The situation in France (may 2020)
Lockdown was announced in France by the President of the Republic on the evening of 16 March 2020. Travel has been restricted to what is strictly necessary: food shopping, medical care, outings for individual sports activities and for canine hygiene for a maximum of 1 hour at less than 1km and work for certain trades. Each trip had to be justified by a certificate. Lockdown was lifted on 11 May, accompanied by a recommendation campaign on hygienic « barrier gestures » and social distancing. The borders remain closed and the second round of municipal elections have been postponed. Today we can travel in France but the University keep closed.
The impact on my work
This period from March to July was a period of finalization of my research field in Brittany with planned trips to several cities (Concarneau, Brest and Rennes) for interviews and consultation of archives. My research fieldwork in Pays de la Loire was due to begin in April with a trip to Nantes and the consultation of archival fonds at the Loire-Atlantique departmental archives. I was also to continue my research at the Centre des archives du féminisme (Center of feminist archives) in Angers, where I live. I have transcribed all the interviews already carried out and I will soon have completed the analysis of the archives consulted. My only possibility of moving forward now is the reopening of the departmental archives of the Mayenne on May 25. I have no visibility over the other archive centers.
This pandemic has not only impacted the last few months but also the development of my future fields. Witnesses may be reluctant to meet and wish to wait until the pandemic passes. Virtual interviews do not generate the same interaction, and this is not accessible to all the people I have to interview who are over 60 years old. It will also prevent me from accessing personal archives. I am currently working on an interview protocol that will ensure the safety of activists and my own, but it will involve more travel, and interviews spaced out, which will further slowdown my work from the start of the academic year.
The experience of lockdown
I’ve been confined alone in a small flat. The first week I was unproductive. I told myself that lockdown was an opportunity to reflect on the impact of my work rhythm on my health. I wanted to take the time to think about a caring attitude towards myself during less productive times for two reasons. First, I knew that the lockdown would be long and that I needed to keep myself motivated and mentally healthy. Second, it was in line with my thoughts on the decline in consumption, my propensity to over-productivity, the functioning of research, and the stress and precariousness that this functioning brings with it. I only worked in the morning and I only did « what I felt », what came. I gained considerably in inner peace and energy. For the next two weeks, I was highly motivated. All I could think about was the thesis, from morning to bedtime. I was in a world apart, very productive again with lots of new ideas and advances. Then I got exhausted and couldn’t work anymore. I was going around in circles and wasn’t motivated by anything, not even walking outside. This happened at the beginning of the 2nd month of confinement. I lost a member of my family and it was even harder to get back to work. I started meditating again and listened to a lot of podcasts on personal development. I put the priority on my well-being, especially since I questioned myself a lot about the meaning I was giving to my work. Today, I have found a work rhythm that is in line with my physiological needs. Every day, I give a little time to personal development and to thinking about the impact and the stakes of my research. I have gone through a crisis of meaning. It wasn’t the first time, but it had never been so strong.
The measures taken by my university
I teach two groups in the second year of bachelor’s degree. The courses were completed by distance learning. I had to adapt the evaluation methods while doing my best to encourage my students to keep up the pace and feel good in spite of the situation. The university does not reopen to students until September. The exams are done at a distance. The research laboratories and offices remain closed with exceptions for administrative staff and directors. The university library has set up a system for students to come and pick up books: books are returned on trolleys outside and they can pick up books by appointment with a 30-minute time limit. For doctoral students another system has been put in place. We have been able to register to have a work table in the library throughout the day. Each doctoral student has a table number in a dedicated space, with the obligatory mask and hydro-alcoholic gel at their disposal. It is possible to circulate in the floors for books but there is a surveillance on the respect of the barrier gestures. Finally, on the side of thesis funding, the Minister of Higher Education and Research has announced a possible extension of doctoral contracts. However, there is no visibility on the financial means. My laboratory has sent a message to doctoral students to find out who would like to benefit from a contract extension and why. There will not be enough money to extend all the contracts, so priority will be given to the most justified requests and to the requests of doctoral students in their 3rd year. I am talking about the situation at the University of Angers, which is not the same everywhere in France. Some university libraries in other cities have not yet reopened for doctoral students and there does not seem to be a common measure for the extension of doctoral contracts. The situation is still unclear for doctoral students who are not funded for their research. It is difficult for temporary lecturer doctoral students who are no longer paid and/or who find themselves with a greater workload. But I can only speak here of my own situation. This pandemic reveals even more the inequalities between doctoral students, between students, between precarious and statutory positions, etc. It also raises many questions about how to continue research. Today, I am taking the time to do what I have been putting off until now, I ask myself every day what impact and meaning each of my actions has.