Uniting against COVID-19: What our national pandemic response could reveal about science and society in Aotearoa New Zealand
Writing in 1954, Hannah Arendt describes crises as an “opportunity[…]to explore and inquire into whatever has been laid bare of the essence of the matter”. Globally, the COVID-19 crisis has torn away at existing facades, bringing to light not only taken-for-granted structures and processes, but new ways of conceptualising them.
Currently, Aotearoa New Zealand’s national pandemic response to COVID-19 is one of the most highly regarded in the world. This success has predominantly been attributed to our government’s receptivity to the advice of scientific experts. This research thesis therefore endeavours to understand the nature of our ‘science-based’ response. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with fourteen scientific and non-scientific actors involved in our national COVID-19 response, this research investigates how science is involved in interactions between scientists, government and the public, and how it is involved in the way those social groups interact with the underlying systems that produce and maintain our modern society in Aotearoa. Where those systems typically underlie structures and processes of modern Aotearoa, Thomas Gieryn’s theory of ‘boundary work’ is used to draw attention to how typically invisible relationship networks between scientists, scientific knowledge-making processes, scientific legacies of colonialism, and systemic weaknesses in our health and scientific infrastructure have been rendered visible by Aotearoa’s national response to this crisis. By recognising the dynamics of our national response, including factors that enabled and restrained important strategies, this research provides insights into our so far successful crisis response that can be utilised for crises responses in the future.