Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Interactional Rituals: Covidiotism

Dániel Z. Kádár, Juliane House

Before we venture into a detailed analysis of interactional rituals and distance keeping, an interesting phenomenon worth considering is ‘covidiotism’ and its relationship with interactional rituals.

People react in different ways to social distancing, with some even creating their own interactional rituals to substitute those removed by social distancing. Many of these people have been popularly described in various media entries as ‘covidiots’ – a dangerously homogenising term. More specifically, in recent media reports, ‘covidiot’ is used as a derogatory expression to describe those people who, intentionally or otherwise, fail to adhere to social distancing requirements and flout (or, paradoxically, overenforce) interactional rituals. Thus, there is more to this complex term than meets the eye, and in this blog entry, we intend to differentiate between its various uses in the media from the perspective of interactional ritual theory. Let us create here our own ‘typology of covidiots’:

  • The Unruly Covidiot: This type of covidiot appears to be committed to continuing – and perhaps even overdoing – all the rituals that he followed before the pandemic. A typical example is a group of young lads congregating in a park on a Friday night. If they are checked for doing so by the police, they might steal a police vehicle as a rite of bravery, quite similarly to tribal rites of passage (this example is based on a real-life event that took place in London).
  • The Assertive Covidiot: This type of covidiot does not violate any regulations and appears to stay within the boundaries of the law by completely defying new social distancing rituals. On social media, one encounters numerous complaints about people who maintain they have a right to exercise outdoors, but they do so by straying too close to other people, without apologising or showing that they have any awareness of the interactional rituals of social distancing.
  • The Aggressive Covidiot: Interestingly, some people appear to be classed as covidiots because they become so obsessed with the new rituals of social distancing that they criticise or even attack anyone they feel has violated these rituals. A good example of this type of covidiot is a recent media report about a man who had verbally insulted other people in a queue because he felt that they had come too close to him.

Of course, these are only representative examples of covidiotism. In essence, this term is almost inseparable from the notion of interactional rituals, and with the relaxing of lockdown in many countries, we may well witness clusters of complex complaints in the media with people being labelled as covidiots.

The Research featured in the blog was supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Momentum Grant (LP2017/5)

Politeness, Impoliteness and Ritual by Dániel Z. Kádár
Politeness, Impoliteness and Ritual by Dániel Z. Kádár

About The Authors

Dániel Z. Kádár

Daniel Z. Kadar (D.Litt, FHEA, PhD) is Research Professor and Head of Research Centre at the Research Institute for Linguistics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He is author/editor ...

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Juliane House

Juliane House received her PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Toronto and Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Jyväskylä and Jaume I, Castellon. She is Pro...

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