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As an international organization based in New York City, we at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) have encountered the Covid-19 crisis on several levels, including familial, civic, scholarly, and global. Like many of you, we have also faced the challenges that characterize this uncertain period.
The crisis precipitated by the novel coronavirus has demanded that we all be more imaginative and resilient. While the SSRC takes on the pandemic’s immediate and imminent consequences with fresh approaches, we also recognize that scholarly deliberation and extended perspective play a unique and important role in this moment. We have been reflecting on how the tradition of our nearly century-old mission has attuned us to respond to our present, but with the flexibility required of this time.
Council staff have been working remotely since early March and will continue to do so for at least the next several weeks. Owing to their extraordinary combination of versatility and resolve, our work on behalf of scholars and scholarship has been uninterrupted. The Council’s fellowship and grant processes are proceeding and we’ll be launching new funding opportunities, as well (described below). All current fellowship and grant obligations are being fulfilled, with the deliberation of peer review and selection committees moving ahead virtually. The International Dissertation Research Fellowship program has just selected a new class of 70 doctoral researchers. SSRC program staff are working tirelessly to support our current fellows and grantees whose research and travel have been disrupted. Finally, we are committed to being as flexible as possible in helping scholars adjust their work plans and undertake their research under new conditions, including stimulating discussion of possible new methods for remote field research.
What remains constant during these times is the SSRC’s longstanding mission to support researchers and to advance and mobilize research for the public benefit. A mission that is most urgent today.
Moreover, this moment is embodying a crucial lesson: our lives and fates are intertwined in fact—if not always in awareness. Understanding this interconnectedness is the work of social science. At its best, social science enables us to use the tools of research to generate new insights and paradigms for how to flourish together in our intersecting communities.
The Covid-19 crisis requires serious scholarly deliberation, similar to the reflections the SSRC gathered during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. Today, through a multifaceted approach devoted to the pandemic and its implications, we envision a scholarly endeavor as enduring as the long-term effects of this crisis.
We are pleased to announce, with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the College and University Fund for the Social Sciences (a consortium of SSRC partner institutions), a series of initiatives devoted to understanding the pandemic’s immediate impact, as well as its lasting consequences:

  • Rapid-response research grants for innovative and ethically informed projects using remote methods on key issues impacted by Covid-19, including elections, democracy, and the role of religious ideas, practices, and organizations in responding to the pandemic
  • Agenda-setting working groups on “social distancing,” remote research methods and ethics, disaster studies, and racial inequality, among others
  • A digital time capsule for future researchers of Covid-19, in which prominent scholars select a visual artifact to help future researchers understand the Covid-19 crisis, beginning with leading stratification economist Darrick Hamilton of The Ohio State University
  • A Covid-19 essay forum that will include reflections on democracy and pandemics, “slow disaster,” field research in insecure times and places, social science modeling, gun culture, and racial inequality, forthcoming from Scott Knowles, Julia Lynch, Admire Mare, Kim Fortun, Jonathan Metzl, Jamila Michener, and others 
  • A special section of our MediaWell platform dedicated to intersections among misinformation, science, and public health
  • A partnership on a Global Registry for Covid-19 Public Health and Social Science Research with CONVERGE, the National Science Foundation–funded initiative at the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder
  • The #coronavirussyllabus, a crowdsourced list of resources on public health, disease outbreaks, pandemics, and other social shocks that helps to orient the Covid-19 crisis and sheds light on its multifaceted implications and effects as conveyed in scholarship, media, and the arts

Covid-19 has upended societies and dramatically altered everyday life across the globe. Our present circumstances, while unprecedented, have been profoundly shaped by persistent societal realities—such as entrenched racial and economic inequality, the proliferation of misinformation, and anxieties about the ability of the world’s democracies to confront major crises. In-depth social understanding will be vital to apprehending the crisis and charting a path forward.

We send our wishes for the health and well-being of members of the SSRC community across the globe.

Alondra Nelson
Social Science Research Council