On the syndemic nature of crises: A Freeman perspective

G. Dosi, L. Soete*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In this paper we draw a parallel between the insights developed within the framework of the current COVID-19 health crisis and the views and insights developed with respect to the long term environmental crisis, the implications for science, technology and innovation (STI) policy, Christopher Freeman analyzed already in the early 90′s. With at the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic entering in many countries a third wave with a very differentiated implementation path of vaccination across rich and poor countries, drawing such a parallel remains of course a relatively speculative exercise. Nevertheless, based on the available evidence of the first wave of the pandemic, we feel confident that some lessons from the current health crisis and its parallels with the long-term environmental crisis can be drawn. The COVID-19 pandemic has also been described as a “syndemic”: a term popular in medical anthropology which marries the concept of ‘synergy’ with ‘epidemic’ and provides conceptually an interesting background for these posthumous Freeman reflections on crises. The COVID-19 crisis affects citizens in very different and disproportionate ways. It results not only in rising structural inequalities among social groups and classes, but also among generations. In the paper, we focus on the growing inequality within two particular groups: youngsters and the impact of COVID-19 on learning and the organization of education; and as mirror picture, the elderly many of whom witnessed despite strict confinement in long-term care facilities, high mortality following the COVID-19 outbreak. From a Freeman perspective, these inequality consequences of the current COVID-19 health crisis call for new social STI policies: for a new “corona version” of inclusion versus exclusion.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104393
Number of pages10
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Syndemics
  • Impact of the COVID-19 health crisis
  • Long term environmental crisis
  • Science
  • Technology and innovation policy
  • Education and distant learning
  • Impact of crises on social and inter-generational inequality


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