Quaran-Teens Class of 2021: Covid’s Impact on Social Relations

Quaran-Teens Class of 2021: Covid’s Impact on Social Relations

[The following students are high school seniors Class of 2021 at “KTH School.” As part of their International Baccalaureate Social and Cultural Anthropology class, they conducted a collaborative visual auto-ethnography of their experience of hybrid schooling from August to December 2020. Each group focused on a particular conceptual theme to analyze in the blog.]

By: Kewe Chen, Cristian Gonzalez, and Kortni Owens

Human culture is made up of varying complex social relationships found in every social group around the world. Social relations are any relationships between two or more individuals in a larger network of relationships and involves an element of individual agency. Many anthropologists believe that the most significant way in which social relationships are organized is through kinship, or system of how people are related to each other (family and relations). Recently, the entire world has been forced into unprecedented situations, creating new challenges for us all. Social relations with friends, peers, coworkers, were halted as the world shut down. Through these challenges, our school has worked to offer a choice for students: to choose between returning to school and participating in classes online. In person, students are required to remain 6 feet apart at all times and wear a mask. Many precautions have been added like wiping down tables, limiting classes to 2 a day, and eating lunch with advisories. The challenges extend to online learning as it is difficult to stay engaged with the online barriers such as distractions, technical issues, and more.

Figure 1: Photo by Author.

The Formation of New Rituals

Figure 2: Screenshot of recent call logs, with each color representing an individual to maintain privacy. Photo by Author.

One of the biggest changes created from Covid-19 is the social interactions between individuals as we all have to wear masks and maintain social distancing, making it hard to communicate and form social relations as normal. Covid safety guidelines have prohibited many of the activities that aid the formation of said relationships such as hanging out with friends in public. Recently, after making the decision to switch to online learning to protect myself and my family from the virus, I realized that I barely talked to my friends because I never saw them, as compared to seeing them every day before, and communication was hindered. As a result, my friends and I agreed to facetime, which is a form of face-to-face conversation with someone. over the internet using the mobile app FaceTime. at about the same time every week, creating a new ritual between us, which are symbolic actions that help people physically express their beliefs and values and are found in all cultures throughout time and around the world. As Malinowski’s theory (Pountney and Maric, 167) about rituals said, rituals help control emotions and are important because they help to pull people together to be calm and centered, and by always making sure to always communicate and check up with those around me, it made the relationships I had stronger, which is especially needed during these difficult times. It felt extremely good to be able to talk through my feelings and listen to what others were experiencing as well. In addition, another new ritual that I have experienced was being able to spend more time with my family, specifically, always making sure to eat dinner together every night. This structured event promoted a sense of community, as my family and I have a lot more bonding time to talk through what each of us did every day and even participate in helping and learning how to cook some traditional Chinese foods, making this experience very valuable.

New Emphasis on Kinship

Personally, my family and I have become closer through the new ways of working and schooling from home, and on October 13th, I made the switch to online learning in order to protect myself and my family members from exposure to COVID. My maternal grandparents are very influential as we are a matrilineal family. This means the authority passes down through my mother’s line. (This does not align with external views from most of Western society). The week before I switched to online learning, my grandparents expressed to me that I needed to stay home from school if I wanted to be able to see them. Of course, their safety is my priority, and I decided to switch. Fast forwarding to this November, I tried to do everything in my power to see my grandparents and cousins during Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I received a presumptive positive test result, meaning I had tested negative for COVID 19, but had another coronavirus. I called my grandmother, and she was very sad to hear the news. I could hear my younger cousin in the background, talking about how excited she was to eat. In my family culture, familial ties and bonding are the most important thing. This year has put a strain on it but has also allowed us to grow closer and appreciate the time we did spend together more. Kinship can be in the form of social kin, blood ties, or marriage which is present in every culture, and in turn, I think my experience with my family and the importance of kinship can be related to universally.

Figure 3: Photo of my dad’s virtual birthday party on Zoom projected on the TV. Photo by Author.

Impacts on Personal Identity

Over that past couple of months people have been forced into a way of learning that they may not enjoy. Hybrid learning is a type of learning that allows students to be taught virtually if they choose to or if they must. It is the form of learning that everyone, whether that like it or not has, has become accustomed to. The problem with this form of learning is lack of identification and social relations. Identification is important as it allows for people create a sense of belonging for you. Social relations can be ordered by identities; therefore it is important to understand the way people see you and how you see yourself during a time where many of us are separated. At the beginning of the pandemic my agency or free will was low because my choice to stay in person was not available. This in turn changed my identity, the qualities that define you, around and made me an online learner. Moreover, near the beginning of the pandemic in May, my sister tested positive for Covid-19. This came as a surprise as they were very few cases being announced at the time, especially in the city we live in. Because of this my sister was told to self-quarantine for two weeks in a secluded area. Not only was this difficult for her but it was hard for us as a family as well. Her sense of belonging was being sheltered in an area from us in order to keep

Figure 4: Photo by Author of author’s covid competent card.

us safe. A social relation is a relationship between two or more individual’s in a large network often involving individual agency. During my sister’s quarantine, not only did it feel like she wasn’t there, but her social relationship with us was being attacked. Her agency, or her ability to have free will, was low. She did not have a choice, but to stay enclosed and remove her sense of belonging. Her identity as a member of our family and a healthcare worker were something that was maintained and even compelled. This was because of her lack of social relations during a two-week period. Furthermore, once we learned of her positive test, I got tested for antibodies and learned that I was exposed to Covid-19 at some point before June. This allowed me and my sister to identify as part of the covid-competent population (patients who have recovered and developed immunity to the disease).

Figure 5: Photo of sign posted at school. Photo by Author.


Throughout these unprecedented times, social relationships have been significantly impacted, whether it be with new rituals, the relationship of one’s kinship, or personal identity, they seem to all have been challenged. This ethnographic approach used is an example of how the recording of a culture or society is important in identifying and analyzing this unexpected occurrence. Specifically, this is a visual autoethnography, a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and writing to explore anecdotal and personal experience, where “auto-ethnography differs from ethnography not in kind, but in the degree of self-reflexivity and focus on oneself” (Luvaas, 12). Furthermore, in auto-ethnographies, “…self-reflexivity is a mechanism for creating a more honest, situated, and grounded form of social scientific research” (Luvaas, 12). We chose this more honest and approachable form of ethnography which allows us to have direct insight into people’s lives in an unprecedented situation like this one.


Luvaas, B. (2016) Street Style: An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging. Bloomsbury Publishing.

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