Communities in Crises: The Dynamics of Social Resources for Resilience and Recovery in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Social Science


The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought acute harm across the world, not least through its tragic impact on morbidity/mortality. This includes: worsening mental health, rising loneliness, financial/food insecurity, economic hardship, and suicide. Though the pandemic's onset was global, its impacts have not been borne equally across societies, with greater harm among vulnerable groups e.g., the disadvantaged, ethnic minorities, or youth/older populations. While vaccinations bring hope the pandemic will be brought under control, previous crises suggest the harms from the pandemic may leave lasting scars across our lives. As such, there is an urgent need to understand the sources of resilience that are mitigating the pandemic's harm (processes of resilience), and the factors minimising its long-term scarring (processes of recovery). However, to date, we know little about what may be driving such resilience and recovery over this pandemic. This project aims to fill this lacuna of evidence.

The project aims to radically advance our understanding of the role that social-resources, especially those embedded within residential communities - community social capital (CSC) - play in processes of resilience/recovery in the UK and internationally. CSC comprises 'social networks [e.g., neighbour-ties, organisational involvement] and norms of reciprocity and trust that arise from them', embedded in people's local areas, which can provide vital support. Like few other crises, COVID-19 repositioned households and communities at the centre of our lives, and, with most cut-off from their wider social networks, alongside the closure of key services (e.g., schools/child-care), CSC may have become a key source of support; especially for vulnerable groups. This project thus examines how far pre-pandemic CSC (compared to family-/friend-ties) has been helping mitigate the pandemic's harm; which dimensions (e.g. neighbour-/organisational-ties) are most efficacious; the pathways through which buffering has operated (e.g. financial aid, social support); and CSC's role in supporting people's recovery. If CSC has been playing a key role, it is also vital to know how the pandemic has affected it; amongst whom/where/why CSC may have flourished or withered; what factors (including stocks of pre-pandemic CSC) determined if communities pulled together or apart in the pandemic; and, what explains discrepancies between people's willingness to help and actual pro-sociality in the pandemic. To explore where/why CSC may be more salient for supporting societies, the project examines CSC's role in resilience/recovery cross-nationally (Germany, France, USA, Korea, Japan). It will also balance analyses of CSC's support-role with an understanding of potential negative effects, especially risks of infection. The project takes an advanced quantitative approach, drawing on (inter)national longitudinal data, which possess key pre-pandemic information on people's lives and conducted surveys over the pandemic itself, allowing us to finely track the pandemic's impact and the role of social resources in buffering these impacts and supporting our recovery.

The project will provide critical insights for policy (realised via its partnership with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government): into the means of reducing pandemic-harm and supporting recovery, especially for vulnerable groups, and demonstrating where/amongst whom/why CSC is flourishing/diminishing to identify how support can bolster this resource. The project will also directly benefit non-governmental stakeholders (especially those supporting vulnerable groups), including: the role of organisations as protective-buffers/recovery-drivers and how bringing neighbourhoods together may release latent sources of resilience/recovery. Insights will also benefit international crisis management groups, through understanding drivers of resilience/recovery for crises in general, and where CSC is most efficacious.


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