Waba Kay Dor Mein – In the Time of the Pandemic

Surviving and reflecting during a global crisis

Vasl Artists’ Association is announcing a three month long social scientists’ mentorship program. The final product will be a social science anthology to publish the concept pieces/ research studies of writers selected for the program.

The theme of the publication is the Covid-19 pandemic.

Proposals can approach the pandemic in any way: the lockdown, the disease, distancing protocols, changed lifestyles, forced decisions, or any other way they want to treat the topic.

The proposal for chapter can be research-driven, empirical or conceptual or comparative. It can be grounded in any social science discipline, included but not limited to anthropology; economics; psychology; environmental science; urban studies; media studies; human geography.

Proposals for the medical study of Covid-19 virus, treatment, experiments and vaccine technologies are not eligible.

If your proposal is selected, you will develop it into a 5000 word concept piece/research study during a 3 month mentorship program. The language for submission is English.

An honorarium will be given to all selected writers.

Jurors for Social Science Anthology


Vasl hopes that by focusing on Covid-19 in Pakistan, the essays will generate a wider contextual discussion about long term implications of breakdowns and structural changes. The publication will increase clarity in understanding how disasters cascade, by illustrating how asymmetries embedded in ‘normality’ shape the fallout of the crises. As its outcome, it aims to strengthen knowledge production from local vantage points and draw forward learnings for the future through collective introspection.


Authors must:

  • Be under 35 years of age
  • Not have published a sole-authored book. Authors with chapters published in edited volumes are acceptable.
  • Be willing to commit to attending a three-day residency in Pakistan in August 2021 –we are still unsure if this will materialize because of the pandemic, but all authors have to agree to attend if it does
  • Be able to write their chapters in English
  • Be able to access internet to communicate with mentor, whether through email or online face to face platforms


The authors will be introduced and linked to mentors who will guide, suggest and advice on research development. An honorarium will be paid in the duration. Depending on the pandemic and vaccine availability, a 3-day residency may be held in August for the writers – Vasl will confirm when possible. The completed, approved 5000 word thought pieces/ research studies will be published in an anthology.



The Covid-19 case count in Pakistan seems to have plateaued and the graph is veering downwards. Mortality rates were significantly lower than anticipated, even after factoring in that many deaths were not reported as Covid-related deaths. Barring a renewed spike or a second wave, Pakistan seems to have managed to contain the scale of the pandemic.

As the wave recedes, it carries away much of the topsoil of consumption, growth, expanding markets, efficiency and economic mobility, leaving behind the subsoil which pedology calls Horizon B. What lies exposed in this substratum of society?

Globally, we witness crumbling welfare systems, unsustainable modes of production, unprotected labour, financially amputated governments, people’s fatalism and degraded value for human life. The pandemic has brought into focus global precariousness: the system runs based on the fundamental assumption that the system will continue to run. A few weeks’ pause necessitated by lockdowns has led to failing economies, contracting markets, revived protectionism, political conflict, and as some suggest, even a crisis of civilization.

In the immediacy of the pandemic, Pakistan scrambled to bolster its corroded medical infrastructure. It wrestled a spiraling economy with a pre-pandemic economic growth rate lower than even its population growth, and a perpetual debt financing crisis, to extract from it fiscal space for emergency cash transfers for the poorest people and assistance packages for industry.

In the short to medium term, these will probably stabilize with moderate improvement in health facilities and some progress towards health insurance or medical coverage is already underway. The pandemic will leave a longer term imprint, even if its outright impact is mitigated. This concept paper proposes to explore and reflect on the debates, dynamics and experiences brought to the surface by the pandemic.

It is now a humanitarian truism that disasters are experienced differently by different groups and exacerbate pre-existing inequalities. Those at the margins of governance power, and those at the centre of neglect and injustice in prior conditions, tend to suffer more during disasters and crises and bear unequal burden of its consequences. This anthology is based on the premise that calamities offer crucial vantage points for studying what otherwise festers in opaque foundations, and will continue to shape and fertilize societal conflicts well after the topsoil is back in place. It proposes localized knowledge production that traces the pandemic trajectory in Pakistan, while reflecting on how international debates and global discussions and dynamics have been mirrored within the country.

The project will result in two anthologies, probably well after the pandemic outbreak’s immediacy has passed. As such, it hopes to position itself in that moment where deliberation becomes possible. By generating a wider contextual discussion about long term implications of temporary breakdowns, structural changes both reversible and irreversible, it aims to draw forward learnings for the future through collective introspection.

Mentors for Social Science Anthology

This project is supported by Open Society Foundations