Launching a new Research and Action programme on ‘Emergent Agency in a Time of Covid’. Want to join us?

September 9, 2020

     By Duncan Green     

Mutual aid groups morphing into long term citizens’ organizations; women’s organizations forming to address the surge in domestic violence during lockdown; small producers switching to producing protective equipment for health and care workers.

Across the world, people are responding to the pandemic at a local level by acting, organizing and learning. What kinds of patterns can be identified in this ‘emergent agency’? How could others support and amplify this work? And what could be the long term impact of all of that?

That’s the focus of a new research programme on Covid and grassroots action. And we want you to get involved. Here’s the pitch.

Emergent Agency in a Time of Covid-19’ is a collaboration between Oxfam and the LSE’s Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity (AFSEE) programme.

We want to understand one of the important and potentially positive side effects of the pandemic – the response it triggers among low-income/excluded communities around the world. Will those responses create new organisations, new politics or new options for others to support?

Early examples of pandemic solidarity include mutual aid collectives in many countries, a feminist emergency plan in Chile coordinating caring responsibilities and support against gender-based violence, and data-based advocacy in informal settlements in Cape Town.

We’ve been sharing some of these on the blog, but now we want (with others) to get much more systematic. Starting now, we’ve got a year to do this. The project has 3 aspects (I think of them as breath in; process; breathe out):

  1. Gather case studies and experiences
  2. Identify trends and patterns across and within themes and countries
  3. Discuss, refine and share

We’ll sharpen the research questions as we go, but they currently include:

  • What individual and collective agency is emerging among low-income households and communities across different groups at the intersection of multiple inequalities, precarious and informal workers, and non-state actors, as they respond to the health pandemic and its political, economic and social fallout?
  • How can these experiences reshape how donors and governments understand needs, vulnerabilities and agency, and options to reduce emerging or entrenching inequalities?
  • How can these examples inform how civil society and community-based organizations act or advocate around Covid?

How are we going to do this?

Given the restrictions imposed by lockdown, the research is likely to involve research institutions, think tanks, and individuals with established networks and relationships in communities and with CSOs/CBOs. We are looking for people and organizations to participate, many of whom will already be working (whether through their programmes or research) along these lines.  Are you seeing similar things in your own programmes or research, do you want to be part of working out how that fits into global trends?

The point of contact will be project leader Irene de Goede, who can be reached on From Oxfam the project team will be Irene Guijt, Katrina Barnes and Filippo Artuso. From LSE it will be Armine Ishkanian and Sara Camacho Felix. I’ll be a confused, two hatted piggy-in-the-middle.

Besides evidence gathering through listening posts in several countries, we will engage the current batch of LSE’s AFSEE fellows (and hopefully a few alums) to contribute with their own individual projects and we will facilitate the sense-making discussions and learning exchanges.

If you’re interested in the latter, here are the ways we think people can get involved:

1. Advise us on the project – any thoughts on the approach? Lessons from previous comparable initiatives? Leave a comment below.

2. Join as a research partner: please get in touch with Irene de Goede if you are interested.

3. Help us process what we find: we are looking for individuals or institutions willing to commit to some serious reading and thinking on the trends and patterns in what will be a disparate mix of experiences. Is that your bag?

4. Discuss findings as they emerge. We’ll be ‘breathing out’ every few months, through online presentations and discussions of emerging patterns. Watch this space, or email and ask to be put on the mailing list for regular updates. Initially at least, we’ll use this blog as a platform for sharing links and emerging findings – see the ‘emergent agency’ tab and page.

Hope you can join us. And here’s a two pager on the project if you want to download and send on.

And a heads up for any funders. This is a shoestring, proof-of-concept type operation. If it goes well, we’ll definitely be looking to expand!

September 9, 2020
Duncan Green