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  • Author or Editor: Su-ming Khoo x
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This contribution reflects critically on what it means to ‘learn’ from the Global South. The starting point is why the ‘Global North’ appears to have learnt so little about pandemic response from the ‘Global South’, despite relevant knowledge being in plain sight. The ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to learn because it disrupts the labels dividing different ‘worlds’ of development and places a magnifying glass on critical issues of local and global equity and justice. As COVID-19 is a novel disease, it is unsurprising that not enough is known about it. Yet a surprising ignorance has emerged in its wake about how governments should respond, and who is most vulnerable and likely to suffer or die. This ignorance about differential impacts and vulnerabilities cannot exactly be said to be an absence of knowledge. Rather, it is a problem of un-knowing that maps interestingly onto central debates in critical development studies about the proper focal objects, subjects and purposes (the whats, the whos and the whys) of ‘development’.

How and why have issues of local and global inequity and injustice become actively (rather than just accidentally) under-emphasized and ignored? Cognitive frames that present ‘development’ as a question of ‘Northern’ knowledge and competence versus ‘Southern’ lack of knowledge or competence are deeply complicit in the active production of global ignorance, with serious effects.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced a renewed appreciation of the value of public health systems as national and global public goods.

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The COVID-19 pandemic poses evolving dilemmas of disease, death, disability and economic and sociopolitical inequalities and injustices, as the virus continues to spread and variants evolve. This contribution reflects on the development of disinformational responses by reactionary populist political forces in Brazil, with serious implications for the Brazilian national health system – the Sistema Único de Saúde – and global public health. Strategic disinformation and misinformation have affected democratic systems globally, including the two largest democracies in the Global South. Disinformation, including official disinformation promoting scientifically unproven ‘early treatment’, has significantly impacted public discourse and health behaviours in the face of the pandemic. Sudden onset or ‘fast’ crises like the COVID-19 pandemic have roots in, and connections to, ‘slower’, connected crises of authoritarian, extractivist, necropolitical (the use of power to dictate how some people may live and some die) and even genocidal forms of ‘development’ that prioritize prevailing, inequitable and unsustainable economic arrangements at the expense of many people’s lives, health and prospects. Current trends of official disinformation negatively impact public health systems, personnel and capacities to prevent and minimize harm while deepening harmful, unequal and disequalizing effects. This contribution argues that development and global health ethics warrant urgent and direct attention to survival, countering democratic disinformation and necropolitics.

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Researchers, like everyone else on planet Earth, had no choice but to respond to the pandemic. Yet, again like everyone else, researchers had a lot of choice about how to respond. All three of the volumes in this series exemplify researchers at their best: reassessing their methods and approaches, with care for others and themselves, creatively and ethically. The separation of the volumes into different topics is to some extent an artificial device to support discussion and thought around these complex issues. Although the chapters you just read have been placed in this volume because they say more about response and reassessment than about ethics, creativity, resilience or care, the latter elements also run through these accounts.

We received more submissions about going digital – that is, moving in-person and in-place research online – than about any other sub-topic in this series. A sizeable number of these submissions were about switching from face-to-face interviewing to doing interviews online. This has already been covered in some detail in the methods literature: Hanna (2012) and Salmons (2015) are seminal contributors; there are many others. We didn’t want to repeat that here, and we were fortunate also to have submissions exploring other aspects of going digital. Helena Vicente and her colleagues in the European Union needed to move planned face-to-face research encounters online, but at a rather different scale from interviews: they worked with large groups of students and experts forming science camps in six European countries, and devised a novel method of taking this work online.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in early 2020, researchers had to react. Discussions of research methods and planning for ongoing and near-future research swiftly turned to adapting research methods for a locked-down world. As the pandemic response and measures to control its spread continued into the medium and longer term, it became apparent that many research methods, especially the ‘big three’ most commonly used methods of questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, could hardly be conducted in the same ways as they had been before the pandemic, and therefore had to be adapted and rethought. The pandemic presented researchers with many challenges – and some opportunities. These included opportunities to reassess the utility of more conventional methods in unusual circumstances, and to try out less familiar methods that could meet both existing and new research needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is only one of a number of possible global emergencies that may occur due to the outbreak of an infectious pathogen like the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Indeed, the global pandemic preparedness body warned in September 2019 that there was ‘a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5% of the world’s economy’ (Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, 2019, 6). ‘Global’ emergencies may also arise due to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions, or human-caused disasters such as major industrial accidents, conflicts and mass displacements of people, with effects that are severe and extensive and carry transboundary implications.

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Since the global COVID-19 pandemic began in the early months of 2020, researchers have had to respond to new limitations, reassess and rethink their ongoing and near-future research. Some research is about emergencies like the current COVID-19 health emergency, some research is not specifically about emergencies or disasters but takes place in a context already affected by emergency or disaster. Some research has nothing to do with emergencies or disasters at the outset but must deal with one (or more) that unfolds as the research proceeds. As the world continues to deal with the reality of COVID-19 in the longer term, researchers are reminded that emergency and disaster situations are ongoing in many contexts or may occur at any time. The challenges of researching in an emergency-affected context also present a crucial opportunity to critically reflect on the fundamental purposes, assumptions and issues driving that research, as well as more practical issues around the choice of methods and manner of implementation.

The eruption of a global health emergency like COVID-19 offers important opportunities to reassess the role of creativity and ethics in research. It surfaces broader and deeper ethical questions beyond adherence to the necessary but limited formal procedures of standard institutional research ethics approval. Researchers in every part of the globe have responded to the new challenges of researching amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in diverse, thoughtful and creative ways – from adapting their data collection methods to rethinking researcher– researched relationships and fostering researcher and community resilience, while accommodating different needs for care.

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We stated, in the introduction to this volume, that creativity and ethics are closely linked. Some of the chapters in the first two volumes of this three-book series have already demonstrated this. In Volume 1, Judith Henze, Nicole Paganini and Silke Stöber had an ethical foundation for wanting to empower small-scale urban and rural farmers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Indonesia and Mozambique to find ways to repair and/or maintain local food systems during the pandemic. Another ethical consideration was to amplify the voices of these farmers, many of whom are women, and whose voices are often unheard. Henze and her colleagues and participants made creative use of digital methods within a co-research framework to collect real-time data in a non-intrusive way. In Volume 2, Nicola Gratton, Ryan Fox and Teri Elder took an ethical approach to their ongoing support for participatory action research among UK community researchers who have experienced multiple disadvantages. In lockdown, the project support team gradually deprioritized their research aims and prioritized people’s wellbeing, replacing their supportive weekly face-to-face meetings with a WhatsApp group and a raft of creative methods of data collection including photographs, diaries, poems and podcasts. This ethical and creative approach had positive impacts on individuals, relationships and the research team as a whole.

These are just two examples; we could have chosen a number of others. And we are delighted that the chapters in this volume demonstrate the relationship between creativity and ethics even more clearly. The first section, on creative approaches, encompasses design methods, crafting and making, writing in poetry and prose, story completion, and photovoice.

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