Doing paying during the Covid-19 pandemic

Discourse Studies 22 (6):720-752 (2020)
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Abstract

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected not only the health of populations but also their everyday social practices, transformed by orienting to risks of contagion and to health prevention discourses. This paper emanates from a project investigating the impact of Covid-19 on human sociality and more particularly the situated and embodied organization of social interactions. It discusses how Covid-19 impacts the design of ordinary actions in social interaction, how this is made publicly accountable by the participants orienting to the pandemic in formatting their actions and in responding to the actions of others. Adopting an ethnomethodological and conversation analytic perspective, the analyses focus on a particular social activity: paying. The organization of payments in shops and services has been affected by the pandemic, not only by official regulations, favoring some modes of payment over others, but also in how sellers and customers situatedly adapt their practices to imperatives of prevention. On the basis of a rich corpus of video-recorded data, which spans from the pandemic’s prodromes to and after its peak, we show how money transfer is methodically achieved – imposed, negotiated, and readjusted – while variously taking into account possible risks of contagion. Thus, we show not only how pandemics affect social interaction, and how prevention is incarnated in social actions, but also how, in turn, situated solutions implemented by people during the pandemic reveal fundamental features of human action.

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