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‘Memory’ institute to research social history of Covid-19

Image: UlyssePixel, via Shutterstock

Centre will bring together academics, artists and health workers to propose future pandemic response

The French government has set up a research institute that will keep alive the memory of the Covid-19 pandemic and study responses to future health emergencies.

The Covid-19 Ad Memoriam Institute was launched last week in order to consider the societal consequences of the outbreak, both in France and around the world. The pandemic—described by the institute’s partners as a “major anthropological rupture”—will need to be remembered and studied for years to come, its backers say.

The institute will seek to memorialise and make sense of individual experiences such as separation, social distancing, death and mourning. Its findings are meant to help “repair the multiple tears” in the social fabric, including divisions exposed or created in educational and economic activity and political relations.

“The consequences of this crisis on society will be numerous and lasting,” the institute’s organisers said in a statement. “We must measure them and work to strengthen our capacities for anticipation and collective resilience.”

The Ad Memoriam Institute will be based at the multidisciplinary CEPED (Centre Population et Développement), the joint research laboratory of the Paris Descartes University and the French Institute for Research on Development, and will be headed by anthropologist Laëtitia Atlani-Duault. Atlani-Duault was profiled last month by the centre-left Catholic weekly La Vie (Life) as being among the “collapsologists, anthropologists [and] climatologists” who constitute the new thinkers of this world.

Initial funding will come from the participating public research organisations. While headquartered at CEPED, the institute will function as a consortium of multiple partners who will each contribute funds to the projects they are involved in. “The overall budget is not yet known,” a spokesperson for Ad Memoriam told Research Professional News.

The institute is a collaborative project created under the aegis of the French Research Institute for Development’s WHO Collaborative Centre for Research on Health and Humanitarian Policies and Practices. It will involve at least 17 other bodies.

Participating public research institutes include the University of Paris, French national health research institute Inserm, the École Normale Supérieure, the Université Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Bordeaux, and the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Two honorary presidents have been appointed: professor Jean-François Delfraissy, president of the French government’s Covid-19 Scientific Council, and virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, president of the CARE Covid-19 analysis, research and expertise committee.

The institute will hold public meetings to encourage debate, but also work together with artists and significant figures in French culture and education, as well as religious authorities. The initial research strategy is two-pronged: firstly, it will develop a “meta-research platform” to share future knowledge on the societal impact of the pandemic, before proposing policies in fields such as health, culture, education and justice.

The institute plans to contribute to the development of “commemorative practices”. Its organisers said these were important, as the maintenance of memories of the event would feed into progress on future responses.

The statement issued by the institute’s partners suggested that potential subject areas for research will include telemedicine and teleworking, as well as distance education, online ceremonies, new forms of social activity in the family, and giving more recognition to vital but low-paid workers.

“So many subjects and so many challenges, even paradoxes, need to be explored and overcome in order to reinvent ourselves—as [only] societies that have gone through dramatic times know how to do,” the partners said.