Applied Sociology of COVID-19

An Asian woman clinician stands, holding a COVID PCR test. She wears a surgical mask and gown. A Pacific Islander man sits in a chair wearing a mask. The both look to the side as if listening to instructions

I am cross-posting public health research that I have co-led.

In late 2020, many people were confused about how to correctly self-isolate after getting a COVID-19 test. Our team worked to stop people leaving self-isolation before getting a negative result. We tested a behavioural intervention using

  • A multilingual handout, and
  • ‘Teach-back’ instructions about self-isolation.

Teach-back is an effective way to improve health comprehension. Clinicians follow a script. They then ask people to repeat key instructions. They also allow time for questions and explanation.

Our intervention and survey were given in four languages (English, Chinese, Arabic and Korean). Our study included 76,000 people in Western Sydney. We analysed 8,000 valid survey responses.

The Northern Beaches outbreak happened during our trial. Our intervention shows how hard clinicians work. They have a strong commitment to trying new solutions.

We reduced self-isolation breaches by 29%. Our research has now been scaled across NSW. Scaling is when a successful intervention is expanded to a broader population.

As part of our scaling, I co-wrote the script for our training video. It explains how clinicians should deliver teach-back. It was interesting to be involved in the filming. I was there to ensure the science was portrayed correctly. Turning research into a visual format is an example of  visual sociology. In our case, we used behavioural science to design our handout and video.

Our project shows how

  • Applied sociology adds value to multidisciplinary teams, and
  • Diverse scientists make a real difference to public health.

My co-leads are a psychologist and economist. We are all from non-English speaking migrant backgrounds. Our multilingual focus is due to our team reflecting on how we can increase equity and diversity in our research. Using multiple languages in our study was very satisfying.

Enjoy reading our work.

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Career Progression and Accessibility

Three men and one woman sit at table. They watch another woman who is pointing to the group notes on a wall

Cross-posting research I’ve lead on increasing the promotion and retention of people with disability* within the New South Wales (NSW) public service. We undertook fieldwork to understand the behavioural barriers and solutions. We find that administrative hurdles and inadequate support are negatively impacting the career progression of people with disability. We can improve these outcomes by: 1) Using a feedback loop to increase professional development opportunities for staff with disability; 2) making it easier to implement workplace adjustments; and 3) providing managers with improved resources and training on disability inclusion.

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Race and Indigenous Language Rights in Peru

Quechuan woman carries goods on her back with a child walking beside her. They are on a mountain

On 27 August 2021, in his maiden speech to the Peruvian Congress, Guido Bellido, Prime Minister of Peru, was heckled by his fellow politicians, and reprimanded by the President of Congress for giving an extended welcome in Quechua and Aimara. Quechua is the language of the Quechuan people, the largest Indigenous group in Peru. Aimara is the second largest Indigenous group. Bellido is Quechuan. He was elected as the Cusco representative for Congress on 29 July 2021. Cusco is a Quechuan-majority region, where citizens have a legal right to Quechuan language services, and public servants must speak at least basic Quechua. As a public servant and Indigenous person elected to serve Cusco, Bellido had a legislated right to speak Quechuan.

Quechua and Aimara are both official national languages of the Republic of Peru, alongside Castellano (Español, or Spanish spoken in South America). Quechua has an ongoing influence on the evolution of Castellano in Peru. This includes every day words, grammar, conventions used for the third person, and regional variations of speech.1

Indigenous languages are the original mode of verbal communication in Peru. The events in Congress reflect the pervasive impact of race on politics and all other aspects of society.

To explore the functions of race in Peru, I begin with an examination of Bellido’s speech as a case study of race. I’ll then explore the history of race and language in Peru, before discussing why racial inequality persists despite the development of Constitutional right to language and ethnic (cultural) autonomy. I then deep dive into a racial profile of Quechuan people, using data from the most recent Census.

Continue reading Race and Indigenous Language Rights in Peru

How to Improve COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Experience

Infographic on COVID-19 Mass Vaccinaton Behavioural process. On the left, what it is currently: 2 month wait, routine sms, long delays, routine follow-up. On the right what could be improved: timely access, behavioural prompt, enhanced service

Vaccination, effective self-isolation, and adequate socioeconomic support are key public health measures that are proven to reduce the impact of COVID-19. Vaccination is safe,1  and scientifically shown to reduce death, hospitalisation, and severe health issues arising from COVID-19. Vaccination is currently available to everyone in Australia aged over 16; from 13 September 2021, it will be extended to 12 to 15 year olds. I’m very lucky, and thankful, to be fully vaccinated. Vaccination itself was quick, easy, and painless. Health staff delivered excellent service. In particular, the clinicians who carried out the vaccine were compassionate, warm, patient, and good humoured. I urge everyone who is medically able to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Vaccination efforts have been radically advanced in the state of New South Wales (NSW), due to the current Delta outbreak. As of today, 4 September 2021, vaccination doses have already reached 7.3 million in NSW alone.2 Mass vaccination sites are producing extraordinary results given current constraints, including a strict lockdown in Southwestern Sydney.3

Nevertheless, there is a pressing need to rapidly increase vaccination. To date,4 62.1% of people over 16 years have received one vaccine dose in Australia, and only 37.8% are fully vaccinated. Health inequities undermine vaccine efforts. I’ve previously detailed that policing patterns are unfairly targeting racial minorities in working class suburbs, illustrating how race and class impact the management of vaccination.5 As I show below, there has been a lack of vaccine supply and outreach to priority groups at high-risk of COVID-19, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, people living in aged care and disability group homes, and rural and remote regions.

Many countries are struggling to entice people to return for their second vaccination. For example, in early April 2021, five million Americans6 had not gotten their second dose. By early August Britain is lagging behind France on second doses.7

Systemic support could improve vaccination, especially through federal funding to support people who are unemployed or precariously employed, so they are not forced to keep struggling until they are fully vaccinated. Alongside institutional responses, small physical and behavioural tweaks could improve the public experience at mass vaccination sites.

Today, I present a visual ethnography of my experience at a mass vaccination site in Sydney, which took place from late-July to mid-August 2021. Ethnography is the study of people’s behaviour and organisations in their everyday setting. My analysis draws on two ethnographic methods: participant observation and visual sociology.

Participant observation involves watching people, objects, a physical environment, and texts in their natural setting (that is, outside of a lab).8(pp109-120) Researchers can assume various roles to carry out this analysis, from a complete participant who joins in, and records, all activities, to complete observer (someone who watches, but does not join).9 Since I reflect on my own vaccination here, I am closer to the complete participant end of the spectrum. I documented my impressions of the environment, and the procedures used to organise the public through their vaccination.

I also used visual sociology; a methodology for collecting visual data to analyse social phenomena.10 In this case, I took photos and short videos of my experience in line while I waited to be vaccinated, but I did not directly film other people or staff. I did not record audio, personal data, or any other material that would be identifying.

The aim of this visual ethnography is to provide behavioural insights on how the mass vaccination process might be improved. Behavioural insights is the application of social and behavioural sciences to improve delivery of policy, programs, and services. I discuss some of the behavioural barriers in the mass vaccination process, especially things that could potentially contribute to people delaying coming back for their second dose. I also discuss how improved behavioural cues and messages could enhance the vaccination experience.

Continue reading How to Improve COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Experience

Race, Class and the Delta Outbreak

Entrance to a supermarket. Stickers on the ground say "please stand here." Workers are busy in the background

This is post was previously published as part of my previous blog, Media Representations of Race and the Pandemic.

Three states in Australia are presently under a strict COVID-19 lockdown: New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. New South Wales is experiencing a major Delta variant outbreak, which is highly contagious. It has spread to the other states through working-class workers, who do not have the luxury of working from home. Similarly to what happened in the harsh Melbourne lockdown in 2020, residents in migrant communities have been placed into a tougher lockdown relative to others, even as they are required to continue working, and submit to COVID testing every three days (“surveillance testing”).

Public discourse about the COVID-19 outbreaks continues to be racially coded in media articles and in press conferences. This contributes to a moral panic about racialised people. Blame is placed on multicultural communities for not listening to public health messages, even though the majority of cases originate in ‘essential’ workplaces that are not required to shut down. As some communities remain confused about public health messages, state responses have been heavily criticised for not promoting culturally-appropriate public communication campaigns, while targeting migrants with a heavy police presence.

Continue reading Race, Class and the Delta Outbreak

Applied Sociology of Qualifications

A young white woman stands next to an older white man in an industrial workshop. They are both smiling looking at her laptop

Cross-posting research I’ve led, which examines how to help students complete their qualifications. Our research shows that more apprentices and trainees will complete their training if students are given six behaviourally informed SMS prompts. Messages provided timely and practical advice on workplace rights, and where to seek support if they were struggling. Our results equate to 16% fewer learners dropping out. Our intervention led to a 7:1 return on investment.

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Political Attacks on Critical Race Theory

Crowd of protesters in Sydney

Almost 530 researchers (including me) have signed the Open Letter Against Racism. Critical race theory is an academic field under uninformed and unwarranted political attack in Australia and in other nations. See an excerpt below and please read the full letter.

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Public Sociology and the Pandemic

Oil painting of a subway sign about COVID-19. It shows an imprint of two hands. The message reads: have you washed your hands?

It’s been a long while! Over the past couple of months, in my paid work, I’ve been co-leading a large randomised control trial in public health. Hoping we can publish results in the new year. Our team is also busy researching issues of technology and safety. In my personal research, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I wrapped up series 1 of Race in Society. We covered media representations; the lockdown and ableism; intersectionality; policing; and economics. I’ll bring you write ups of other episodes soon, or head to our YouTube to watch the videos.

In case you missed it, here are two interviews I gave earlier in the year, on the sociology of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the topics of moral panics and misinformation remain relevant.

Continue reading Public Sociology and the Pandemic

The Economics and Social Costs of COVID-19

Aerial view of Sydney Customs House, a large Building at Circular Quay, Sydney

In Episode Seven of our Race in Society series—the final episode of season 1 on “Race and COVID-19″—Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I are joined by two guests to discuss The Economics and Social Costs of COVID-19. We examine the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on undocumented migrant workers, whose labour is being exploited.

The economy depends upon the work of racialised people, exposing them to higher risk due to casualised frontline services, which have kept the health system and other businesses going throughout lockdown. At the same time, racialised people are provided inadequate protections against infection, including poor personal protective equipment.

Our first guest, Sanmati Verma, is an Accredited Specialist in Immigration Law. She discusses the legal issues faced by temporary visa holders and migrants, as they lack access to economic security. Our other guest is Professor Sujatha Fernandes, who is Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Sydney. Her research explores the uses and misuses of storytelling to shape understandings of the political activism of racialised people. She discusses how “curated storytelling” narrows the public’s engagement with economic rights during the pandemic.

Continue reading The Economics and Social Costs of COVID-19

Policing the Quarantine

Protesters march in Sydney. They hold up signs saying "BLM" and "Go back to eating donuts. End police brutality"

In Episode Six of our Race in Society series, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I focus on Policing the Quarantine. Our racially-driven criminal justice system has been an ongoing feature of colonialism, from invasion in 1788, to the present day. Since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, over 434 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People have died in police custody. Policing powers have been extended throughout the pandemic, and disproportionately target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other people of colour. This includes the administration of fines, lockdowns, and curfews.

To help us to think through these topics, we are joined by three panellists. First, Roxanne Moore, Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), discusses police accountability. Second, Professor Megan Davis, Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous at the University of New South Wales and Professor of Law, provides insight on constitutional and human rights during the pandemic. Dr Vicki Sentas, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales, discusses racial profiling and police reform.

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