From Lock Down to Lock In? COVID19 changing social practices and transitioning to resilient, inclusive sustainable lifestyles


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyday life in The Netherlands and over 200 other countries. In attempts to contain the virus outbreak, governments have restricted the freedom of movement of citizens.

To ‘flatten the curve’, economies have been shut down and people have been instructed to restrict social interaction, engage in social distancing and refrain from, or radically change, participation in previously taken-for-granted daily practices, such as those relating mobility and food consumption. These everyday practices constitute the bedrock of daily living and have significant implications for healthy, resilient and sustainable societies. The disruptions to daily life have impacted the lives of citizens in different ways, exposing and interacting with already existing social inequalities along categories of age, gender and socio-economic status. Exploring variance in the lived experiences of the pandemic across different governing contexts is crucial to understanding how disruptions to systems of provision impact citizens' lives in socially differentiated ways as well as the most effective governance arrangements to support building resilience and sustainable societies in the post-COVID recovery era and beyond. 


About the Research Project

This international comparative sociological study aims to uncover social and cultural differentiation in impacts of the pandemic on citizens' everyday lives. 

Focusing on everyday food and mobility practices, it seeks to

(1) capture cultural and social variance in the impact of the pandemic on everyday household practices, and

(2) identify opportunities and challenges for (re-)building inclusive systems of provision to support resilient and sustainable lifestyles. In seeking to address the differential exposure and impact of the new invisible health risk in society, a sociological approach is adopted that explores the social dynamics of the pandemic in terms of the interaction between systems of provision and dynamics of agency and resilience in people’s everyday lives.

The investigation is guided by several key research questions 

(i) How are everyday food and mobility practices changing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 
(ii) What new practices and ways of doing life are emerging? 
(iii) How are disruptions to systems of provision resulting in socially differentiated impacts on everyday life, including capacity for resilience and change? 
(iv) What practices might stick and how can systems of provision, including policy, support the emergence of more resilience, healthy and sustainable daily food and mobility practices?


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In seeking to address these aims and questions, a sociological international comparative social practice approach is employed to advance understanding of the intersection of social disruption and dynamics of daily life. 

The study is adopting a cross-cultural comparative sociological approach with citizens across 11 participating countries (Netherlands, Ireland, France, Italy, UK, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Vietnam, China, USA). Qualitative research methods include contextual analysis of governance contexts, framings and interventions measures being pursued in each country context as well in-depth interviews and visual methodologies with citizen householders to capture social and cultural variations in the impact of the pandemic on daily consumption practices. The qualitative data will be analyzed in a cross cultural comparative framework to produce new insights into how ruptures in socio-material systems can work to fundamentally alter or reinforce routine consumption practices as well as the role of governing contexts and systems of provision in shaping this. Such knowledge will have the potential to further advancing and informing science and policy efforts on restructuring (un)sustainable consumption practices more broadly (cf Spurling and McMeekin, 2014)  

Outputs and societal relevance

In adopting a cross cultural comparative sociological approach, this research produces new insights into how ruptures in socio-material systems can work to fundamentally alter or reinforce everyday life consumption practices. This project concentrates on uncovering processes of change with impact on the longer run. Making a theoretically informed empirical analysis of the impact of the pandemic and associated socio-material disruptions on the everyday lives of citizens, this project aims to contribute to: 1. Harnessing COVID-19 induced reflections on life as we knew it for social betterment, specifically towards more sustainable and healthy lifestyles, and, 2. Pre-empting the unintended consequences of new societal inequalities and altered distribution in capacity to enact sustainable and healthy lifestyles. Outputs include: database (allowing for longitudinal monitoring), policy briefs & info-graphic, seminar, scientific publications (including on citizen consultation) and blogs aimed at wider audiences.

Who’s involved?

This project is being led and coordinated by the Environmental Policy Group (Wageningen University) and involves an international collaboration with consumption scholars across Europe, Asia and the USA.

At ENP, researchers include dr Mary Greene (project lead and coordinator), Prof. dr. Gert Spaargaren, dr. Sigrid Wertheim-Heck and Ben Bultrini.

Other partners include: Marlyne Sahakian, University of Geneva (CH); Dale Southerton, University of Bristol (UK); Noel Cass, University of Leeds (UK); Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs, Carolyne Lord, Torik Holmes, University of Lancaster (UK); Martina Schäfer and Elisabeth Süßbauer, TU-Berlin (DE); Henrike Rau, LMU Münich (DE); Arve Hansen, University of Oslo (NO and VN); Wenling Liu, Beijing Institute of Technology (CN); Lei Zhang, Renmin University of China (CN); Yechao Fan, Minzu University of China (CN); Sophie Dubuisson-Quellier, Sciences Po Paris (FR); Lorenzo Domaneschi, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca (IT); Michael Hynes, Emmet Fox NUI Galway (IE); Manisha Anantharaman, St Mary’s College (USA)