How can we practice engaged science in times of COVID-19? – A conference call with committed scientists

Within a few weeks, COVID-19 has evolved into a global pandemic. Millions of people have been infected, and even more have been affected by the socio-economic measures taken to contain the pandemic. While the virus itself does not discriminate based on age, race/ethnicity, income, or migration status, these categories still determine who is most likely to contract, recover from, or succumb to the virus, as well as who is most impacted by the socio-economic measures taken to contain it.

At the same time, both in the Global North and the Global South, long-standing structural inequalities (such as disparities in healthcare, income, education, housing, water, and sanitation) disproportionately impact vulnerable communities and exacerbate their precariousness. Refugees are one such group that is disproportionately affected by the socio-economic and health effects of the virus. Simultaneously, many of these current challenges are not new for refugees, as they have often directly experienced and developed strategies to cope with crises, danger, uncertainty, fear, loss, and loneliness. Their resilience could serve as inspiration and contribute to developing creative strategies and solutions to combat the pandemic.

Engaged scholarship could play a crucial role in times of COVID-19 by responding to challenges faced by refugee communities and by collaborating with them to develop solutions. However, COVID-19 also has implications for the academic world, including engaged scholars. Many staff members are working from home, some have homeschooling or caregiving responsibilities, fieldwork projects have been suddenly canceled or postponed, and international researchers are being repatriated to their home institutions. Certain funding streams are drying up, while new funding becomes available for projects related to the pandemic. Within and between faculty departments, discussions arise about whether (social) scientists play a “vital role” in society during times of crisis. Additionally, COVID-19 affects how we can (or cannot) interact with the people participating in our projects. In times when social distancing and self-isolation are encouraged, physical contact with others in the field may become suspect or even dangerous. At the same time, online interaction raises new questions about anonymity, privacy, and trust. Finally, the question arises to what extent it is ethical to continue our research and ask others to invest time in it while everyone is primarily dealing with the consequences of COVID-19.

In this conference call, we want to explore what engaged scholarship means and how we can practice it while COVID-19 holds the world in its grip:

  • What do we observe happening within refugee communities in the Netherlands?
  • What are ethical ways to be active in the field, both offline and online?
  • What different types of relationships can be developed?
  • How can we design engaged scholarship to still bring people together, perhaps not in a physical way?
  • To what extent can we adapt our engagement, including the content of our research, to this new reality to ensure our involvement remains meaningful for all participants?
  • And finally, how can we practice self-care and find a balance between our (professional and personal) ambitions and struggles?

Engaged scholars:

  • Laura Bisaillon, University of Toronto
  • Hanke Drop, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht/University of the Arts Utrecht
  • Halleh Ghorashi, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Mirjam Twigt, University of Oslo
  • Fabian Holle, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Charlotte Clous, University of Groningen
  • Koen Leurs, Utrecht University

Host: Maria Rast

Moderator: Elena Ponzoni


00:36​ – Welcome

02:40​ – Introductions of Scholars

19:20​ – Discussion Part 1 – “What do you see happening in refugee communities that you work with since the outbreak of COVID-19?”

51:10​ – Discussion part 2 – “How does COVID-19 affect your engagement as scholars and how can you still meaningfully engage in refugee communities in times of COVID-19?”

1:26:10​ – Rounding Off