Global Perspectives and Local Realities: An Evolving Essay Series Exploring Stories of COVID-19 in Real Time

Edited by Amar Ashar (Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society) and Nagla Rizk (Access to Knowledge for Development Center). 

Supported by Khadiga Hassan, Sandra Cortesi, and Urs Gasser.

[This introduction is also available on Medium.]

As a global community, members of the Global Network of Internet & Society Centers (NoC) are experiencing the impact and effects of the COVID-19 public health crisis on their institutional, professional, and personal lives in both common and disparate ways. A few weeks ago, during a conversation focused on global perspectives to crisis response with the head of the ICRC, our collaborators within the NoC expressed an interest in sharing, learning, and documenting how the public health crisis may affect the research questions driving interdisciplinary centers, the ways researchers can better inform agendas of policymakers at large, and the role that digital technologies and platforms play in shaping crisis response and our shared future. The discussion helped to catalyze this essay series which includes some of the voices and perspectives of our friends and colleagues around the world who contributed to that conversation.

With the series, we hope to create a snapshot focused on the narratives emerging from local communities in order to paint a global picture. The essays share insights in real time, with the hope that we can revisit these stories a few months from now and reflect, revisit, and revise the many critical threads of conversations taking place right now. Our contributors are not all entirely focused on COVID-19, but rather, the pieces are responses to a set of exploratory questions meant to prompt reflections connecting the work of individuals and research centers that house (or are home to) a global community of scholars working on common themes in the area of digital technologies, internet and society.

As a decentralized group of academic centers and research institutions, the NoC’s primary mode of operations relies on networked approaches, drawing inspiration from our subject of study — the intersection of internet & society — expressed through a multitude of disciplinary perspectives, modalities, approaches, and communities. The NoC acts as a platform to facilitate interaction between individual nodes, broader hubs, and across the network as a whole in order to surface valuable, often less visible and easily missed, insights from all corners. The network is composed of academic members and affiliates including practitioners, former policymakers, leaders of civil society organizations, activists, and entrepreneurs. The collection reflects the diversity of perspectives and people engaged in our work, and also includes insights from a few additional friends and contributors.In the series, which we hope to continue to add to in the coming weeks, contributors touch on a wide selection of topics ranging from COVID’s impact or local responses to issues such as platform/data governance, the role and impact of intellectual property issues encountered by cultural and knowledge institutions rapidly transforming programs into digital formats, structural inequality across societies, labor, and more. Across these themes, the role of communities, networks, institutions, and other associations demonstrate how unexpected linkages among people can advance our shared understanding in novel ways, and prompt collective thinking about similar issues occuring in diverse environments. Although the NoC is an institutional network, the perspectives shared here are uniquely individual and reveal that ways that researchers contribute to, engage with, and participate through affiliated institutions and networks.

At this moment, we are also witnessing larger social movements like Black Lives Matter in the US (along with recent movements around the globe from Hong Kong to Cairo) that underscore larger systemic injustices, social crises, and governance failures. Similar to and interconnected with COVID-19, these movements reveal problems that will not be easily solved, and that sit at the intersection of politics, economics, social justice, and technology. The current essay series demonstrates the vibrant diversity of people, topics, challenges, and stories that are emerging during this acute response phase to COVID-19. It also highlights the need to further engage global networks in matters of racial equity, address anti-blackness, and engage underserved and underrepresented research institutions. This comes at the core of networks’s commitment to the broader principles of inclusion, diversity and equality.

We aim to complement and highlight similar efforts to share perspectives on the COVID-19 health crisis and recommend the following resources for those interested in further reading: Berkman Klein Center COVID-19 Medium Collection, COVID-19 From the Margins (Data Active), COVID-19 Collection (Elephant in the Lab/HIIG), When the Music’s Over (Digital Asia Hub), COVID-19 and Inequality in the Global South.


Should you not be able to access the essays on Medium, you can also find all essays as PDFs here.

The essays in this collection  are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Exploratory Questions

1) What is the most pressing issue that your community is facing at the current moment in the context of the global health crisis? 

2) What is one research question or emerging narrative — directly or indirectly related to COVID-19 and its effects — that you’d like to explore in the coming months? 

3) What is a resource, individual, institution, or network that you’re connected to that you’d like to highlight?