Annual Report (2021)

Centre for Research on Pandemics & Society (PANSOC)

1. Short presentation of the center – research perspectives and main goals

PANSOC is an internationally innovative research center that uses social science approaches to understand the past and present effects of pandemics. Similar centers have appeared at several prestigious universities during the COVID-19 pandemic, but only PANSOC has members that have been researching pandemics for over 25 years using social science and historical perspectives. Most of the other pandemic centers have their origins in medical schools, are primarily concerned with biomedical challenges, and only examine recent infectious diseases outbreaks. The extensive expertise and unique perspective of PANSOC’s researchers enable us to advance the global scientific frontier and contribute to important public and policy debates.

The creation of the center is mainly due to OsloMet’s investment in five Centres of Research Excellence (CRE), as well as individual researchers’ efforts to secure external research funding in Norway (FRIPRO) and in the EU (ERC) since 2016, in cooperation with the R&D department at OsloMet. PANSOC is not a further development of the existing research groups, and pandemic studies were not a focus research field at OsloMet until 2021.

2. Research projects and funding applications

In order to build up PANSOC from scratch, it has been absolutely necessary to win external research funding. The center has received funding from the EU (MSCA) and two programs in the Norwegian Research Council (PANRISK: funded by the SAMRISK program, with a top score of 7 in all areas, and CorRisk: COVID emergency call). We have also succeeded in obtaining funding for a stay at the Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) at the Norwegian Academy for Science and Letters in Oslo from August 2022 to June 2023. During the latter project, 15 international researchers with a background in epidemiology, genetics, social sciences and history will study why Indigenous peoples are vulnerable to serious disease during pandemics. PANSOC is the first OsloMet group awarded a research stay at CAS. The selection of CAS research groups follows an extensive review process by international experts, which shows the outstanding international quality of PANSOC’s research.

PANSOC sent three applications for pandemic studies to Excellence pillars in the EU and Norway including MSCA (12 October 2021 deadline, with a researcher from the University of St. Petersburg, Russia), Young CAS Fellow (9 December 2021 deadline) and ERC starting grant (13 January 2022 deadline). We also sent one proposal for an EEA Grant, which was funded (in collaboration with ISPUP, Portugal).

3. Research team and institutional collaborations

PANSOC consists of 16 researchers/scholars with a diversity of international backgrounds, experience, gender and age. Only the head of PANSOC, Professor Svenn-Erik Mamelund, is permanently employed. The co-leader, Jessica Dimka (PhD in anthropology from the University of Missouri), came to OsloMet in 2019 as a MSCA fellow. With CRE and RCN funding, two postdoctoral fellows have been employed, and they come from the highly renowned University of Coimbra, Portugal (Margarida Pereira, a geographer, since May 2021), and the University of Oxford, England (Benjamin Schneider, an economic historian, since March 2022). PANSOC also has three master’s students, two from OsloMet’s master’s program «International Social Welfare and Health Policy» (Lara Steinmetz from the Netherlands and Carla Hughes from England) who are supported by stipends from CRE funds, and one history student from University of Southeast Norway (USN) (Christina Stylegar Torjussen). Our MA students have contributed to our academic activities including presenting at internal meetings, PANSOC webinars, conferences, and taking part in interviews with media and in podcasts. Our 3 MA students are expected to submit their thesis in the Spring of 2022.

An associate history professor from USN has spent her research time on pandemic projects in collaboration with PANSOC. Five researchers from the Work Research Institute and Consumption Research Norway at OsloMet, as well as two research assistants, have contributed to various projects.

Additionally, the growing profile of PANSOC has attracted guest scholars. A fourth year PhD student in demography from The European University Institute, Florence, (Hilde Orderud) is a guest researcher at PANSOC in 2021-22. For a week in December 2021, PANSOC was also visited by a guest researcher from the University of Roskilde (historian Mathias Mølbak Ingholt), and future visits are also planned by other international colleagues (e.g., Prof. in history Kaspar Staub, University of Zürich, who will stay for a week in May 2022).

Via the ongoing PANRISK-funded RCN project and the upcoming CAS-stay, PANSOC collaborates with the Pandemic Center in Bergen (Esperanza Diaz), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Birgitte Klüwer), PandemiX Center, the University of Roskilde (Lone Simonsen, Søren Ørskov, Mathias Mølbak Ingholt), and with researchers at the universities of Umeå (Åke Brännström), Zürich (Kaspar Staub), ISPUP, Portugal (Ana Isabel Ribeiro), Philadelphia (Megan Todd), Missouri (Lisa Sattenspiel & Taylor P. van Doren), California, Irvine (Andrew Noymer), Michigan (Siddharth Chandra), Arizona (Amanda Wissler, Gerardo Chowell-Puente), Northern British Columbia (Lianne Tripp), Alberta (Courtney Heffernan), Queensland (Katherine Kedzierska), Melbourne (Kirsty Short & Lauren Steele), Auckland (Heather Battles) and Otago (Michael Baker).

4. Research outcomes/activities

During 2021, PANSOC published 13 articles in internationally recognized journals (paper 1 below at level 2); gave 18 invited keynote speeches at international universities (16 talks, e.g. at annual Posthumus Conference in the Netherlands & a conference at University of Ottawa) and at the United Nations (2 talks on resp. COVID-19 and fertility and COVID-19 and indigenous peoples) and presented at a number of conferences; were interviewed several times by Norwegian and international newspapers (e.g. Der Spiegel), radio stations (e.g. National German Radio program post Deutchlandfunk Kultur), podcasts (e.g. Viten & Snakkis and Infectious Historians Podcast) and TV; and wrote 9 invited op eds (e.g. in Aftenposten and Morgenbladet). On 27 September 2021, the question “What can we learn from the history of pandemics and the Covid-19 situation,” specifically regarding mental health, was discussed in a panel conversation organized by OsloMet University library and with 3 panelists from PANSOC (Nan Zou Bakkeli, Carla Hughes, and Jessica Dimka).

The first report from the Norwegian Corona Commission was presented 14 April 2021. PANSOC contributed by delivering an invited report and the report cites several of our op eds and also scientific journal publications (e.g. article 9 in appendix 1 below). This shows that our work has had clear political impact also in a Norwegian context.

PANSOC began to organize a webinar series in spring 2021, which has had nearly 30 talks to date, given by international researchers with participants from most world regions. The presentations encompass the breadth of research by PANSOC’s members and our many global collaborators, showcasing work on the social, economic, political, and cultural impacts and aspects of past pandemics as well as COVID-19.

PANSOC organized and hosted the 2nd Norwegian Historical Demography Meeting (NHDM) 17-18 January 2022. The first NHDM was held in Trondheim 1-2 December 2019. The planned NHDMs in 2020 and 2021 were postponed due to COVID-19 but was held this time on Zoom. In total, 13 talks from colleagues across 6 universities in Scandinavia were held in 6 sessions. Carla Hughes, Christina Stylegar Torjussen, Jessica Dimka and Svenn-Erik Mamelund were PANSOC members presenting.

The outstanding quality of PANSOC’s junior researchers and leadership team have both been recognized in the last year. A PANSOC’s master’s student was named “Student of the Year” at OsloMet (Carla Hughes), and another student won the award for best presentation at a student and research conference in Bergen (Christina Stylegar Torjussen). PANSOC’s leader, Professor Mamelund, was also nominated for “Name of the Year in Academia” by readers of the newspaper Khrono.

5. Summary

During 2021 and to date, PANSOC has attracted some of the best international students and researchers doing social science and historical research on pandemics, sent applications to excellence pillars in funding entities, published many articles in top international journals, shared our research findings with the national and international public, and our research has had clear policy impact.

Papers published in 2021:

  1. Mamelund, Svenn-Erik, and Jessica Dimka (2021). “Not the great equalizers: Covid-19, 1918–20 influenza, and the need for a paradigm shift in pandemic preparedness.” Population Studies 75, no. sup1: 179-199 (level 2 journal, cited 2 times).  
  2. Klüwer, Birgitte, Kjersti Margrethe Rydland, Ida Laake, Megan Todd, Lene Kristine Juvet, and Svenn-Erik Mamelund (2021). “Influenza risk groups in Norway by education and employment status.” Scandinavian Journal of Public Health.
  3. Ingelsrud, Mari Holm (2021): “Standard and non-standard working arrangements in Norway–consequences of COVID-19.” Labour & Industry: a journal of the social and economic relations of work 31, 4: 387-404.
  4. Mamelund, Svenn-Erik, Clare Shelley-Egan, and Ole Rogeberg (2021). “The association between socioeconomic status and pandemic influenza: Systematic review and meta-analysis.” PloS one 16, no. 9 (2021): e0244346 (cited 6 times).
  5. Pereira, Margarida, Helena Nogueira, Augusta Gama, Aristides Machado-Rodrigues, Vitor Rosado-Marques, Maria-Raquel G. Silva, and Cristina Padez (2021). “The economic crisis impact on the body mass index of children living in distinct urban environments.” Public Health 196: 29-34.
  6. Diaz, Esperanza, Svenn-Erik Mamelund, Jarle Eid, Henriette Sinding Aasen, Oddvar Martin Kaarbøe, Rebecca Jane Cox Brokstad, Siri Gloppen, Anders Beyer, and Bernadette Nirmal Kumar (2021). “Learning from the COVID-19 pandemic among migrants: An innovative, system-level, interdisciplinary approach is needed to improve public health.” Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 49, no. 7: 804-808 (cited 3 times).
  7. Bakkeli, Nan Zou (2021): “Health, work, and contributing factors on life satisfaction: A study in Norway before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.” SSM-Population Health, 14 (cited 6 times).
  8. Ingelsrud, Mari Holm (2021): Ikke alle har mulighet til å jobbe fra hjemmekontor. Ramazzini. Norsk tidsskrift for arbeids- og miljømedisin, 28(1): 14-18.
  9. Mamelund, Svenn-Erik, Jessica Dimka, and Nan Zou Bakkeli (2021). “Social Disparities in Adopting Non-pharmaceutical Interventions During COVID-19 in Norway.” Journal of Developing Societies 37, no. 3, 302-328 (cited 3 times).
  10. Mamelund, Svenn-Erik, and Jessica Dimka (2021). “Social inequalities in infectious diseases.” Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 49, no. 7, 675-680 (cited 8 times).
  11. Dimka, Jessica, and Lisa Sattenspiel (2022). ““We didn’t get much schooling because we were fishing all the time”: Potential impacts of irregular school attendance on the spread of epidemics.” American Journal of Human Biology 34, no. 1, e23578 (first published online in 2021).
  12. Mamelund, Svenn-Erik (2021). “COVID-19: The Power of Historical Lessons.” American Journal of Public Health 111, no. 3, 405-406 (invited editorial).
  13. Pereira, M., Correia, G., Severo, M., Veríssimo, A. C., & Ribeiro, L. (2021). Portuguese Medical Students’ Interest for Science and Research Declines after Freshman Year. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 9(10), 1357.