American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
May/June 2020

Mentally Returning to Mississippi

Joseph C. Ewoodzie, Davidson College, writing from Bordeaux, France

I have been living in France since August 2019. Under current French quarantine regulations, we are allowed out of our apartment for one hour a day and can travel within a one-kilometer radius. When we go outside, we must fill out a form with our name, address, reason for going outside, and the time we left our homes. So far, we have been stopped once by police officers to check our forms. The boulangeries, grocery stores, and wine shops (thank God) are open. But, for the most part, everything else is shut down. 

I am on deadline to finish a book about race, class, and food in Jackson, Mississippi, so I wake up each day and rush to my laptop to do whatever writing my brain can muster up. It has served as a good distraction some of the time. For a few hours a day, I mentally return to my days in the field in Jackson, when I walked the streets with people who were homeless, when I scrubbed pots and pans in a BBQ restaurant, or when I enjoyed cocktails with lawyers and journalists in nice restaurants. But these mental excursions are often short-lived. Inevitably, after about 45 minutes, my cursor and my mind drifts to reading updates about what is happening in the world. I usually give up after an hour or two of trying to stay focused. Even after I am no longer able to focus on writing, I think about the people I met, especially those who are most vulnerable during this time. Sometimes I call or text them.  I shudder under the pressure of doing justice to their stories.

I have also been thinking ahead about how this pandemic might fundamentally change how I (we) do sociology, not just in the subjects we study but also in terms of the urgency with which we approach our work. A week before we received our quarantine orders, I received an NSF grant to study the motivations, processes, and consequences of Ghana/U.S. migrations. How will this pandemic change how I (we) think about migration and migrants? I am beginning to revise my research proposal. And, I hope that I (we) work more urgently towards solving social problems rather than simply and only filling holes in literature.