Karen Kastenhofer: "The pandemic can open up new ways of doing things"

The pandemic has changed the way we live, but where do we go from here? Karen Kastenhofer looks at the numerous side effects of Corona that lie beyond medical research, and sees light in the darkness.

Where do we go from here? Is going back the only answer?

Dr. Kastenhofer, you said at the beginning of the pandemic last spring that you also saw the crisis as an opportunity to learn, for example by finally discussing uncertainty openly instead of behind closed doors. How do you see that today?

Digitisation has experienced a boost, we have gotten to know ourselves in a new way, maybe we even had a better work-life balance. The debate about climate change is in full swing, so there are also very real possibilities for a new beginning. Through the Corona crisis, different scientific branches, ie medicine but also the social sciences, have been mobilised to ask new questions and to work together globally in a new way. The negative sides of the pandemic should not be forgotten, but we should not stop asking: Where do we go from here? What has gained in importance, what has become less important for me, and maybe also for the world.

Do you think that the human aspect also plays a role for researchers?

Definitely. I think it is very important to ask other researchers where they see potential and how we can better prepare for the future, because we have a different view of the last two years than, for example, political decision-makers or representatives of the economy. There are many approaches to doing this, including international surveys. In Canada, there is a lot of accompanying research on the social impact of the pandemic, and we at ITA also recently conducted a survey on this for the Austrian Academy of Sciences. This Friday we are invited to a conference in Australia, where we will again receive new input from this part of the world, because the situation there was and is very different from ours.

What kind of experiences have you had with the global exchange on Covid-19?

I was surprised by the different approaches to the internet: We might think that everyone uses it in the way we do, but that is not the case. In Africa, for example, we received no response at all to our email invitation to participate in the survey; in Asian countries it was sometimes difficult to collect personalised email addresses from scientists. On the other hand, we were able to get a lot of feedback from scientists in Brazil. We also wanted to get a picture of the situation on the ground, rather than a strictly research based feed-back: What is needed, what is missing? Where were positive experiences? Our survey was also an exchange of experience and opinions.

What are you looking forward to in the near future?

I hope that we can expect a more profound willingness to change the way we deal with climate change. The Corona pandemic has framed this issue anew –we all had to try out new things and figure out how to restructure our everyday life. Through this we experienced a lot and learned a lot. We also got an idea of what profound cuts in everyday life, as we would be facing with further climate changes, could actually look like. This period of our history brought a lot of suffering and a lot of loss, that's for sure. But there was also something else, a kind of positive wreckage, and we have to hold on to that now, otherwise we will have forgotten it again soon.

Karen Kastenhofer is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW).


More info

The detailed project report on Kastenhofer's global Covid-19 survey with feedback from numerous countries can be read here.
Click here to go to the project page
For a short version on the project results: ITA Dossier "What opportunities does this pandemic offer" (PDF, 2 pages)

Karen Kastenhofer

is a science and technology researcher and holds a PhD in biology. Her field of work includes the reconstruction of different (techno)science cultures, the analysis of public controversies, and the discussion of possible governance models in the field of life sciences and biotechnologies. Kastenhofer is a research associate at the Institute of Technology Assessment of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). For her full bio, click here.