The lockdowns, sanitisation protocols, and social-distancing dimensions of COVID 19 pandemic has produced a plethora of new spatial practices to negotiate everyday life. While practices like working from home, online shopping, digital meetings, remote services, etc. are explicitly spatial and have been able to cushion some of the social activities and service sector economies; there have been also practices of desperate migrations, distressful isolations, scavenging entrepreneurship, emotional breakdowns, suspicion of public spaces, etc. where oblique spatial dimensions have significantly shaken social life. These spatial practices point at a clear spatio-temporal restructuring, where one sees a collapse in distinctions between house and work-place, collapse in national time and geographic limitations where digitally facilitated meetings happen across continents at all hours, and physical re-articulations of infrastructure and facilities accommodate social distancing. The spatio-temporal restructuring further has sharp experiential dimensions and distinct social consequences.
Two questions are important here – The first question is regarding conceptualisation: What conceptual categories need to be mobilised to engage with the spatio-temporal restructuring, how do we understand and locate them? A cursory look at the emerging conditions points at the fragilities and agilities of life – fragilities of power, institutions, systems and infrastructure along with agilities of the (energetic) self. While some economic sectors have collapsed, some others have emerged / flourished; while places of lower density are showing sharp rises in COVID cases, places of high density are showing tremendous stability; while the state behaved with foolish centralities, smaller tactical practices have grown. This crisis has been a significant yardstick to measure the resilience of some of the most fundamental and cherished ideas that have shaped human thought and society. While the effectiveness of systems that run the world like community, bureaucracy, family, etc. are under test; concepts like time, space, public, experience, sense, infrastructure, etc. are also being interrogated. The conceptual collapse of many modern categories and the mortality of power is what appears to be most evident. The second question is regarding long term effects: What is the durability of this restructuring and what kind of long-term implications will it have? It appears that this cannot be seen as a temporary change as the spatio-temporal restructuring is advantageous for efficiencies in large sections of the tertiary sectors (that do not have heavy machine driven components like commerce, finance, design, education, business administrative processes, many government services, etc.). Due to the improved efficiencies, some of the COVID-time practices will continue in these sectors. This continuation has definite implications on the ideas of home, workplace, movement, rest, etc.
As the virus pushed humanity in awkward directions: many existing values, concepts and practices have been altered and new ones have emerged. At the School of Environment and Architecture, we started collecting stories of these altered / newly emerged values, concepts and practices and called it COVID Glossary – a compilation of terms by which humanity was engaging with the virus and its times. Put together by 200 people from SEA over the past year, this glossary records the fragilities, the agilities, the resistance and other things that characterise us as human beings. These 200 people are largely from Mumbai, but also its metropolitan region, the state of Maharashtra and many metropolises and second towns from across India. The compilation of stories include those of enterprise, ingenuity, exclusion, loss, gamble, distress, mistrust, betrayal, black-marketerring, commotion, confusion, organisation, etc. that have shaped the landscape of engaging with the virus. While a constellation of such stories would have the possibility of producing a meta-narrative, there is always a possibility that a new story would force itself into breaking such a narrative and making a new one. The glossary is able to hold the specificities of the reconfigurations that are taking place in the human world as well as their working out. It is made from thick experiences of individuals living through the pandemic.
SEA invites more stories from anyone interested in contributing to the glossary. These contributions will add to the narrative of the pandemic. Please contribute your stories HERE.
Based on the glossary an online exhibition along with an online symposium reflecting on and projecting from the emerging patterns, will be held. This symposium will take place on the 4th and 5th of June 2021 from 1200 to 1500 GMT. Details of the symposium will be announced soon.