13.12.2021 change 13.12.2021

Pandemic in Poland will be remembered from the perspective of an individual, not a community, says sociologist

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Polish people will look back on the pandemic from the perspective of an individual, not a community, says a leading sociologist and philosopher.

Dr. Michał Wróblewski from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń,  and the Łukasiewicz Center for Technology Assessment, said that one of the reasons is a low level of social capital, and a low sense of being a member of a community.

He said: “Poles are a community to a smaller degree than other Western European societies, and thus we experience certain issues, including those related to the current pandemic, less as a community. 

“We will remember it from the individual perspective, for example that we lost a loved one, and not as an event that has somehow affected our society.”

He added: “This memory of certain events or persons important for the collective, transferred from generation to generation, has a consolidating function, integrates a given community around certain common values or experiences.”

One of the factors affecting how societies remember certain events is the level of social capital, which consists mainly of the level of confidence in other people, the level of establishing relationships with other people, a sense of community, engaging in a community not only in the circle of the closest friends and family, but also wider.

Wróblewski said: “In other European countries, such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Czechia, you can find the beginnings of social memory associated with COVID. There are, for example, anniversaries commemorating the victims of the pandemic, organized both by grassroots movements, local communities, and by the state. In Poland, these are grassroots, local and individual events, including those organized by local governments, but they are not parts of one bigger whole.”

He continued: “Polish society does not have the need to experience this tragedy at the collective level, for example in the form of ceremonies commemorating the deceased or building monuments. Thus, the rulers, perhaps adapting to these social moods, do not want to do anything in the rank of state celebrations. On the other hand, such a construction of a pandemic memory can be politically dangerous, because it can lead to reckoning and reflection, for example on how the health services handled the situation.

“We live in a media circulation, in which even the most tragic events can be easily processed due to fast variability. We are very emotional about many events, but for very short periods. Our attention and the level of emotions oscillate from one event to the next. And the pandemic is a time of continuous experience of the threat that we are already bored, fed up with. We have a lot more of own problems, as well as new media sensations.”

A different concept is institutional memory, which refers to the idea that some ways of dealing with crisis situations, handling certain problems or processes, should be objectivated in the form of guidelines and furthered within a given organization or institution, regardless of who currently works there.

Dr. Wróblewski said: “These two ideas are separable, because the fact that people remember certain things does not translate into the activities of institutions in this area, and vice versa. An example of this is the Spanish flu - the epidemic forgotten by the next generations, not present in social awareness, which still resulted in a development of health care institutions, for example the establishment of health ministries in many countries.”

He added that a pandemic is like a war - it is a catalyst for technological changes. He said: “In Poland, a positive response to the needs resulting from the pandemic is, for example, efficient implementation of the health care digitisation process; without a pandemic, it would certainly take longer. And in the context of the whole world, there will certainly be a technological jump in medicine, in connection with the development of mRNA technology used to develop some COVID vaccines.”

To create both social and institutional memory, Wróblewski says it is important to take action, actively work in this direction. For society, but also institutions, to remember certain things, you have make an effort. Events are not remembered automatically, even if they are the most spectacular, bloody or macabre events.

“On the one hand, maybe it is good that we do not commemorate the victims of COVID, because we do not relive this trauma and do not come back to it. But on the other hand, the social memory helps communities be better prepared for future threats - and remember that health crisis is a situation confronted first by communities, societies, wholes, not individuals, because it is much more effective and easier to deal with the crisis as a large group of people than individually. In this context, the lack of social memory about the Coronavirus pandemic in the Polish society does not fill me with optimism, the more so that considering the opinions of experts, we can expect more pandemics in the near future.”

Michał Wróblewski and Łukasz Afeltowicz from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków are the authors of the recently published book Socjologia pandemii. Wyłaniające się choroby zakaźne w perspektywie nauk społecznych (Sociology of pandemics. Emerging infectious diseases in the perspective of social sciences).

PAP - Science in Poland, Agnieszka Kliks-Pudlik

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