Throughout its nearly 100-year history, the Social Science Research Council has supported social researchers in generating knowledge in moments of crisis, from the Great Depression and World War II in the first half of the twentieth century to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina in the new millennium. Even as scholars grapple with how to safely conduct research during the current crisis, social transformations are occurring in real time that require the scholarly community’s urgent attention. In April, we launched our Virtual Research Center on Covid-19 and the Social Sciences, dedicated to understanding the coronavirus pandemic, its immediate effects, and its lasting consequences. As a central component of this effort, we issued a call for proposals for rapid-response research grants for innovative and ethically informed projects using remote methods on key issues impacted by Covid-19.
Today, in partnership with the Henry Luce Foundation, and with the generous support of the Wenner-Gren, Ford, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundations, we are pleased to announce sixty-two recipients of the Rapid-Response Grants on Covid-19 and the Social Sciences. These grantees were chosen from a pool of over 1,300 applicants, the largest-ever in our history. Over half of their projects are international or transnational in focus, and over one-third center on countries in the global South. They will examine the wide-ranging impacts of Covid-19—including on education, the workplace, health care, and religious practices—from the perspectives of a range of disciplines, from anthropology to political science to psychology.
While many aspects of this crisis are unprecedented, it has also been dramatically shaped by long-standing inequalities. When the Council announced the call for proposals in April, it was already glaringly apparent that while the pandemic would impact every aspect of society, the already-marginalized would bear the brunt of its devastation. Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grants will support projects examining the experiences of some of society’s most vulnerable populations, including migrant farmworkers, refugee communities, and sex workers. Other grantees will investigate how the Covid-19 pandemic interacts with existing health disparities, such as projects examining Black infant and maternal mortality, and with other ongoing environmental and social crises—from flooding in Guwahati, India, to racism in policing in cities across the United States.
In addition to intensifying existing social issues, the spread of Covid-19 and efforts to stem it have also created new challenges. Rapid-Response Grant recipients will explore the various ways communities are responding to and coping with measures to stop the virus’s spread—lockdowns, social distancing guidelines, and the transition to remote work and education. Many projects will also consider the pivotal yet ambivalent role of technology in the Covid-19 era. Various grantees will examine how social media serves to maintain relationships, communicate information (and misinformation), and create virtual communities. Others will shed light on how the use of technology has exacerbated inequality and discrimination, including through the spread of disinformation about India’s Muslim population, the targeting of queer communities in South Korea through mass surveillance, and the real and perceived infringement of civil liberties in the US and across the world—issues that are also central to the work of the Council’s Just Tech program and Public Health, Surveillance, and Human Rights Network.
Taken together, the Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant recipients illustrate the immense potential of the social sciences not only to elucidate the greatest challenges facing our society but also to lay a blueprint for how they might be overcome. We look forward to sharing their findings in the year ahead. In the meantime, we invite you to explore these wide-ranging and ambitious projects dedicated to understanding the short- and long-term consequences of Covid-19.