Spreading stuff in families, workplaces, and other networks

Lock Down Smarter, Not Harder” (DANIEL REEDERS 24 AUGUST 2021) is a really great article by a very clever friend.

Of course, as soon as I read Daniel’s original tweets on this, my brain started thinking about the way dance steps/styles travel between communities. Dance steps are units of meaning, ways of communicating ideas, who we are, and what we value. In Australia our local lindy hop scenes are separated by huge distances (the two closest scenes are a 3 hour drive apart; most are ~1000km apart), so they tend to have distinct local flavours, even with The Internet. We can think of these as functioning the way a workplace does. For many of us, these are our workplaces. Our germs and dance steps circulate within that local community, which expands into our homes and family circles.

When we travel to meet each other and dance together at exchanges, we literally exchange a whole bunch of things. Dance moves, strategies for preventing sexual assault, hospitality, songs, germs. We make jokes about things like ‘exchange flu’ or ‘Herrang flu’, but this is precisely how covid works: we move out of our own bubbles (local networks) and interact with people from other networks. Boom, new dance steps, new musical trends, new germs.

Daniel’s article does some fantastic work explaining why each local network is different.

Estimating transmission rates depends on understanding the network landscape, and that’s exceptionally difficult to map in real time. You can’t do it using the abstract mathematical models that dominate our public debate.

You and I, lindy hoppers, could do a very good job of explaining the internal relationships of our dance communities. The number and types of classes and parties. The formal dance troops gathering regularly to practice. The casual ‘sessions’ where people get together to jam and practice. Regular live music gigs where we interact with nondancers, venue staff, and musicians. Friendships. Romances and hook ups. Employer/employee gigs. After-dancing snack spots. And so on.

When I was doing my doctoral research, a big chunk of it was ethnographic mapping of local and global dance scenes (pre fb and youtube). To get an accurate picture of how a scene worked, I had to do participant-observation, and then have community members engaged in the ‘mapping’ process. I went from very big survey samples, to a series of smaller focus groups and discussions. Because each human is different, and each local community reflects not only the society in which they function, but also the particular dynamics of each local scene.

If I went in with the assumption that every local scene relied on live bands for social dancing, I’d have no way of describing places like Seoul. If I went in with the assumption that every scene had only male-female dance partnerships, I’d miss… every single dance scene that actually exists 😃
The way lockdowns are enforced in Australia at the moment, there is the assumption that every local community works in the same way. This ‘way’ reflects a particular type of family and culture: white, middle class, suburban, patriarchal.

As Daniel says, the structures within a local network are even more complex than a dance scene. Particularly migrant, outer-suburban communities. People taking turns bringing elders food. Sharehouses where everyone works at least 2 jobs in an ‘essential’ industry. Crowded apartments where more than one family share a shower, kitchen, and common areas. Informal childcare arrangements. And so on.
In the white nuclear family model where four people live in one house in the relative isolation of a suburban house, the father/husband goes to an office job, and the mother/wife stays home to look after the kids. This fits very nicely with the lockdown model. You can order people to work from home, to order groceries online, and stay home together, getting some sun in the garden every day.

Extended family networks don’t look or act like this. So they need different models. Curfews, cops on corners, and other draconian lockdown features won’t (and can’t) stop these people meeting.
The truly interesting part of Daniel’s article is where they point out that a relatively limited number of germs circulate within a smaller network. Even if you’re caring for nanna, living in a crowded house, or going dancing every week, practicing with your buddy, you’re only interacting with a set number of predictable people.

The difficulty comes when you go to work. In workplaces we see a number of the contained networks overlap. People from different networks interact and share germs. And not just on a one-to-one basis, where one father-worker shares their germs with another father-worker and his nuclear family. Boom. Exponential sharing.

In a dance scene, this might be a dance class where not only does everyone learn the new dance step from their partner, but everyone learns how to dance with a million other people. ‘Learn how to dance with’ = become more open to sharing and learning ideas (both physical ideas and creative ideas). Then they get onto the social dance floor and this sharing of moves and movement goes superexponential.

If workplaces are where smaller networks interact, then workers need safer workplaces:
– Shorter shifts, so they are exposed for less time;
– Better pay, so they need work only one job, and at that job for fewer hours (ie 8 hours a day);
– Paid sick leave, and leave for testing (or on-site testing) so they can go get those covid tests;
– Job security, so they aren’t fired or lose income if they miss a shift.
But none of these things are present in casualised work, or workplaces that have been de-unionised.
As a sort of extension of my doctoral work, I’ve found that a top-down response to sexual assault and harassment in a dance community is highly ineffective. Simply having a code of conduct where organisers lay down the ‘don’t rape people!’ rule does not prevent sexual assault.

Again, if we want to control a negative factor, we need to get highly specific, we need to give individuals the power to make decisions about their own lives and actions. Rather than a top-down, blanket order to ‘stop touching each other!’ we need to give people the freedom to avoid contact in ways that preserve their local support networks (families, or peer groups), and even more usefully _use_ their local networks to spread information, resources, and support. The agility of the Sikhs delivering meals safely. The authority of an aunty putting teenagers to work. The collaboration of girlfriends stepping in to divert a creeper from a new dancer. And so on.

Capitalism, patriarchy, however you like to think about these bigger, authoritarian hierarchies, are bad for people’s health.

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