Skip to main content

European Cities, Liberal Democracies and the Governance of Pandemics

Tuesday, June 7, 2022, 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm

The pandemic caused by the rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus has revealed impacts well beyond those linked to health. Indeed, it has established itself as what Mauss called a “total social fact”, that is, an event that affects every single aspect of society. In my lecture, I present some initial reflections on the myriad ways in which the pandemic will affect the State and the relationship between States and citizens as played out in spheres of everyday life. I begin with a brief historical overview of pandemics and the patterns, contradictions and lessons they have left, before looking at the crisis context in which the current pandemic is unfolding. Inspired by the classical contribution by Alberto Melucci to the macrosociology of what he called "information society", I will then take a look at the myriad ways in which the pandemic underlines, emphasizes and exacerbates a fundamental rift in the relationship between states and citizens by discussing risk, expertise, communication, de- and re-politicization and more. I conclude by asking if - beyond the liberal democracy vs autocracy dichotomy - the Post-Covid scenario may conduce toward a new social contract. Finally, I look to existing sociological work that might provide fruitful in moving forward to address this rift, and provide brief implications to issue related to local democracy and new problems in implementing social policies in European cities. The lecture will be based on a research program and a paper written together with Luca Alteri, Louisa Parks, Luca Raffini and published in Partecipazion e conflitto, n.1/2021.

You can attend this lecture in person without registration. If you would like to follow it online, on Zoom, please register here.


Tommaso Vitale is Associate Professor of Sociology at Sciences Po (Paris, France) where he is the scientific director of the Master "Governing the Large Metropolis" (Sciences Po Urban School), and a researcher at Centre d'études européennes et de politique comparée. He is also member of the scientific board of Délégation Interministérielle à la Lutte Contre le Racisme, l'Antisémitisme et la Haine anti-LGBT (DILCRAH), and CEE representative in the Board of Institut Convergences Migrations. He is co-editor of the peer-review Journal PArtecipazione e COnflitto. The Open Journal of Sociopolitical Studies. His empirical research has been organized around a main theoretical framework: a Weberian neo-structural sociology, not deterministic but attentive to structural contexts of opportunities at different scales, to explore the relation between social and spatial factors influencing forms of (Weberian) “community action”. Having been trained within a Weberian theoretical framework giving to the city a generative role structuring social, political and economic interactions, his research looks at community action, not as a form of solidarity but as a form of collective action not requiring a common identity. He took inspiration from the Weberian legacy to link structure and action, trying to develop what Italian scholars called “studi di comunità”, so to say a comparative approach to allow a dialogue between urban, political and economic sociology, as in the main Italian sociological tradition of Pizzorno and Bagnasco, or the last book of the American sociologist Peter Blau. Their Weberian approach to (inter)action and urban structure is not at all irenic, de-historicized, or intrinsically optimist as in many contemporary theories of “opportunities”. This framework irrigates his three research projects: 1) Roma agency, integration and upward social mobility; 2) the political sociology of associations and NGOs in urban societies; 3) the impact of urban social and spatial structure on electoral behavior.


Violetta Zentai is a cultural anthropologist with a PhD from Rutgers University (USA), and the Lead Researcher of the CEU Democracy Institute's Inequalities and Democracy Workgroup. She was co-director of the Center for Policy Studies at the CEU (2003-2020). She is also faculty member of the Department of Public Policy and visiting faculty at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology of the CEU. She was one of the faculty members designing and launching public policy MA level teaching at the CEU. She is engaged in research focusing on ethnic and gender inequalities, European equality policies, and debates on post-socialist capitalisms and social exclusion/inclusion. She is member of the supporting team of CEU's Open Learning Initiative (OLIve) which provides teaching and training services to refugees and vulnerable migrants in Europe. She has been active in the Hungarian women’s movement; she worked with MONA (Foundation for the Women of Hungary) for many years and she was member of the Expert Forum of the European Gender Institute in its formative period. Parallel to her academic engagement, she worked as expert with the Open Society Foundations for two decades in initiatives related to democratic local governance, equality mainstreaming, and rights based development.

*The event will be recorded. The edited recording will be shared on YouTube. In case you ask questions during the Q&A sessions, your image and voice could appear in the the video. By registering and attending to the event, you give your explicit permission for your image and voice to be used in the video recording of the event shared online. 

At Közép-európai Egyetem (address: 1051 Budapest, Nádor u. 9.) (“CEU” or the “University”) we place great emphasis on the protection of your personal information and compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If you would like to learn more on how we use the personal data shared with us, please, see our Privacy Notice here.