The Co-Duties project compares responses to COVID-19 in three European countries (Norway, France and the UK) in order to gain new insights into how discourses of duty have been rediscovered and in cases reimagined in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project focuses in particular on the politics of lockdown in each nation and will produce both comparative and common insights into the interrelationship between duties and rights in the pandemic. In particular the project asks how and why individuals undertake duties in the name of the "greater good" and how their doing so may conflict with other ends. By studying how duties are argued for, undertaken, and in cases resisted, the project ultimately aims to demonstrate the importance of considerations of duty to contemporary understandings of collective action. No democratic system can survive without the willing contribution of its citizens to the greater good, be it through participation in elections, or via their upholding the civic norms and values by which the democratic community agrees to be bound together in the first place. But moments of social crisis challenge these norms: as COVID-19 has already demonstrated and the coming challenge of climate change mitigation will likely only reinforce. By providing new empirical and theoretical insights into the performance of individual duties in such circumstances, therefore, the project hopes to provide greater understanding as to what compels different people to act in the greater good. In so doing, the project will also lay the groundwork for further future study into the politics of "engagement", "obligation" and "responsibility" in democratic societies, at a moment when these are being actively reimagined in light of the twenty-first century's growing roster of collective action challenges.
This project will help us to better understand the relationship between individual duties and collective action in response to large-scale societal challenges. Grounded in a comparative (empirical and theoretical) study of the duties allocated to and undertaken by individuals during the COVID-19 lockdowns in Norway, France and the UK, the project analyses how duties were performed and understood during the time-limited period of the lockdowns.
To do this the project combines innovative empirical investigation with comparative analysis and theory-building. In each country we study three basic duty types – (vertical) civic duties, (horizontal) duties of humanitarian assistance, and (closed) associational duties to family and neighbourhoods – to explore what it is that accounts for individuals’ willingness to bear imperfect duties (duties of justice) beyond those they are required to perform by law (duties of justice).
The study of duties has to date been substantially under-examined relative to the study of rights. CO-DUTIES innovates by first explaining this “duties gap”, diagnosing its significance for political discourse (with respect to “duties of virtue” in particular) and then closing it through empirical research. Second, in a social science literature that mostly looks to rational accounts of self-interest and incentives to understand individual willingness to address “greater good” challenges, CO-DUTIES will apply the aforementioned insights into duty-bearing to frame a different way of approaching collective action problems. Finally, it develops a novel theoretical framework of “duties regimes” to this end.
The project thereby provides new academic insights and policy-relevant knowledge: (a) through its theoretical contributions to history, political science and sociology, (b) as part of the broader societal learning from COVID-19, and (c) for our understanding of how best to respond to other “greater good” challenges.