New book explores the sociology of face masks

Owen Abbott, Vanessa May, Sophie Woodward, Rob Meckin and Leah Gilman have written a new book exploring the sociology of face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Almost overnight, face masks became one of the most visible, everyday symbols of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, most of us did not think much about face masks, or might have associated them with medical staff in operating theatres. But at some point in 2020, they became – for most people – one of the things we grabbed every time we left the house.

Masks were everywhere, and they quickly became a focus not just for new rules (when to wear a face mask, or who was exempt) but new social norms. Masks were mandated in certain situations by the government as an infection-control measure, but their significance quickly expanded beyond this. Wearing, or not wearing, a mask soon took on social meanings that went beyond the medical. 

For some people, masks became a symbol of care for others. And for other people, or in other situations masks were rejected as a symbol of political over-reach.

This book uses face masks to explore the sociological significance of masks and understand how this tangible representation of a global pandemic found its way into our lives, our judgements and our pockets.

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