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How People’s Behaviour Has Changed in Public Places during the Pandemic

How People’s Behaviour Has Changed in Public Places during the Pandemic

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The HSE Centre for Fundamental Sociology has recently held ‘Logica Socialis’, an open social theory seminar. Andrei Korbut, Senior Research Fellow at the HSE Centre for Fundamental Sociology, presented his report entitled ‘COVID-19 as an interactional phenomenon: People’s behaviour in public places during the pandemic’.

The seventh meeting of the open social theory seminar Logica Socialis took place at the Centre for Fundamental Sociology of HSE University. It was devoted to changes in people’s behaviour in public places during the coronavirus pandemic. The Centre’s Senior Research Fellow Andrei Korbut presented his research. He began his talk by saying that COVID has affected various spheres of people’s lives and, in the opinion of many speakers, these changes will leave their mark on the future. 

‘Some aspects of our ‘façade’, or as Irving Hoffman calls it ‘front’, have undeniably changed, as well as our interaction with other people in public spaces. This is primarily due to both the character of the disease itself and the measures that have been taken because of the pandemic,’ the speaker believes.

Andrei Korbut, Candidate of Sociological Sciences, Senior Lecturer of the School of Sociology, the Faculty of Social Sciences, and Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Fundamental Sociology, HSE University’

COVID has affected many, but not all, aspects of everyday life. Here, we should take into account the features of different spaces. In the underground, the influence of COVID is transformed considerably or interpreted through the ordinary practices of people’s behaviour in this public place. On the one hand, the influence of the expected supervision [over compliance with anti-virus requirements] should not be overestimated. On the other hand, we should not underestimate that fact that people follow these requirements. They are aware of what is happening and understand that these requirements may be used not only by the authorities, but also by other people who assess their moral status. The way we behave in this public place is assessed from this respect as well, and we should take it into account.

The research by Andrei Korbut and his colleagues relies on observations made in the Moscow underground since the beginning of spring 2020. The speaker explained that he looks into people’s behaviour within the context of three dimensions—space, time, and interaction with acquaintances and strangers. For instance, the researcher believes that the way people slow their pace before entering the underground, putting on their masks right in front of the entrance doors, clearly shows that people’s attitude to space has changed. 

‘Social space is structured differently in the time of COVID. On top of new tangible objects (like masks and gloves) and new rules for physical distancing, our behaviour has changed, including the way we approach the doors to an underground station.  We’ve developed a new series of actions. This is no longer the simple act of opening the door and stepping inside. We need to get ready for doing this by putting on gloves and masks, then we need some space and time to actually perform the action,’ said the speaker. 

Andrei Korbut also noted the changes in the behaviour of couples. Most often, they both wear (or sometimes not) masks, rearranging or lowering their masks to mirror their partner’s behaviour. ‘I think this cannot be explained solely by the fact that couples are supposed to be equal. Equality does play a certain part, of course, but there are some procedures whereby people achieve this equality. In my opinion, it is very noticeable that couples, on the one hand, mirror each other’s behaviour and, on the other hand, teach each other how to use masks and gloves. Thus, we can see how people control each other’s behaviour.’

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