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Short Process Reflections on the Pandemic 2.

The last post outlined the overlapping cooperative and competitive pressures that have come to the front stage during the current Corona-Zeiten (a time phrase used by the German media that directly translates as corona times). Time phrases like Corona-Zeiten are examples of human proficiencies to conceptualise and craft ways to make sense of lived experiences. Corona-Zeiten reflects a means of coping and managing overlapping epidemiologised pressures, through chronologically positioning the past few months in the course of one’s life. It is conceivable that the phrase will in some form contribute to degrees of collective emotional identification: ‘we’ lived through the corona times. It opens the space for wider historical and sociological discussions about changes in relations within and beyond this particular timeframe.

One noticeable change has been pressures to change face to face manners such as handshakes.  According to Herman Roodenburg, handshakes developed from the 1600s onwards, and was notably depicted in a painting from 1648 by Bartholomeus van der Helst. The gesture only become popularised in the 1800s as hierarchical gestures were replaced with more egalitarian signals of friendship and respect across people and state-societies. Handshakes symbolise the internalisation of both humanist-egalitarian bonds between people and the collective-nationalist ties between states, highlighted by Elias in his account of the duality of nation-state normative codes.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte exemplified the challenges of changing the habit of handshaking. In March, he announced a public ban on handshakes, then proceeded to shake the hand of Jaap van Dissel from the Dutch National Public Health Institute, and castigated himself for the error. Rutte’s behaviour demonstrates a necessary expansion of the threshold of embarrassment required to change from handshakes to manners such as elbow bumps. His moment of embarrassment shows that these changes will be an uneven process, in the tussle across the development of internalised restraints and societally enforced externalised stresses.