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Democracy and the Pandemic New Podcast and Curriculum

17 December 2020 -  Free online curriculum explores themes from ‘Rethinking Democracy in an Age of Pandemic’, a six part seminar series looking at how a public health crisis exposed fault lines throughout our societies, from marginalised groups and inequality to nations and borders.

In spring 2020, as billions of people worldwide went into lockdown as a result of Covid-19, a six-part series to explore how democracies were being impacted was organised by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute in partnership with the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University.

The series went beyond the academy, with writers, journalists and artists featuring on panels, and civil society representatives and policymakers as invited participants. While centred on the US and Ireland, the series applied a global comparative lens to compare and contrast the experiences and responses of different countries. This includes a detailed discussion of the Indian experience, and reflection on the situation in Brazil and South Africa. Participants in the Zoom room were drawn from 18 different countries (five continents) and the rich discussions of the seminar series have now been incorporated into a curriculum with recommendations for additional reading (download curriculum now). To mark the launch of the curriculum, we’re also revisiting these conversations in a special new podcast release.

These new podcast episodes allow listeners to re-engage with questions around the pandemic and democracy, find out what has happened since the series ended and, as we come to the end of 2020 and witness the first inoculations against Covid-19, ask where we might be going next.

‘Rethinking Democracy’ is a series of three audio podcasts between Dr Elspeth Payne, Beate Schuler Research Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub, and a number of key panellists from the ‘Rethinking Democracy in an Age of Pandemic’ series.

Melody Barnes is co-director of the University of Virginia Democracy Initiative and a former advisor to President Barack Obama. On the 27 May 2020, just days after the killing of George Floyd, Professor Barnes spoke alongside Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times) and Bill Emmott (former editor of The Economist) about the ability of  democracy to function without the public sphere as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

Commenting on the events that were to unfold following this online discussion, Dr Payne notes in the new podcast that “for many listeners, particularly those outside of the US, this was the first time they had heard George Floyd’s name.”

Reminding listeners of Professor Barnes’ comments that technology and social media would expand this public square, Professor Barnes discusses the recent US election, the pressures on the US’s criminal justice system and the protests that ensued in the months after ‘Rethinking Democracy’: “Protests over the summer were like nothing I’ve seen before; up to and including the city that I live in, Richmond, Virginia, which is about an hour and forty-five minutes south of Washington DC.”

Listen to episode 1 ‘Protests, Polling and Democracy’ now:

Etain Tannam is Associate Professor in International Peace Studies at Trinity College Dublin and in the spring of 2020, just months after Britain officially left the European Union, she discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on political cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

In her most recent conversation with Dr Payne, she said that in terms of British-Irish relations “trust is really at an all-time low”, adding “the big task after this is to build trust. Because it’s frightening how quickly it was eroded after such a successful relationship.”

Speaking about how Covid-19 may have brought a sharper focus to the need for cooperation, Professor Tannam reflects on what we can take away from the sequence of this crisis: “I think every crisis is an opportunity. I think we have learnt from the COVID crisis. And hopefully we’ve learnt from the Brexit crisis. And hopefully the EU has learnt as well.”

Professor Tannam is currently writing a book on British-Irish Relations in the 21st Century and alongside Trinity Law Professors Oran Doyle and David Kenny, is part of the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland led by the UCL Constitution Unit which has just published its interim report.

Listen to episode 2 ‘Trust, Borders and Brexit’ now:

“After the plague, we need to be more alert”, Dr Lilith Acadia warned at the end of her talk as part of ‘Democracy in an Age of Pandemic’ in April 2020. In this final podcast episode, Dr Payne asks Dr Acadia, former Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub, and now Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at National Taiwan University, what challenges and threats to democratic systems we face eight months on.

In her original talk, Dr Acadia spoke about discerning the motives behind measures introduced to limit the spread of Coronavirus and proposed tools to evaluate the trustworthiness of governments’ justifications for policy changes in times of crisis.

In this latest conversation, Dr Acadia considers how uncertainty can result in a distrust of basic information, rejection of vaccines and subscription to conspiracies like QAnon. “Because when people do not know what is true, and which authorities they can trust, they are primed to doubt everything, or believing anything. And are susceptible to conspiracy theories.”

However, outlining the most prescient concern “after the plague”, Dr Acadia looks towards what we might witness next: “as we are recovering from this disaster, as our governments pursue … a return to some sort of normality, I’m concerned about how those governments will use the recovery as a pretext to advance their own interest and ignore other urgent matters facing the world.”

Listen to episode 3 ‘Uncertainty and Post-pandemic Recovery’  now:

Acknowledging the timely launch of the curriculum and the additional podcast episodes, Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub said “as we start to live with COVID-19, these resources provide an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come over the last eight months and how the humanities can help us probe the very pressing challenges the pandemic has created for democracy. Our partnership with the Heyman Centre is vital to continuing to highlight these issues at an international level.”

Eileen Gillooly, Executive Director Heyman Center for the Humanities also commented: “Amidst all the sorrow and loss, all the upending of our lives and our ways of being in the world, the pandemic has also opened up opportunities to think together across geographies and time zones that few of us had imagined a year ago. The lively collaboration between the SOF/Heyman and the Long Room Hub has become even more crucial in these trying times, when humanistic engagement with urgent real world problems has never been more sorely needed.”

Download the 'Rethinking Democracy in an Age of Pandemic' curriculum now.

Find out more about the 'Rethinking Democracy Podcast' here.

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