partners will begin to view and analyze the data in joint (online) data sessions. The long-term plan is to make the Siegen Corona Archive and the associated research results publicly accessible.

In addition, in March 2020 the new blog Witnessing Corona has been included in the series of boasblogs supported by the CRC. In cooperation with the Global South Studies Center in Cologne and the blog medizinethnologie.net, contributions from numerous countries, including non-European countries, are published here. With ethnographic sensitivity, these contributions register and analyze the everyday pragmatic implications, social dynamics and political-economic distortions of the crisis from the perspective of the social sciences and (medical) ethnology. Clemens Eisenmann (subproject P01) and Ehler Voss (scientific coordination) currently take part in the production of a special edition of Curare. Journal of Medical Anthropology. Here, more extensive material in the form of (auto-)ethnographic corona diaries by authors from 25 countries to date is being compiled to document the dynamics of the crisis in situ and in actu.

Erhard Schüttpelz and Ulrich van Loyen reflect in Merkur on the body and cultural technical implications of wearing respirator masks in Western and Asian countries. Contrary to the Chancellor’s dictum that “at the moment … only distance can be an expression of care”, the authors ask: “Is the opposite also conceivable: A form of care for others would be the expression of the right distancing from oneself?” This change of perspective towards a liberal narrowing of the discourse and the arrogance of the Western world that often goes hand in hand with it is linked to a deeper reflection on “what constitutes civilisation and the need for protection for us and others and for all of us in the world”.

In its ongoing formats of internal and external research collaboration and communication, the CRC “Media of Cooperation” focuses on the greatest possible flexibility, taking into account the special needs of its members and guests. In detail this means:

  • The lecture series “Interrogating Data Practices – Interdisciplinary Perspectives” scheduled for the summer semester 2020 will largely be postponed to the winter semester 2020/21. Individual lectures will be realized as online lectures with an internal CRC audience as part of the CRC Research Forum in order to continue the discussion about ongoing research projects and results of the subprojects in an adapted framework.
  • The doctoral colloquium of the Integrated Research Training Group (MGK) will take place online on May 6th and 13th. This will be followed by an evaluation and a joint decision with the participants as to whether to switch to a face-to-face format or to a hybrid solution with individual participants on site and the possibility of online participation for the following two dates on 10 and 17 June.
  • The first event of the “Werkstatt Medienpraxistheorie” will be held on April 28/29, combining an asynchronous online lecture and a joint online discussion. A decision on further events will be made and communicated in time, taking into account current developments.
  • The Research Tech Lab will take place online on May 5th and 13th. For the following dates on June 5th and July 7th it will be examined, analogous to the doctoral colloquium, whether the changeover to a complete or hybrid face-to-face format is feasible.
  • Workshops and conferences of individual CRC subprojects planned for the summer semester 2020 are equally affected by the measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The principal investigators of the respective subprojects are choosing different approaches to deal with this challenge: from postponing the events until the upcoming winter semester, to switching to collective text work or hybrid workshop formats in which international guests cooperate with the researchers from Siegen.
  • At the beginning of the semester, all CRC staff members will be given the opportunity to take part in individual coachings on the challenges of teleworking and the compatibility of family and work under the currently tightened conditions.

At the start of the year 2020, the participating researchers could not foresee the current critical developments. First and foremost, the situation calls for solidarity with the particularly vulnerable groups of the population and with the countries currently more severely affected than Germany. The crisis also means that the ongoing research on media of cooperation in Siegen must prove its relevance and timeliness once more – from the history of video telephony (subproject A01), to normal interruptions of service (A04), the participatory design of autonomy-promoting infrastructures for the elderly (A05), media-supported cooperation in everyday hospital work (A06), the effects of digital media on family interaction orders (B05), the privacy and surveillance implications of digital media use in the
home environment (B06), the use of semi-autonomous systems such as drones as a new crisis infrastructure (B08), and the use and development of digital research tools in decentralised work environments (P03, INF). The CRC is ready to take responsibility to make a research contribution to dealing with the socio-technical consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.