In anthropology, the term cultural relativism refers to how we find identity and value through our culture, a culture which is not immune to rapid transformation. When looking back at history we see formative events triggering cultural adaptations, but is it possible to analyze these changes while they are happening? If we look back to the beginning of 2020 can we see adjustments made to our daily routines, and will some changes be permanent?
Pandemics can influence our everyday lives and change how we interact with the world around us. COVID-19 has rushed in, forcing people to adjust their way of life and their social behaviours. History provides us with plenty of examples of social change during the aftermath of pandemics. With millions of people dying during the Black Death (or Bubonic Plague), feudalism (a hierarchical social structure) was replaced with capitalism as a response to the labour shortage. In 1918, the Spanish Flu pioneered a path for public health care as European governments were forced to implement “socialized medicine—healthcare for all, delivered free at the point of delivery”. Some people say “we will not come out of this pandemic unchanged,” and history has provided us with evidence to support these concerns. There will be societal changes we won’t be able to observe until after this crisis is over, but other smaller changes to the culture of everyday life are more discernable.
Education and social stratification are two areas of our society where I believe we are seeing a direct response to the pandemic. Many parents across Canada are struggling with making the right education choices for their children this fall. On August 14, 2020, over 7,000 people participated in a free online webinar with child psychologist, Dr. Jody Carrington, offering advice for parents and educators on how to support children emotionally as we prepare for back to school. Should they send their children back to in-person classes provincial governments are recommending, or should they choose online learning or homeschooling? The conflict puts parents in a difficult situation, forcing them to feel they must choose between their children’s health and emotional needs or their academic needs.
As for the children, when confronted with rapid instructional changes, they were able to utilize their online literacy skills and families were forced to adapt their work and daily routines to accommodate at-home learning. This pandemic could bring permanent changes to the way education is delivered; a demand for online education for children and youth could persist even after a vaccine is developed.
Our society is experiencing more awareness and respect for socio-cultural diversity, particularly in Western societies. Modern scientific advancements have paved the way for rapid vaccine developments, but globally, we have yet to abolish racism and marginalization. UNESCO recently published an article, “The socio-cultural implications of COVID-19,” affirming how the pandemic has necessitated global solidarity and intercultural engagement, a need that was previously unacknowledged. As individuals, we are adjusting our everyday lives so that we can thrive amidst the pandemic while as a society we are learning to advocate for inclusion, diversity, and respect for all people. The evidence of these changes can be seen just by opening social media and observing how large corporations are taking responsibility for their role in promoting an equitable society.
The biggest changes in my own life are in my fitness routines, eating habits, and preferences for social activities. My family and I have modified our everyday lifestyle to coincide with a new collective reality in Canada. In January I spent hours every week at our local recreation center for both my own physical health and for sports programs my children participated in. With fitness centers being closed or running with limited capacity, I now must make a conscious effort to include outdoor activities like biking, walking, or swimming into my daily routine. A typical day in January would have meant school lunches for my children and a stop at Tim Hortons for coffee while commuting to university. With government mandated orders to stay at home, I find myself restocking the pantry non-stop and have doubled my daily coffee intake. My motivation and creativity in the kitchen is being fueled by an abundance of recipes and meal plan ideas posted online with the hashtag #HomemadeTastesBetter. My friendship and social networks have become smaller but even more important to me as I try to hang onto feeling like a valued member of my local community. I am also more aware of social inequalities and actively considering ways I can engage in conversations about diversity with my future students.
It has been said that “If we want to begin to transform our everyday lives for the better, perhaps we need to consider more closely how we think, talk about and represent them: to see the everyday not as the eternally tedious or bathetically comic residue of contemporary life, or simply as a sphere of overlooked ordinariness, but as the real space in which we lead our actual lives.” Moran (2005)
When thinking about the small changes we have all made to our everyday lives, I am hopeful for the future and how even small adjustments might have a lasting impact on our society in the future.