Risk governance-in-interaction: 'Distance' as an emerging, pandemic-specific members' phenomenon

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During the recent pandemic, new risk-related understandings of 'distance' have emerged and been embedded in the contextual configurations of shared, public spaces (Katila et al. 2020; Mondada et al. 2020). Indeed, across the world, various creative and culturally anchored measurement systems (see Sacks 1992) have been implemented to indicate a safe distance, e.g., one or two meters, the length of a kangaroo, a cow, a baby elephant, etc. (see Barry and Keane 2021 for more examples). Though, these new standards, including general confusion about whether they are guidelines, rules, directives, or something else, give rise to questions about how members, then, go about making their embodied practices "visible-and-reportable-for-all-practical-purposes", as those of a competent member without drawing attention to such membership competencies as anything out of the ordinary (Garfinkel 1967; Sacks 1984).

The paper reports on the ongoing qualitative research project Travelling Together (2021-2023), and our data excerpts are from a 360-degree video collection of observable and reportable, pandemic-specific practices of people riding intercity trains in Northern Jutland, Denmark. It uses ethnomethodology and conversation analysis to explore in detail the specifics of how public transport users make sense of the strangeness of COVID-19 mobilities by adapting ad hoc new courses of (inter)action to their already existing, taken-for-granted travelling practices. We draw on insights from Foucault's (2010/1082-1983) studies of governmentality as we approach risk governance as constituted, maintained, and challenged in and through passengers’ work of establishing their train travelling practices as reasonable and appropriate for all practical purposes.

The aim of this paper is then not to check if public transport users comply with pandemic-specific risk communication or not, but to consider 1) what 'appropriate distance' consist of as it is continually articulated and sustained as a materially and socially contexed members' phenomenon, and 2) how we can study the lived orderliness of risk governance practices as these become "progressively witnessable-and-discourse-able" (Garfinkel et al. 1981)?
Original languageDanish
Publication date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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