Pandemicracy and organizing in unsettled times

  • Josef Pallas
  • Barbara Czarniawska
  • Elena Raviola
Keywords: Covid-19, Pandemicracy, Public sector, Professions, Work


In modern times, the public sector has not been affected by events that have had the power to broadly challenge - and in many respects also reform - the capacity, functionality and sustainability of professions that support key parts of public activities thar form the core of our welfare infrastructures. Covid-19 pandemic has changed that. It has come to contest the resilience and endurance of large parts of the public sector far beyond the public health. Professions and employees within areas such as social services, family counseling, therapy, culture, education, migration, research, and many other part of provision of public services are experiencing dramatic and previously almost unthinkable challenges (Mazzucato & Kattel 2020). The media reporting and now also the first research reports (Banks et al. 2020; Lemieux et al. 2020; López-Cabarcos et al. 2020) testify of major adjustments and challenges that governments, public sector organizations and welfare occupations/professions have undergone to deal with the effects and consequences of the pandemic.

 Based on existing and emerging testimonies, we can already now conclude that the every-day working conditions of thousands of public sector employees have been challenged and in some cases even been thoroughly redefined. Expectations and demands on continuous and expanded provision of public services and goods have made the tasks and responsibilities of many of the public sector organizations and their employees to grow both in relative and absolute terms. Notions of emotional and at times desperate responses to the increased intensity, uncertainty, unpredictability as well as emotional stress, discomfort and even life-threatening working conditions are not uncommon in stories from different societal sectors (Lee 2021).

However, it should be said that most of testimonies and stories that has been gathered in popular as well academic texts and studies focuses on work performed by so-called front-line professions and occupations – mainly nurses, physicians and other health care professionals within primary and elderly care. But what has happed to working conditions of occupations and professions that operate in other parts of the public sector. How has the capacity, functionality and perseverance of teachers, social workers, pre-school personnel, public sectors managers and administrators, immigration officers got affected when their work and their organizations encounter the pandemic related challenges such as social distancing, hygiene routines, source control (munskydd) and other measures taken to manage the COVID-19 crisis?

In this chapter we describe a phenomenon we refere to as "pandemicracy" – the governance efforts related to the pandemics, and public sector employees' reactions to it. Being inspired and motivated by the seemingly expanding vocabulary of working ethos of public sector organizations (that now seems to include words such as sacrifice, solidarity, dejection and determination) we have collected work stories from people working in various parts of the Swedish public sector. These stories describe daily work in times of turmoil in a country that has been internationally deemed to be an exception in the way the pandemics has been managed. Indeed, Sweden has decided not to introduce a general lockdown, even if many other measures have been taken. But in Sweden, like in all other countries, there are medical, societal and economic effects of the pandemic that have a protentional to set a hallmark for future organization and governance (of work of) public sectors organizations and their members.


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7.1 Pandemicracy - organizing professional work in times of crisis and uncertain