Making sense of research during a pandemic
When the outbreak of COVID-19 became a global health crisis, it undeniably changed how we perceive our world and our everyday lives. Suddenly, we had to shift how we lived and worked.
For Athabasca University’s Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Community, Identity, and Digital Media (CRC), Dr. Mickey Vallee, it also changed the way he conducted research.
Vallee’s research focuses on bioacoustics—the science of how organisms produce sound. Much of his work takes place in the field, travelling to remote locations to do sonic ethnographies, or working with scientific research teams and citizen scientists all over Canada and internationally.
With the emergence of COVID-19, all of that research and subsequent travel has stopped, so Vallee has had to get creative with how to conduct his research. For example, he had been working with a choir and attending their weekly meetings until the global pandemic. Now he watches conductors’ actions over Zoom.
Vallee predicts that there will be some re-evaluation of the way in which researchers work. So far, he’s seen that already happening. He’s been invited to join a Canadian response initiative filled with researchers looking to collaborate on ideas and potential research projects, in ways that might not have been done before. Even so, there’s been an uptick in the amount of preliminary research, Vallee noted that in the beginning there might have only been a few articles on cultural theory and quarantine, but now everyday it doubles. Trying to keep track of the amount demonstrates just how much this is affecting everyone.
“Making sense of this [global pandemic] is setting a big reset button on what it means to research”– Dr. Mickey Vallee
Making sense of it all
Vallee has also been inspired by the pandemic to look at how people are making sense of the isolation especially with the abundance of technology that we have.
“I’m trying to find out how people are living separately together. What I’m realizing about ethnography now especially with digital ethnography, it still requires kind of a spirit of ignorance and naivety on a situation with what you are unfamiliar with. Converging on these data platforms and on these media platforms is eye-opening to me is how much people sort of adapt to these situations,” he said.
He’s also found that living with nothing does something. The sociology of this shows us that there’s a fundamental need to communicate with each other, even if there’s nothing to say.
“People are resistant to call their families because they don’t have much to talk about with them, there’s nothing new. But the point is that we are talking. What it reveals is the fundamental need to touch and to communicate in some kind of way,” he said. “That’s always been a part of media in the first place. Most of our interactions through media or through telephone or internet are greeting each other, acknowledging each other’s existence, and making arrangements to further acknowledge each other’s existence at a later time. That seems to the basis of our communication with one another.”