What Does Contact Tracing Really Mean? How Governments and Citizens Contest the Meaning of Contact Tracing through Sociomaterial Practices to Achieve Societal Resilience
Posted: 3 Feb 2021
Date Written: February 2, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing has become part of government efforts to achieve societal resilience. The notion of societal resilience encompasses not only public health and safety of the population, but also the preservation of civil rights and liberties. Many societies have contested the meaning of contact tracing as it exacerbated a tension between public health and civil rights and liberties. In this study, we investigate how two specific societies with some similarity (South Korea and Singapore) worked out the meaning of contact tracing technologies in striving to achieve societal resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. We draw on category research to shed light on the contestation process. We unpack the relationship between what is the meaning of contact tracing (symbolic boundaries), who is involved in it (social boundaries) and how it is materialized through specific actions and technologies (sociomaterial practices). This study contributes to category research by unpacking the role of sociomaterial practices in the emergence of a new category. It contributes to our understanding of digitally-enabled societal resilience by showing how the battle over the categorization of practices surrounding new digital technologies reflects the deeper battle over societal values worth preserving in the face of threat.
Keywords: Societal resilience, new technology, category research, social boundaries, symbolic boundaries, sociomaterial practice, COVID-19 pandemic
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation