Conference Call on Engaged Scholarship & COVID-19

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has become a global pandemic. In the meantime, millions of people have become infected, and even more have been impacted by the socio-economic measures taken to contain the pandemic. While the virus itself does not discriminate based on age, race, income, or immigration status, these categories still determine who is more likely to get infected, recover or die from the virus, as well as be most impacted by the socio-economic measures taken to contain it.

Accordingly, in both the Global North and Global South, longstanding structural inequalities (for example, inequalities in healthcare, income, education, housing, water and sanitation) disproportionately impact vulnerable communities and increase their precarity. Refugees are one such group that is disproportionately affected by the socio-economic and health impacts of the virus. At the same time, many of these current challenges are not new to refugees, as many refugees have already directly experienced, and developed strategies to deal with crisis, danger, uncertainty, fear, loss, loneliness and separation from loved ones. Their resilience could, thus, serve as inspiration, and contribute to establishing creative strategies and solutions to struggles around the pandemic.

Engaged scholarship could play an important role in times of COVID-19 by responding to challenges addressed by refugee communities and joining their efforts of developing solutions. However, COVID-19 is also affecting academia, including engaged scholars. Many staff members are working from home, some have home-schooling or care tasks, fieldwork projects have to suddenly be cancelled or postponed, and international researchers are being repatriated to their home institutions. Certain streams of funding dry up, whereas new funding for projects related to the pandemic become available. Within and between faculty departments, tense discussions emerge around the question as to whether (social) scientists fulfill a “vital role” in society in times of crisis. Above all, COVID-19 affects the way we (can) interact with the people that participate in our projects. In times where social distancing and self-isolation are encouraged, physically engaging with other people in the field can become suspicious or even dangerous. At the same time, online interaction raises new issues around anonymity, privacy and trust. Finally, the question emerges to what extent it is ethical to continue our research and ask others to invest their time in it while everyone is primarily concerned with the consequences of COVID-19.

In this conference call, we want to explore what engaged scholarship means and how we can practice it as COVID-19 holds the world in its grip.

  • What do we see happening within refugee communities in the Netherlands?
  • What are ethical ways to engage in the field, both offline as well as online?
  • What different types of relationships can be developed?
  • How can we design engaged scholarship in such a way that it can still bring people together, perhaps not in a physical way?
  • To what extent can we re-adjust our engagement, including our research’s content, to these new realities to ensure that our engagement remains meaningful to all participants in these difficult times?
  • And finally, how can we practice self-care and find a balance between our (professional and personal) ambitions and struggles?

Engaged Scholars:

  • Laura Bisaillon, University of Toronto
  • Hanke Drop, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht/University of the Arts Utrecht
  • Halleh Ghorashi, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Mirjam Twigt, University of Oslo
  • Fabian Holle, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Charlotte Clous, University of Groningen
  • Koen Leurs, Utrecht University

Host: Maria Rast

Moderator: Elena Ponzoni



00:36 - Welcome

02:40 - Introductions of Scholars

19:20 - Discussion Part 1 - "What do you see happening in refugee communities that you work with since the outbreak of COVID-19?"

51:10 - Discussion part 2 - "How does COVID-19 affect your engagement as scholars and how can you still meaningfully engage in refugee communities in times of COVID-19?"

1:26:10 - Rounding Off