Anthropology, or the study of human societies, is a beautifully general field. It covers a wide swath of concerns and investigates some of the most pressing issues in the history of human existence. By forming a comprehensive view of how societies function and how cultures form, anthropology gives us a lens through which we can analyze the biggest events of the present-day.
The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent human response has taken place on a scale that makes it difficult to comprehend. So much has happened in such a short span of time that it is difficult to catalog what exactly has occurred, let alone try to make sense of it all. Despite these challenges, anthropology offers us a framework for understanding the social dynamics surrounding the pandemic.
For one thing, anthropology gives us the means to understand the way the virus has affected various human communities in different ways. In the United States, immigrants and African-Americans have suffered far more from the pandemic that the rest of society. By using anthropology, we can try to understand why this might be the case. It is a study of human society rather than pure epidemiology that explains the disparities. Certain communities have been underserved for generations, leaving them in conditions that increase their risk of contracting and dying from the virus. This is an anthropological, rather than a medical, reality.
Anthropology also helps us examine how particular groups of people respond to the pandemic. Certain subsets of society, most notably low-wage earners and immigrants, need to get back to work in order to feed themselves and their families. They’re the people who could least afford to lose their paychecks, but they’re also the ones most often left out of the shutdown economy. It should come as no surprise that people in this situation are clamoring to end the shutdowns. People in the upper middle class, meanwhile, have savings to fall back on. They’re also more likely to do jobs that allow them to work at home. These folks tend to have a different view of lockdowns.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a major societal event. That’s why anthropology, the study of societies, is so helpful in seeking to understand it.