Essential to Society?

Essential to Society? Franco-German and European Perspectives on the Social Repercussions of the Crisis

We are living through an unprecedented global health crisis. COVID-19 and the ensuing   state of affairs have profoundly unsettled our social structures, affecting not only our mental and societal well-being, but also the state of our political and financial frameworks. It has retraced new boundaries between private and public life and intensified the presence of technology in our daily lives. It has compelled us to reconsider our relation to the sciences and the environment. In recent months politicians, researchers and the media offered attempts, ranging from apocalyptic prophecies to ecological utopias, to imagine what the world could look like once the crisis subsides. Yet not only the future, but also the current repercussions of the crisis on diverse facets of our society must urgently be reflected upon.

It is in this context that the Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin, a Franco-German centre for research in the social sciences and humanities with a special focus on Europe’s transformations and position in a global world, seeks to open the discussion to the wider public by launching an online seminar. This discussion series will bring together researchers from a wide range of fields, such as history, philosophy, sociology, political sciences, anthropology, cultural studies, public health and ecology, in order to consider the effects of the pandemic on our society in medias res. We believe the past can assist us in understanding whether the present crisis consists of an exceptional event or an extended transmutation, whether it may strengthen or disrupt our social structures and political organisations, and whether or not it will lead to a genuine revaluation of what is considered "relevant" or "essential" to society. The analysis of society by social sciences and the humanities in times of crisis may permit us, then, not only to take stock of that which transpires, but also to tackle imminent social transformations.

Contact :

Montag, den 25. Mai 2020 - 10 Uhr

Balázs Trencsényi - Regional Contexts of a Global Crisis: The Politics of COVID-19 in East Central Europe

While the scholarly debate has been focusing on the previously unfathomed controlling mechanisms and technologies emerging in the context of the global crisis management, one should not forget about the functioning of more „conventional” institutions and mechanisms of power such as federal and municipal administrations, parliaments, courts, etc. Seeking to generate further discussion, this position paper seeks to give a short overview of the politics of COVID-19 in East Central Europe, with a special focus on Hungary, where some of the most contested measures were implemented as a reaction to the pandemic.

Balázs Trencsényi is a Professor at the History Department of Central European University, Budapest, and co-director of Pasts, Inc. Center for Historical Studies. His main field of interest is the his­tory of modern political thought in East Central Europe. Between 2008 and 2013, he was Principal Investigator of the European Research Council project, “Negotiating Modernity”: History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe. Among others, he is the author of the monograph, The Politics of ‘National Character’: A Study in Interwar East European Thought (Routledge, 2012); co-author of AHistory of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe. Vols. I-II (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016, 2018); as well as co-editor of Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1775–1945), vols. I–II, IV(Budapest: CEU Press, 2006–7, 2014); European Regions and Boundaries: A Conceptual History (New York: Berghahn, 2017); and Brave New Hungary: Mapping the "System of National Cooperation” (Lexington: Rowman and Littlefield, 2019).

Gespräch mit Marc Lazar (Sciences Po Paris) und Leyla Dakhli (CMB / ERC DREAM).

Anmeldung für das Webseminar :

Freitag, den 05. Juni um 14 Uhr - via ZOOM
Henri Bergeron et Olivier Borraz, (Sciences Po - CSO)
La gestion de la Covid-19 en France : une crise organisationnelle ?
Kommentar: Jérémy Geeraert (HU / CMB)

La gestion de la pandémie de Coronavirus par les autorités françaises révèle plusieurs paradoxes: malgré une densité d'institutions d'expertise sanitaire tout à fait exceptionnelle, les débuts de la crise sont marqués par des improvisations organisationnelles au sommet de l'Etat pour conseiller l'exécutif ; malgré un investissement ancien dans la préparation à la gestion d'une pandémie, on relève également ce qui s'apparente à un haut degré d'impréparation, qui débouche sur l'adoption d'une mesure totalement inédite : le confinement de l'ensemble de la population ; enfin, malgré une gestion de crise qui, comparé à ses voisins, ne semble ni meilleure ni pire en termes de résultats, on constate en France un plus grand niveau de défiance au sein de l'opinion publique vis-à-vis des autorités. Nous proposerons dans cette présentation plusieurs pistes issues de la sociologie des organisations et de la sociologie des crises pour analyser ces paradoxes.

For the last 15 years, Olivier Borraz has conducted research in the field of risk. Initially, he was interested in crises in the area of food safety and controversies surrounding environmental health. In addition, he has analyzed decision-making processes in health safety, the creation and operation of health safety agencies, and more generally risk regulation policies in both the health and environmental sectors.
He later began to explore issues surrounding the emergence or non-emergence of certain environmental health risks, as well as the production of related knowledge and skills.
More recently, his research has taken two directions. On the one hand, he analyzes the role of government in crisis preparation and management, looking specifically at the nuclear sector. On the other, he is participating in a comparative study on the spread of risk instruments in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands, in sectors as diverse as occupational health, flooding, criminal policy, and education. Lastly, he is working to develop a socio-economic analysis of risk. In 2008, he published Les politiques du Risque (Sciences Po University Press) and a new series devoted to public policy (Politiques Publiques, Sciences Po University Press) with Virginie Guiraudon. At the CSO, he directs the Risk governance program and collaborates on the healthcare program.

Henri Bergeron conducts research on healthcare policy and changes in medical practice through the study of various subjects, including illegal drugs, alcohol, obesity, medical research, and public healthcare. He uses tools from the sociology of public policy, the sociology of social movements, and above all the sociology of organizations to evaluate the forces at work in the creation of public policies and the reconfigurations of organizational and institutional fields. He is particularly interested in the interconnection of knowledge, expertise, and politics, and more broadly in organizational and institutional change.

Next online-seminars:

Montag, den 15. Juni um 10 Uhr - via ZOOM
Paul-André Rosental (Sciences Po)
The thirty first days - Comparative lessons from the covid pandemics

Kommentar: Jürgen Kocka (Prof. em., FU Berlin / ehem. Direktor des WZB)
Franziska Zumbaum-Fischer (Oberärztin Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg)

The Covid-19 pandemic is a singular event, but it does not stand alone. It follows a succession of virus attacks which have followed each other since the 1950s. At the same time, the pathologic havoc the COVID wreaks on human systems is mirrored in the ways it undermines the structural integrity of the entire health infrastructure, a system already stressed by chronic and increasingly complex disease management and by an aging population.

Thus, we should not focus on the exceptionality of the current crisis, but rather use it as a test-case for a key question: which patterns of action have proved most effective in addressing the emergency? The answer requires the comparison of mortality data, which beyond their inherent registration biases, are made incomparable by the different morphologies of each national population. Density, concentration, mobility, age structure: all those parameters need to be controlled before being put in relation with variables describing national public health systems. On that basis, one can identify very different patterns and issues in the fight against the epidemics, and raise questions on the potential evolutions of 21st century health systems.

The author is a full professor in modern history at Sciences Po in Paris, and a member of council of the Population Europe network based in Berlin. He has led an Advanced ERC Grant at the crossroads between medicine and social sciences, on social and environmental risks factors associated with a range of idiopathic, systemic inflammatory diseases, which has led to several publications in the Lancet.  He also authored Silicosis. A World History at Johns Hopkins University Press in 2017, and recently published A Human Garden: French Policy and the Transatlantic Legacies of Eugenic Experimentation, New York, Berghahn Books (2020); and Population, the State, and National Grandeur. Demography as a political science in modern France, Peter Lang (2018).

His presentation will be based on the report he published last month (

Registration :

Montag, den 29. Juni um 10 Uhr - via ZOOM

Frédéric Keck, (Directeur de recherche au CNRS)
Les sentinelles de la pandémie
Kommentar: Tanja Bogusz (CMB /Kassel)

Freitag, der 10. Juli um 10 Uhr - via ZOOM
Bettina Hitzer
Framing Corona. Emotionshistorische Perspektiven auf COVID-19

Obwohl die Bekämpfung von Pandemien seit den 1990er Jahren ganz oben auf der Agenda der WHO steht und von Seiten der WHO versucht wurde, einheitliche Maßnahmen zur Frühwarnung und Eindämmung von Pandemien durchzusetzen, haben die Regierungen und Gesellschaften auf der Welt sehr unterschiedlich auf diese Pandemie reagiert. Dabei traten gravierende Unterschiede in der Einschätzung der Gefahr, in der Akzeptanz von Freiheitsbeschränkungen und in der Funktionsfähigkeit von Gesundheitssystemen zutage. Nicht zuletzt fällt auf, dass die Regierungen die von ihnen getroffenen Maßnahmen sehr verschieden kommuniziert sowie andere Konzepte und Metaphern von Virusbekämpfung benutzt haben.

Der Vortrag diskutiert mit Blick auf Deutschland, inwiefern die Reaktion auf Corona ein Ergebnis des Umgangs mit und der Bekämpfung von Infektionskrankheiten im 20. Jahrhundert ist. Vor diesem Hintergrund erläutert der Vortrag, in welcher Weise die Corona-Pandemie eine neuartige emotionale Herausforderung darstellt, und stellt zur Diskussion, wie ein anderes Framing von Corona den langfristigen Umgang mit dieser Pandemie und möglichen zukünftigen Pandemien verändern kann.