Pennesi began collecting examples for a course she teaches on verbal art and speech play.
“I thought if I’m going to sit around and watch these videos, I might as well do something with it,” Pennesi said.
And then Western put out a call for professors to propose research projects for undergrads whose summer jobs had fallen apart due to the worsening pandemic.
She recruited second-year anthropology student Sydney Dawson to help her sift through online performances. The pair decided to focus on pieces referring to social and physical distancing, quarantine and isolation, hygiene and cleaning practices – everyday experiences during the pandemic – as well as social and political critiques that explicitly mentioned COVID‑19. They also deliberately sought out underrepresented voices to counterbalance trending videos that YouTube or TikTok suggested.
The result is an examination of 227 verbal art performances that offers an ethnographic record of how everyday life has changed over time during the pandemic, and how the focus shifted from initial confusion to political critique. Pennesi’s article, What Does a Pandemic Sound Like?, in the journal Anthropologica, was published this spring.
She and Dawson discovered that in March, 2020, as health-care systems in Europe were overwhelmed and cases were on the rise in North America, COVID verbal art conveyed the essential messages from public health officials and governments: stay home, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, keep your distance.
“Often amusing, these pieces helped normalize the idea that such actions were necessary and beneficial to everyone, while also acknowledging the inconvenience and negative feelings around the requirements and prohibitions,” Pennesi said.
— Read on news.westernu.ca/2021/05/research-sheds-light-on-sounds-of-pandemic/