Strengthen the links during the pandemic, despite the distancing of physical

Renforcer les liens durant la pandémie, malgré la distanciation physique

Two construction workers keep their distances during their lunch break at Montreal, April 20, 2020. But the social link remains.

April 26, 2020 4: 00


Strengthen the links during the pandemic, despite the distancing of physical

Joris Arnaud

Analyst, national School of public administration (ENAP)

Julie-Maude Normandin

Co-director, City ID Living Lab, national School of public administration (ENAP)

Marie-Christine Therrien

Professor, national School of public administration (ENAP)


In a time of crisis, our social connections can not only reduce the effects of an event, but also to recover more quickly. The COVID-19 is no exception, even if the directives of distancing physics lead us to transform our social relations : we cannot meet, will take in her arms, crying together.

As recommended by the world health Organization (WHO) since the end of march and suggested by experts, such as Daniel P. Aldrich, a professor specializing in the study of the impact of social ties for resilience post-disaster, there is no need to speak of social distancing, but rather of distancing physically, while remaining connected socially.

Many research shows that social connections increase our resilience in the individual and collective. During the heat wave in Chicago in 1995, hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident in Japan in 2011, studies have shown that social capital was a factor to mitigate the effects of crises in the short and medium term. Our social connections play a major role in limiting the number of deaths, support of the reconstruction or to mitigate the psychological damage of the crises. The higher the social capital the individual and the collective is, the more quickly communities recover.

For more than a year, our team of City-ID LivingLab on the Governance of the resilience of urban, attached to the national School of public administration (ENAP), has completed three projects of research-action. This was to determine how the strategic use of the concept of social capital by community-based organizations and citizens can support, in a proactive way, the resilience of communities on the basis of a strengthening of social ties. In the Face of the current crisis, we observe how these social relations unfold.

Connect, connect citizens

These links manifest themselves in several forms :

  • by connecting individuals in the same community or a social network and close family ties (bonding),
  • by connecting individuals belonging to groups and networks in different and more remote as the community ties or intergenerational (bridging),
  • by linking citizens to institutions or individuals in a position of authority such as our sense of confidence in the directives of the public authorities (linking).

It is the combination of the three types of links, as well as the realization of shared norms such as trust and reciprocity, which can increase our resilience. Like other cities, Montreal consider the social capital of citizens as a key element within the Strategy are in montreal for a city that is resilient, adopted in 2018.

How does this translate in the context of a pandemic such as the COVID-19 ? While distancing physics becomes imperative to confront the epidemic, flatten the curve to contamination and not to saturate the health services, our social bonds are at risk ?

The share capital in the time of a pandemic

Since the beginning of the pandemic COVID-19, our research team noted a large number of signs confirming the importance of social capital in times of epidemic, and the transformation of it, through social media, the media and the press conferences.

In Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, numerous initiatives are organized at the scale of neighbourhoods to help those in need. Montreal, self-help groups Facebook were in place in at least 12 of the 19 boroughs. Similar groups exist in Quebec city and in most smaller municipalities. They organize themselves by other means to reach people who would not have access to the Internet.

This spontaneous movement, which is typical of crisis situations, has then been formalised with the launch of a platform of volunteering by the government. Internationally, there are similar initiatives. These initiatives are examples of self-help and links-type bridging , where the citizens create links beyond their own group of belonging.

In contrast, the phenomenon of “whistle-blowing” in excess, is likely to undermine our social connections. While the population feels the need to take protective measures, governments are required to call the citizens to adopt a benevolent attitude, rather than aggressive, by using the denunciation that in blatant cases of non-observance of the safety instructions.

The social capital type bonding also manifests itself in reducing isolation, in the form of aid to our network of relatives, or calls to the people of our community. In fact, the request made to persons over the age of 70 not out from among them involves the risk of reinforcing the social isolation and the negative effects of social of the pandemic.

If the State is the first to having to organize the response to the crisis, citizens are not mere spectators. Our public authorities are acting as engines of social links in this crisis and call on the citizens directly to engage. These calls for mutual aid, volunteer work and phone calls to people who may be suffering from isolation were relayed at a press conference by the prime ministers. The call to the influencers of social networks to explain to young people the importance of distancing the physical is a manifestation innovative or State, actor traditional linking relies on third parties to which young people have confidence.

Towards a more resilient urban

The community-based organizations and citizens should also be mobilized in a proactive way by the State, because they are often carriers of the development of social capital. The State would have an interest to rely on these organisations, during, after and before the crises, for contributing to the development of social links within communities to achieve resilience.

Social bonds are processed with the pandemic. This momentum of self-help must continue afterward, as it is an opportunity to strengthen the three types of ties that bind us and anchor our social connections as an engine of our resilience in the coming months and in anticipation of future crises.

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This text first appeared on the website of the franco-canadian of The Conversation. Reprinted with permissi

Renforcer les liens durant la pandémie, malgré la distanciation physique

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