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What Got You through Lockdown?
journal contributionposted on 2023-09-14, 06:30 authored by Vivian GerrandVivian Gerrand, Kim LamKim Lam, Liam Magee, Pam NilanPam Nilan, Hiruni Walimunige, David Cao
Introduction While individuals from marginalised and vulnerable communities have long been confronted with the task of developing coping strategies, COVID-19 lockdowns intensified the conditions under which resilience and wellbeing were/are negotiated, not only for marginalised communities but for people from all walks of life. In particular, the pandemic has highlighted in simple terms the stark divide between the “haves” and “have nots”, and how pre-existing physical conditions and material resources (or lack thereof), including adequate income, living circumstances, and access to digital and other resources, have created different conditions for people to be able to physically isolate, avoid working in conditions that put them at greater risk of exposure to the virus, and maintain up-to-date information. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, and its conditions have tested our capacity for resilience to varying degrees. Poor mental health has become an increasingly urgent concern, with almost one in ten people contemplating suicide during Victoria’s second wave and prolonged lockdown in 2020 (Ali et al.; Czeisler & Rajaratnam; Paul). The question of what enables people to cope and adapt to physical distancing is critical for building a more resilient post-pandemic society. With the understanding that resilience is comprised of an intersection of material and immaterial resources, this project takes as its focus the material dimensions of everyday resilience. Specifically, “Objects for Everyday Resilience” explores the intersection of material objects and everyday resilience, focussing on the things that have supported mental and physical health of different sections of the community in Melbourne, Australia, during the pandemic. People in the Victorian city of Melbourne, Australia – including the research team authors of this article – experienced 262 days of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than any other city in the world. The infection rate was high, as was the death rate. Hospitals were in crisis attempting to deal with the influx (McReadie). During lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, all movement in the city was restricted, with 9 pm to 5 am curfews and a five-kilometre travel limit. Workplaces, schools, businesses, sports and leisure clubs were closed. One person per household could shop. Masks were mandatory at all times. PCR testing was extensive. People stayed in their homes, with no visitors. The city limits were closed by roadblocks. Rare instances of air travel required a hard-to-get exemption. Vaccines were delayed. The state government provided financial support for most workers who lost income from their regular work due to the restrictions. However, the financial assistance criteria rejected many casual workers, including foreign students who normally supported themselves through casual employment (McReadie). The mental health toll of protracted lockdowns on Melbourne residents was high (Klein, Tyler-Parker, and Bastian). Yet people developed measures of resilience that helped them cope with lockdown isolation (Gerrand). While studies of resilience have been undertaken during the pandemic, including increased attention towards the affordances of online platforms in lockdown, relatively little attention has been paid to whether and how material objects support everyday resilience. The significant amount of literature on objects and things (e.g. Whitlock) offers a wide range of potential applications when brought to bear on the material conditions of resilience in the COVID-19 pandemic as it continues to unfold. As ethnographer Paula Zuccotti notes in her study of objects that people used in lockdowns around the world, “Future Archeology of a Global Lockdown”, the everyday items we use tell us stories about how we exist (Zuccotti). Paying attention to the intersection of objects with resilience in everyday contexts can enable us to view resilience as a potential practice that can shape the conditions of social life that produce adversity in the first place (Chalmers). By studying relationships between material objects and people in conditions of adversity, this project aims to enhance and extend emerging understandings of multisystemic resilience (Ungar). Objects have been central to human history, culture, and life. According to Maurizio Ferraris, objects are characterised by four qualities: sensory-ness, manipulability, ordinariness, and relationality. “Unlike the three spheres of biological life – the mineral, the vegetable and the animal – objects and things have been customarily considered dependent on humans’ agency and presence” (Bartoloni). In everyday life, objects can enhance resilience when they are mobilised in strategies of resourcefulness and “making do” (de Certeau). Objects may also support the performance of identity and enable inter-subjective relations that create a sense of agency and of being at home, wherever one is located (Ahmed et al.; Gerrand). From an existential perspective, the experience of being confined in lockdown, “stuck” in one place, challenges cosmopolitan connectedness and sense of belonging. It also bears some similarities to the experiences of migrants and refugees who have endured great uncertainty, distance, and immobility due to detention or vintage of migration (Yi-Neumann et al.). It is possible that certain objects, although facilitating resilience, might also trigger mixed feelings in the individuals who relied on them during the lockdown (Svašek). From domestic accoutrements to digital objects, what kinds of things supported wellbeing in situations of confinement? Multisystemic Resilience in Lockdown It is especially useful to consider the material dimensions of resilience when working with people who have experienced trauma, marginalisation, or mental health challenges during the pandemic, as working with objects enables interaction beyond language barriers and enables alternatives to the re-telling of experiences. Resilience has been theorised as a social process supported (or inhibited) by a range of “everyday” intersecting external and contextual factors at individual, family, social, institutional, and economic resource levels (Ungar; Sherrieb et al.; Southwick et al.). The socio-ecological approach to resilience demonstrates that aspects of individual, family, and community resilience can be learned and reinforced (Bonanno), but they can also be eroded or weakened, depending on the dynamic interplay of various forces and influences in the social ecology of an individual or a group. This means that while factors at the level of the individual, family, community, or institutions may strengthen resistance to harms or the ability to overcome adversity in one context, the same factors can promote vulnerability and erode coping abilities in others (Rutter). Our project asked to what extent this social-ecological understanding of resilience might be further enhanced by attending to nonhuman materialities that can contribute or erode resilience within human relations. We were particularly interested in understanding the potential of the exhibition for creating an inclusive and welcoming space for individuals who had experienced long COVID lockdowns to safely reflect on the material conditions that supported their resilience. The aim of this exercise was not to provide answers to a problem, but to draw attention to complexity, and generate additional questions and uncertainties, as encouraged by Barone and Eisner. The exhibition, through its juxtaposition of (lockdown-induced) loneliness with the conviviality of the public exhibition format, enabled an exploration of the tension between the neoliberal imperative to physically isolate oneself and the public messaging concerning the welfare of the general populace. Our project emerged from insights collected on the issue of mental health during “Living Lab” Roundtables undertaken in 2020 by our Centre For Resilient and Inclusive Societies, convened as part of the Foundation Project (Lam et al.). In particular, we deployed an object-based analysis to investigate the art- and object-based methodology in the aftermath of a potentially traumatising lockdown, particularly for individuals who may not respond as well to traditional research methods. This approach contributes to the emerging body of work exploring the affordances of visual and material methods for capturing feelings and responses generated between people and objects during the pandemic (Watson et al.). “Objects for Everyday Resilience” sought to facilitate greater openness to objects’ vitality (Bennett) in order to produce new encounters that further understandings of multisystemic resilience. Such insights are critically tied to human mental health and physical wellbeing. They also enabled us to develop shared resources (as described below) that support such resilience during the period of recovery from the pandemic and beyond. Arts and Objects as Research The COVID-19 pandemic provoked not only a global health response, but also a reorientation of the ways COVID-related research is conducted and disseminated. Javakhishvili et al. describe the necessity of “a complex, trauma-informed psycho-socio-political response” in the aftermath of “cultural/societal trauma” occurring at a society-wide scale, pointing out the prevalence of mental health issues following previous epidemics (1). As they note, an awareness of such trauma is necessary “to avoid re-traumatization and to facilitate recovery”, with “safety, trustworthiness, transparency, collaboration and peer support, empowerment, choice” among the key principles of trauma-informed policies, strategies, and practices (3). Our project received funding from the Centre for Resilient and Inclusive Societies (CRIS) in July 2021, and ethics approval in November 2021. Centring materiality, in November 2021 we circulated a “call for objects” through CRIS’ and the research t