Quaran-Teens 2020: Classification During Quarantine

Quaran-Teens 2020: Classification During Quarantine

[The following students are high school seniors at “KTH School” taking International Baccalaureate Social and Cultural Anthropology. After their final IB exams were cancelled, they decided they would like to do an auto-ethnography of their life in coronavirus quarantine. They have collected data for three weeks (including photographs, screenshots of social media and virtual school, interviews, and personal reflections) and written anthropological analyses focused on different terms (communication, society, belonging, materiality, classification, the body, health, and conflict).]

By Phillip Kulubya, Daniel Baymiller, and Bryant Haley

Re-classifying the High School Senior Experience

For my peers and I, the coronavirus has deprived us of many things like a normal prom, high school sports seasons, and the IB exams which we have spent the whole school year preparing for. The cancellation of the IB exams affected our classes dramatically, especially Anthropology where we had been practicing constantly. Despite the surprising news, the exams’ cancellation has been overshadowed by the many changes that the coronavirus has created for us. We have had to get used to using online school tools like Microsoft Teams and Webex while dealing with the possibility of not being able to have a normal graduation. With our anthropology internal assessments done and no exams to study for anymore, we needed some other way to apply our knowledge of anthropology. This auto-ethnographic project has given us the ability to analyze the changes that have been made to our lives as well as the lives of our friends and family. The quarantine has forced us to either interview those in our direct vicinity or use technology to interview those who we can’t see in person. We have learned about how they feel about the quarantine as well the measures that they have taken concerning the spread of the coronavirus. Even though everyone has reacted to this quarantine in their own ways, I think that this ethnography shows our shared nervousness concerning both the present and the future. Classification has been extremely relevant to our ethnography because it has become apparent that the coronavirus has affected the places that we can visit as well as the ways that we are expected to conduct ourselves around other people.

Where can we go?

 On Monday April 6th 2020, I asked my family member, Mrs. K, one question related to the quarantine and pandemic. My question was, “can you explain your situation with Apple yesterday and how it has been affected by the current Coronavirus pandemic and quarantine?” I asked the questions in the room of Mrs. K. I used the Voice Memo app on my iPhone to record my questions and Mrs. K’s answers. Before doing this, I asked Mrs. K whether I could ask her a question for my anthropology class ethnography on the quarantine. I also asked her whether I could record the audio and use it for the ethnography. In response to my question, Mrs. K had told me that her phone had died. Mrs. K would have normally gone to the Apple store for help, but Apple Stores are closed due to quarantine. Mrs. K called Apple Care and worked with them for an hour to test the phone battery on Sunday. This did not work.  The Apple employees made an appointment for Mrs.K with a repair person. Mrs.K decided that she would get a new battery, and then she would transfer her information to a new iPhone 11. In Introducing anthropology, a commodity is defined as “anything that can be bought or sold” (Pountney and Marić 2015: pg. 270).  Due to the quarantine, it is becoming difficult for people to quickly buy things that they really need. Commodities have become harder for us to get because many places are closed and places like Apple are classified as non- essential. Even though Apple is not seen as essential and its closing makes sense, it is still a devastating thing because how important technology is to communication right now. If the quarantine was not happening, Mrs.K could have driven 5 to 10 minutes to the Apple store near us and bought a new phone.

On Tuesday April 7th, 2020, my question for Mrs.K was, “can you list and explain the ways that you have changed your behavior or actions due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the quarantine”? I did the exact same things that I did on Monday. In Introducing anthropology, classification is defined as, “a system of organization of people, places, and things shared by all humans in different ways in different cultures” (Pountney and Marić 2015: pg. 69).  Considering that many places are closed, it seems that there is a new classification system concerning where people can and cannot go. Our homes are now categorized as the best places to be. “People divide up the world into categories which are specific to their place and context” (Pountney and Marić 2015: pg. 52). Based on Mrs. K’s response, it seems that she has created her own classification system during this pandemic. I think that this classification system is used to determine which places are absolutely essential to her and which places she can currently live without. I think that it is also used to determine which places are extremely dangerous to her health. For example, she will not go to Kroger or the hairdresser anymore. She is fine with going to the bank. People now classify each other as health threats. This is shown by the fact that Mrs. K only goes to the bank at night because there are less people there at that time. This is also shown by the fact that Mrs. K wears gloves when she does transactions with other people in public.

The physical and social aspects of social distancing

From Monday April 6th to Thursday April 9th, I observed the quarantine culture of the S household. On Monday, I went on a walk with the mother of the household for around 25-30 minutes in the middle of the afternoon. During the walk, she explained to me that she was wearing a protective mask so that I am protected.  At one point in the walk, Ms. S and I spotted one of her neighbors in her front yard. As we got closer to our neighbor’s house, Ms. S started talking to her, complementing the Easter decorations in her front yard. I observed that during this conversation (using participant observation), our neighbor looked uncomfortable seeing Ms. S with the mask. Though, after Ms. S assured her that she was wearing it mostly for my sake, I saw that the neighbor seemed more comfortable. Here, participant observation can be defined as when a researcher participates in an observed culture. Through my analysis, this situation adequately represents the concept of boundary in both social and literal terms. As defined, boundary is the physical and/or imagined difference(s) between groups and individuals. The imagined boundary between Ms. S and I and the neighbor was observable through how, as I saw it, the neighbor was initially apprehensive to talk to us. Through our conversation, that boundary slowly eroded. However, the physical boundary between us all was maintained throughout our interaction. The boundary between Ms. S and I and her neighbor, by extension, represents a universal human trait: classification. Defined, classification refers to the method by which individuals use to characterize and understand the world around them.

How have others been affected by the changes?

For my data collection, I utilized unstructured interviews and I interviewed one of my parents and one of my friends as well. I gained their consent beforehand, and told them I would be using their data. The questions I asked were: “What do you think about the lockdown situation forced by the virus?” and “How will most if not all societies be affected by the outbreak?” My parents answer was: “The situation is unprecedented, I haven’t been through anything like this before and this will be something that you remember for the rest of your life”. The answer to the second question was “I think that they way everyone interacts with each other will be changed forever, everyone will have the memory of when they couldn’t touch anyone over fears of a virus”. For my friend, their answer to the first question was “This virus thing is crazy, I’m most upset over losing the best part of our senior year”. Their answer to the second question was, “I feel like people will be more hygienic, maybe regulations will change to be more sanitary somehow”.

Following the universal of how cultures change over time, this particular change happened extremely sudden, causing many people and societies to be forced to adapt quickly to a new life centered around the internet and work from home. This quick change messes up the daily rituals performed by people. Two theories of rituals are from Durkheim – in which ritual is a means to create social bonds and maintain social and moral order or social integration – and Malinowski – in which rituals help control emotions and are important because of psychotherapeutic quality (Pountney and Maric 2015, pg. 167). I myself have felt a loss of order, I feel as if my daily rituals have been disrupted and I am out of sync. The rituals performed to maintain social order are no longer occurring.


Meme from Infinity War: Gamora says to Thanos "You murdered half the planet!" Thanos' response is edited to say "A small price to pay 2.3 GDP growth in the third quarter."Through the application of classification, many young leftists on social media have created memes representing the economic responses by the status quo to the Coronavirus. Through the memes, an observer of young, leftist culture can comprehend how these leftists have derived social memory to “poke fun” at the current situation. This Avengers-themed meme, posted by “DLM” and seen by the author, represents this understanding.

Another meme, demonstrating shared knowledge and interpretation of the economic status quo, pokes fun of the argument that the stock market should be prioritized, by referring to it as “big line.”

An observer of the meme culture can further understand that between the economic status-quo and the young leftists, there is a great power asymmetry, and that the memes are microcosm that demonstrate the rejection of the free-market, capitalist hegemony. I observe that memes rely on shared political and economic classifications of the experience of coronavirus pandemic and quarantine.


From the proliferation of gloves and masks to the closing of Apple Stores, it is apparent that the coronavirus has altered what we consider to be safe and normal behavior.  It now seems that activities like visiting a bank or talking to a neighbor have become awkward or harder to do. Outside of the people that we live with, in-person interactions have been somewhat marred by the coronavirus. We either have to avoid other people or be careful when we are around other people. As a society, all we can do is follow the new rules that we have created for ourselves. Hopefully we will soon be able to return to a world where graduations or proms are not considered to be hazardous events.


Pountney, L. and Marić, T. (2015). Introducing anthropology. Polity Press.