Social Sciences and Humanities as Core of Nation Building Post-Pandemic

By Adlina Ariffin

COVID-19 is a very special and unique phenomenon that conveys different meanings to different people. Some may perceive it as a blessing while most may identify it as the greatest challenge in the present history of humankind. In whatever manner that it is being perceived, undoubtedly the pandemic is a fundamental lesson to the human race.

In its harsh yet gentle, gloomy yet sanguine manner, it has brought to the fore important questions and issues in relation to our existence on this planet. Albeit, starting as a global health crisis, after nearly two years grappling with this situation, humans realise that this major health crisis has seismic effects on other facets of our life.

Hence, we are not only confronted with the challenge to ensure our physical survival on this planet but also we are being tested in terms of our resilience in facing a disaster, our level of preparedness in facing global crisis and our strength in confronting the consequent economic, social and political crises. Based on this premise, it could be deduced that the pandemic affects the overall well-being of human life i.e. physical, social, spiritual, emotional, financial, political, etc.  

How then should the recovery process from the pandemic take place? Before attempting to provide some possible solutions to this important question, let us firstly look at what had been some major actions taken in dealing with the pandemic and the repercussions.

During the initial stage of confronting this ‘alien intrusion’, scientists particularly in the biomedical and epidemiological sciences, intensified their efforts to produce new drugs, test kits, vaccines and many other innovations that would lead to the protection and longevity of the human species.

Awareness on the importance of research on communicable diseases was most apparent that within a short time, various funding agencies all over the world were providing financial assistance on such studies. For example, it is reported that as of December 2020, the Gates Foundation alone has made a total contribution of $1.75 billion on COVID-related research and the production and procurement of crucial medical supplies (Suzman, 2020).

However, these studies, which were geared on saving lives and enhancing the society’s level of preparedness in confronting the pandemic, were exclusively viewed via a biomedical lens incorporating the involvement of those in the medical sciences disciplines while ignoring the crucial roles of those in the social sciences and humanities. This issue was highlighted by Bardosh et.al (2020) where they stated that the incorporation of social sciences in such efforts was often under-funded, disintegrated and insufficient.       

The need for an integration of social sciences and humanities in confronting the emergencies during the pandemic becomes more apparent if we were to look at issues that emerged due to the measures taken in curbing the spread of the virus. It had been reported that the restriction of movement order had seen an upsurge in various social issues such as mental health, suicidal, divorce and abuse cases. For instance, according to Savage (2020), divorce rates and pandemic-induced break ups had skyrocketed all over the world and may not even peaked yet.

Not only that, the lockdowns had also seen the closure of schools and a sudden exodus from face-to-face education to online education. Furthermore, the pandemic had also led to heavy reliance on technology for communication purposes especially in social networking and various sectors of the industry. Unfortunately, such reliance had created social dilemmas due to the technological divide between the haves and the have-nots in the society, and also educational inequality among the pupils.

These are just some of the issues. Other complex and intricate social challenges brought about by the pandemic were trust issues on the disseminated information such as misinformation and trustworthiness of information; suitability, acceptability and implementation of laws; societal norms and human behaviour; stigmatisation and discrimination; geopolitics impacts, and the unintended consequences of interventions.

So, going back to the earlier question, how then should the recovery process from the pandemic take place? Looking at all the social issues brought up earlier, it is most obvious that the road to recovery from the pandemic does require a more wholistic, multi-faceted approach which will witness a strong incorporation and collaboration between the sciences and social sciences.

Strategies to rebuild the nation post-pandemic should not be treated as technical fixes which marginalise the contribution of social sciences and humanities. Instead, such strategies or efforts must place social sciences and humanities at the forefront to strategically build core capacities and competencies of societies to rebound and gather their strength. This could be achieved via holistic and concerted engagements of diverse human communities in experiencing and negotiating within their unique social, cultural, historical, economic and political realms for the eventual survival of humanity.  

As aptly mentioned by the Dalai Lama,

“As human beings, we all share the same sorrows, the same hopes, the same potential. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us how interdependent we are: what happens to one person can soon affect many others, even on the far side of our planet.” ***

(Dr. Adlina Ariffin is an Associate Professor at Department of English Language and Literature, KIRKHS. She currently serves as Deputy Director, Research Management Centre, IIUM. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday.)

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