LSA Hosted a Listening Session for Its Scholars to Share Their Experiences and Struggles During COVID-19

AMHERST, Mass. – The Law and Society Association (LSA) hosted a Listening Session on Scholarly Struggles During the Pandemic on Monday, August 16. Several members of the LSA leadership met with scholars from around the world over Zoom to share their academic experiences in navigating through the many challenges and uncertainties brought forth by the ongoing global pandemic.

The session was initially proposed during LSA’s virtual conference in May, when scholars in South Asia were devastated by a surge of COVID-19. Last Monday’s conversation was an intimate open-forum dialogue, in which scholars representing a multitude of diverse interdisciplinary backgrounds spoke about familiar pandemic-induced hardships. Participants raised several issues about the practicality of doing research, the need to reconfigure their research designs and the ethical dilemmas of performing global sociolegal research during the pandemic.

“We were the right size as a group to fit on one Zoom screen,” said LSA Trustee Mitra Sharafi. “This was good for brainstorming about how to adapt project design to our new circumstances. Are there alternative ways of getting at my data or reframing my research question? Are there good models out there, perhaps from fields outside of my own that could help me work within these new unexpected parameters? These were the type of questions we discussed. I think some seeds were planted.”

Scholars discussed obstacles and ethics in accessing archives & databases, modifying research tactics, caring for family members and the challenges they face in attending conferences, meetings or gathering empirical fieldwork data. For instance, conducting ethnographic fieldwork during the pandemic places researchers and others at risk. However, scholars — particularly postdoctoral fellows and junior scholars — are under immense pressure with limited time to complete their dissertation and other time-sensitive research endeavors, and some institutions are reluctant to offer extensions. They find themselves forced to choose between fulfilling their PhD requirement or possibly worsening the spread of a deadly virus.

Since the start of 2020, the lack of physical engagement has disconnected scholars from their communities. Those performing empirical research have run into setbacks while implementing conventional qualitative methods. Even gathering online research, which is sometimes obtained in social group settings, has been altered. In some ways, social distancing has added difficulty for scholars to tap into one another’s intellectual capacities.

Furthermore, finding niche information within online databases has proven to be troublesome. Certain historical research needs to be done in person to access archives from specific libraries and archives around the world. The information confined within these archives is simply not available in digital format. Even if travel restrictions were lifted, many would not take the risk. As a result, scholars have had to place their studies on hold or limit the way they collect their data.

In addition to offering more lenience, those attending the Listening Session recommended that institutions provide more mentorship and workshop activities for junior scholars. Facilitating conversations about alternative means of performing research amidst a global pandemic could prove to be helpful.

“Reports from participants showed that global sociolegal work was terribly affected by the pandemic, something that institutions must acknowledge and provide young scholars with support to deal with,” said LSA Trustee Fabio de Sa e Silva. “LSA certainly did its part by convening this meeting, and I am sure it will continue searching for ways to ensure the support of new generations’ needs that our membership, once again, has generously agreed to provide.”

While there is much negativity imposed by the pandemic, scholars have evolved and learned to modify their techniques. Video conferencing technologies like Zoom and GoToMeeting have become the norm. Although we are all “screen fatigued,” these platforms offer researchers new opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with global peers from the comfort of our own homes. These technologies have made conferences and workshops, like LSA’s past two Annual Meetings, more accessible than ever before. However, even with these benefits, as convenient as virtual settings can be, there are specific elements that cannot be replaced. This includes networking opportunities and social interactions. Once again, these setbacks disproportionately impact the development of future sociolegal scholars.

During the pandemic, LSA has hosted several webinars and virtual panels. Last Monday’s Listening Session was not recorded, due to confidentiality reasons. Keep an eye out for future LSA-sponsored virtual events and initiatives.



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