BY PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI
(Dean; School of Humanities and Social Sciences; Pwani University)
Today, I want to commend the government of Kenya for recognizing the role of Social Sciences, especially Sociology, Psychology and Social Work as detailed in their invitation of these professionals to join the army to fight COVID-19.
This is a paradigm shift from a position of wanting to scrap such courses in our universities by some of those in power calling them useless and waste of resources in our universities.
Accordingly, I wish to congratulate the government of President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta for recognizing these disciplines and included them in the fight against COVID-19.
However, because of professional bias, allow me to zero in Sociology, particularly on the value of Sociological Imagination (SI) in this fight.
The term “Sociological Imagination” was coined by the American sociologist Charles Wright Mills in his 1959 book: The Sociological Imagination, to describe the type of insight offered by the discipline of sociology in dealing with social problems, including ill health.
A simple definition of the concept SI is the ability to see things socially and how they interact and influence each other.
With regard to the preventive measures of COVID-19, all what we say is personal such as washing hands, sanitizing, staying at home, curfew, quarantine, social distance, lockdown or shutdown are social constructions of reality.
It’s only when we have the social ability to see these constructs and their connectedness that we may be able to enhance compliance by the public.
This ability to understand them is embedded in SI. How then do we acquire Sociological Imagination? I hear you asking!
To have Sociological Imagination, a person must be able to pull away from the situation, in our case COVID-19, and think from an alternative point of view.
This can easily be achieved according to the proponent of SI, C. Wright Mills by an individual “thinking away from the familiar routines of everyday life” and look at them from an entirely new perspective.
Thus, we need to start thinking away from our usual normal and look at it from the angle of our new normal as necessitated by COVID-19 mitigation.
Accordingly, we need to stop thinking and looking at the COVID-19 preventive measures as something new.
If we don’t stop then we may easily develop resistance to this behavior change, which explains why many Kenyans are exhibiting defiance to the COVID-19 preventive measures.
What we need to do to be successful in changing the behavior of Kenyans and others in the world according to SI is to encourage our people to look at these measures from an entirely new perspective, a paradigm shift from our usual routine, which is better than the old normal as it cushions us against the dreaded Corona virus.
In my own words I would say:
“…The new normal should no longer be new but the norm”.
The most obvious example of SI in the face of COVID-19 infections is that an individual facing corona infection or infected or even affected, might feel defeated, depleted, and discouraged.
That person is likely to look in the mirror and say, “You didn’t work hard enough. You didn’t try hard enough… You, you, you”… This is the point we should encourage our people not to approach at all.
Even all what we do must De-stigmatize and minimize discrimination of those infected and affected to avoid our people castigating themselves.
To avoid reaching this point just adapt to the new normal by complying with the simple measures as repeated routinely by CS Mutahi Kagwe and CAS Dr Mercy Mwangangi.
The use of SI therefore is to shift your perspective away from yourself and look at things more broadly, bringing in context to individual actions.
If you’re thinking about preventing yourself from contracting COVID-19, you’re probably more likely to choose compliance over defiance. Those who are defying are therefore characteristic of those lacking this quality of mind, the SI.
Finally, I want to encourage all, Kenyans and the world, to embrace SI for it is useful in providing individuals’, scientific researchers, practitioners and theorists with the benefit of observing, gaining knowledge and insights into various sociological phenomena.
Again reflectively determining what these mean to and for oneself, one’s community, and for society as a whole.
Thus, without this quality of mind, Sociological Imagination, we seem to lose the essence of understanding why we need to comply with the COVID-19 mitigation measures and we violet them like kid games.