SASE Presidential Lecture: The Pandemic as a ‘Historical Conjuncture’

Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack’s Presidency of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics came to an end following the closure of the association’s annual conference on Sunday evening. Prof. Dr. Quack concluded her year as the head of SASE with an inspiring speech, reflecting on the pandemic and its meaning for institutional theory. Her presidential lecture, ‘The Pandemic as an historical conjuncture: Understanding of the present, imaging the future’ provides food for thought when considering the outlook of global cooperation. She outlined her ideas further in the programme Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften by Deutschlandradio, an interview which will air on July 8th at 8:10pm (CEST) and is to be made available online afterwards.

While scholars and practitioners alike have referred to the Covid-19 outbreak as a critical juncture, Quack argued that the formulation historical conjuncture offers a better contextualization. This mosw of understanding highlights the interrelatedness of endogenous and exogenous factors in place during the pandemic. More importantly, understanding the pandemic as an historical conjuncture allows one to view it as a product of ‘collective sense-making informed by historical and future imaginations’. Quack outlined that this concept permits the recognition of the complexity of the intertwined processes of temporal orders that were playing out during the pandemic. She also mentioned that a period characterised by immense uncertainty requires collective interpretation as a prerequisite for collective action and problem solving. Examining events in this way offers a window to question which issues were prioritized during the pandemic and through which type of discourse. Quack stressed that while she cannot make predictions about future effects of the pandemic, ‘historical conjunctures are likely to give rise to multiplicity of socio-cognitive activities with different time horizons, which co-evolve, compete, oppose and challenge each other in long and twisted processes that may eventually generate new policy directions and transformative institutional change’.

Prof. Dr. Quack also elaborated on the ongoing actions taken in response to the pandemic and the ways in which actors have started to view the future. She outlined that in the early days of the outbreak, the focus of policymakers became increasingly focused on protecting ‘their’ citizens. This, in turn, also influenced the global distribution of vaccines. She underlined that plans were in place for market-based redistribution of vaccines through COVAX, but that Western countries pushed this platform into the background by making individual arrangements with the pharma firms. As a result, low and middle-income countries became disadvantaged in the procurement of vaccines. ‘Why does our concern for humans stop at borders?’, Quack asked. She ended her lecture by outlining that there are already future conceptions of vaccine distribution, pointing to demands for a temporary patent waiver and knowledge transfer to middle and low-income countries so that they can develop capacity for vaccine production where possible. Further, Quack concluded that ‘the potential for transformative change is most pronounced where actors can build on learning from past crisis experiences and draw on established transversal policy networks and institutions to address urgent dross-domain transboundary problems’.

Listen to Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack’s Presidential Lecture in full by visiting SASE on Youtube! The theme was also discussed during a recent interview with Professor Susan Sell in Episode 5 of the Centre’s podcast, Cooperadio.

From the conference: Jasmin Schmitz