Fending the Pandemic in Parsonian Framework

Starting from December 2019, the spread of the pandemic and fear of the Covid-19 Virus has gradually gripped all continents taking the total number of victims to millions. Major Cs’ like  Corona, Covid-19 Virus, Cleaning and sanitisation, Compulsion of  Mask, Containment, Caution, Cumulative cases, Community Surveillance, Care and Cure during the lockdown days  have evolved in common man’s vocabulary to form a significant part of his survival strategy today. The concepts as and when bestowed on human race since then are socially

Fending the Pandemic in Parsonian Framework

constructed and global in every sense; and have not failed to stir the ‘collective   consciousness ‘even at the remote village or so to say the grass root level. Without giving much time to debate, a new set of norms and values have been enforced by the government as an immediate measure in a bid to save lives. Justifying the right to live has become a part of a huge social responsibility of a civil society. Public Healthcare system is on the fore front and fighting the battle are the doctors and medical personnel.

Coming to India which is also presently witnessing rise in cases, governance especially in handling the pandemic in the largest democracy cannot succeed in isolation without the support of the other social organs of the society. Some major organs are bureaucracy, economy, judiciary and social groups involvingdoctors, nurses, police personnel, intellectuals, scientists, NGOs, SHGs, health and sanitation workers. Others include voluntary organisations, active involvement of village panchayats, the role of Information technology, social media, personnel working with essential services and the common people at large who are equally significant, responsible and accountable to overcome the crisis of the century. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now given a clarion call for coordinated effort and need for ‘national unity’ and ‘global solidarity’ to prevent the tragedy taking its worst form and prevent the transmission chain. 

One of the ways to understand the action plan for curtailing the spread of the virus  can be explained through sociological theories, paradigms and models  which throw  insight to  understand this matrix of energy flow, coordination and interdependence that invariably yield  positive results. One such model pertinent to the social need for fending the pandemic is structural functionalism and action theory given by famous American Sociologist Talcott Parsons. Born in 1902 in Colorado, United States, he was one of the first Professors of Sociology in Harvard University and his major works on social action and social system became popular during 1950s and 1960s as a point of reference to understand social systems or nations.

 The current relevance of the theory to understand the action plan of countries for fighting the pandemic battle is quite clear and prominent. The model that can easily comprehend the present action plan of nations is the AGIL model which explains the major subsystems of every social structure, i.e., interacting social units, institutions and organisations. They have a designated social action to perform such as :

  1. Adaption
  2. Goal
  3. Integration
  4. Latency or Latent Pattern Maintenance

This conceptualisation of Parsons was considered as a problem-solving device for modern nations. Briefly understood, Adaptation refers to the external environment, resources and economic activity that help in adaptation and ultimately points to the survival strategy. Goal attainment explains the goals of every society, resolving goal conflicts which is aptly handled by the political systems involved in various governing activities. Integration subsystem which is the domain of the legal system integrates all social systems into a cohesive harmonious society by solving problems that arise while aligning social activities. Latency refers to the cultural patterns of the people involving their motivation, negotiating the social order amidst tensions and strains. It also includes varied cultural patterns, the role and significance of family, education, religion and other social institutions. All together in a subtle way play a key role to keep the individual mentally tough and balanced and the social groups more stable. These are the functional imperatives for social system across the globe where each is interdependent and indispensable to the social system as a whole.

By applying the AGIL model, one can see that lockdown norms and the market principles of commerce refer to Adaptation where economic activity has been spelt out keeping necessities at the forefront for the consumers. The Goal to keep the Covid-19 infection count under control is being spelt hard by the reigning government and the power structure. Enforcing moral discipline and social control through formal means has been made legitimate through authority in the designated positions. The Goal at this hour of peril incorporates taking the task on a war footing by the health care system. Checking Covid-19 casualty involves close execution and with changing circumstances, Integration in the form of new legislations are being put in place. At the same time economic activities and sustenance efforts are being ensured  including first and foremost food supply to one and all. The Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, use of National Security Act, declaration of ‘Shutdown’, quarantine regulations for stipulated period, settling migrant concerns, addressing domestic violence are some pertinent steps taken by the administration, declaring it legitimate. To combat the Covid-19 battle and flatten the curve with coordinated efforts, the role of Latency in the action system is by far the most important. The roles of individuals, groups and most importantly family help achieve the desired goals and bring about a win-win situation with minimum casualties. Latency or Latent Pattern maintenance as Parsons explains includes our cultural value system. At this hour where vaccines medicines are being tried tested in laboratories across the globe, the main mantra is ‘stay home’, ‘stay safe’. Ironically, the social constructs decipher a different connotation to the word ‘isolation’. Refraining from going out and staying at home, “social/physical’ distancing” is the new meaning of social responsibility as it works out ideal to keep oneself healthy and others too.

Being conscious about hygiene at the individual level builds up to the collective consciousness and in Durkheim’s words “Social solidarity”. Hence  clarion call for combating the Covid-19 war lies in true sense in our mindset, in being proactive, internalising the alarming situation around us and taking up our tasks sensibly in tiny ways. The “Stay home” principle ensures the safety of social organizations from families to villages to cities and finally nations. Hands that pray are the hands that need to be washed, to manage family, “work from home” and to handle the pandemic. Practising hygiene is surprisingly a new norm despite the age-old quote : Cleanliness is next to Godliness. After all, with the world crumbling, we are bound to believe ‘Health is Wealth’ which every affected nation has made it its mission to disseminate into its masses.

Thus, like many other structural functionalists, the Parsonian framework in the present pandemic situation has relevance to convince that the role of every subsystem is significant in its own unique way. The sooner we understand to “think global,act local”; the better it is to make the planet pandemic free soon.

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