COVID19 Research at Surrey Sociology – From Institutional Responses to Everyday Lives

Compiled by Ranjana Das and Paul Hodkinson, with contributions from Pete Barbrook-Johnson, Rachel Brooks, Amanda Eastell-Bleakley, Nigel Fielding, Nigel Gilbert, Vicki Harman, Sazana Jayadeva, Andrew King, Graham Scambler and Emily Setty

As a department engaged in critical research on sociology, criminology and communications, the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey has seen numerous colleagues researching the myriad societal outcomes and consequences of the COVID19 pandemic. This blog-post shines a spotlight on some key pieces of ongoing departmental research in areas as wide-ranging as health and social care, education, families, mental health, criminal justice and institutional and policy responses to the pandemic. 

Families and relationships

The department is home to a range of scholars who do research on families and relationships, and their response to the pandemic has looked at the minutiae of people’s everyday lives, to consider the ways in which COVID19 has both posed new challenges, and reformulated or exacerbated existing ones. Vicki Harman is working with Marianne Clark and Clare Southerton at the Vitalities Lab at University of New South Wales, Australia, analysing the notion of ‘good’ parenting during the pandemic, looking particularly at how shame is deployed, in relation to the use of technology, to produce and maintain ideals of what counts as good parenting, during the pandemic. Emily Setty is involved in a collaboration with Durham University, to survey young people about their experiences online regarding sex and relationships during lockdown. They have co-designed a survey with young people and youth work leaders that asks about young people’s use of digital media for these purposes during lockdown and the positive and negative experiences they’ve had with it. Ranjana Das has conducted fieldwork during the spring lockdown in England, investigating the impacts of COVID19 related lockdown measures on pregnancy and maternity. This work is currently under review in various journals and continues to be presented widely both inside and outside of academia. Paul Hodkinson and Ranjana Das, who have recently completed a study on new fathers’ mental health, have considered implications of the pandemic for new fathers – and their joint work on both maternal and paternal mental health includes development of a set of resources produced in conjunction with the Institute of Health Visiting on COVID19 impacts on new parenthood. This was also the focus of their recent Festival of Social Science event which drew close to 300 attendees (a recording is available here). Paul Hodkinson and Rachel Brooks, meanwhile, have written about the implications of lockdown conditions for families in which fathers normally take on equal or primary responsibility for childcare.

Health and social care

Andrew King is a co-investigator on an international project #SafeHandsSafeHearts, which is exploring the effect of an eHealth Intervention on COVID-19 knowledge, protective behaviours, and mental wellness of diverse LGBT+ People. The study is being undertaken in Canada, India and Thailand, although it is hoped the knowledge created may be useful in other geo-political contexts. The study runs until Summer 2021. Nigel Gilbert, with colleagues from the Universities of Leicester and Loughborough, have been replicating one of the main epidemiological computational models used by the Government to assess the spread of COVID-19 and the effect of possible interventions, such as lockdowns (Davies et al., 2020).  They have discovered problems with the model that imply that some conclusions drawn from the model were incorrect.  An early account of their work is here and additional and more detailed reports are under submission. Graham Scambler, meanwhile, has tracked the UK government’s response to COVID19, critiquing policy responses to the pandemic, making links to what he theorised as the ‘fractured society’ in the 1970s. Dr Pete Barbrook-Johnson is part of a team led by Durham University providing Covid-19 analysis and modelling to NHS trusts in the north-east of England. This work is helping decision-makers understand the uncertainty around forecasts models are providing them and allowing them to combine the outputs of many models rather than rely on a few.

Higher Education

Departmental experts in the sociology of education have responded dynamically to the impacts of the pandemic on higher education. Rachel Brooks has written about the impact of the pandemic on international student mobilities considered as part of a new book, to be published next year – Waters, J. and Brooks. R. Student Migrants: Contemporary Educational Mobilities (manuscript submitted to Palgrave). She has taken on new research on the impact of COVID (amongst other influences) on Higher Education policymaking within Europe, to be considered as part of a new 3-year project on ‘Mapping Supranational Higher Education Space’. This is funded by the ESRC and is part of the Centre for Global Higher Education. In parallel, Brooks is embarking on a new partnership on the impact of COVID19 (amongst other factors) on young people’s lives to be considered as part of a new 5-year project, ‘Young people shaping livelihoods across three generations’, funded by a Discovery Grant from the Australian Research Council. Sazana Jayadeva has been researching the impacts of the pandemic on international student mobility in relation to Germany, where her findings show, that, apart from concerns about a disrupted educational experience, prospective and current students were very concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on the German job market and the ability of an international student to secure a good job in their field of study upon graduation. A recent blog on the subject can be found here.

The turn to technology

Across a range of projects in sociology, criminology and communications, Surrey Sociology colleagues have critically considered the impacts of the rapid turn to technology that was necessitated by the pandemic. As the pandemic reached Britain, Nigel Fielding led a study of video courts funded by the Home Office Transformation Fund that found that substantial additional investment and major changes in court working practices would be needed if video courts are to achieve similar standards of fairness and justice as face-to-face courts, a finding given prominence as a result of greatly increased reliance on video courts during the pandemic. Ranjana Das has been critically interrogating the complexities of and assumptions behind remote and digital support for perinatal mental health, arguing that digital support needs embedding within stronger in-person provision. Emily Setty’s work on young people and relationships in lockdown, particularly investigates the role of technology and digital media in the process. Sazana Jayadeva’s research on the pandemic impact on international student mobilities involved digital ethnographic research carried out within social media communities used by prospective students. Vicki Harman and colleagues’ work on notions of good parenting argues that technology becomes almost valorised and seen as a sign of good parenting, as they explore the ways in which mothers engage in resistance to shaming through sharing humour, anger, acts of collective intimacy and solidarity, often through digital platforms.


In addition to ongoing research by colleagues at Surrey, the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, which is hosted by the Department, is putting together a themed issue on ‘Race and Ethnicity in Pandemic Times’, consisting of 11 papers that are gradually being accepted and posted online.

Across these diverse sectors, and across its departmental research strands, Surrey Sociology’s ongoing and dynamic research response to COVID19 continues to span the lived realities of people’s everyday lives at an unprecedented global moment, as well as institutional and policy responses to the pandemic.