This project explores ‘ordinary life’ during emergencies. The research draws on long-term anthropological fieldwork undertaken over the past decade in Sierra Leone – including during the Ebola epidemic – as well as personal insights from the Covid-19 pandemic globally. The protagonists of this research project are not governmental officials, public health professionals, and humanitarian organizations, but rather residents of ordinary neighbourhoods who have been unexpectedly swept up in emergencies. The focus then is on many aspects of day-to-day life, such as routines around the home, work, romantic and familial relationships, and sickness and death, as well as the individual experience of being a researcher during major emergencies.
The project aims to bridge the alarming disconnect between the ways that emergencies are talked about and conceptualized in academic, public, and indeed private forums, and most people’s lived experiences of them. Emergencies tend to be described as dramatic and shocking events that represent disturbing aberrations from normality. Yet for many people “normal” times contain challenges that actually exceed those faced during emergencies, not least because there is no clear end in sight. At the same time, while people do regularly encounter sickness, loss and other destabilising forces during emergencies, many people’s experiences are better characterised by more prosaic and repetitive patterns of social activity and care.
The project in part aims to speak to scholars and students of anthropology, African studies, and related disciplines, through extending and re-thinking our empirical and theoretical understandings of crisis and everyday life in Africa and beyond. In doing so it brings together insights from various traditions of anthropology, including social, economic, medical, and cultural. At the same time the project aims to generate useful lessons for practitioners and policymakers on the value of long-standing anthropological methods and insights in building better public and global health responses to emergencies like disease outbreaks, yet ultimately it aims to reveal how ordinary people’s responses to emergencies point us to deeper crises that demand more radical solutions.
Dr Jonah Lipton is an anthropologist at LSE where he attained his PhD examining family life, work, and coming of age among young men in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Jonah gained a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Oxford.
Research interests: political economy, urban neighbourhood life, crisis and humanitarianism
Region: Sierra Leone
Thumbnail image: Silke v. Brockhausen/UNMEER, used under license CC BY-ND 2.0