The Corona Diaries
Project Description

The Corona Diaries from Allegra were first recorded in April 2020 as part of the Corona thematic thread. The diaries, published once a day, spoke to many of the same themes and topics that those writing for Allegra at the time were also concerned with. These included the pandemic-induced changing relationship to the city and its public spaces (Stallone, 2020), overwork and under-appreciated invisible labor (Cook, 2020), middle-class privilege during confinement (Blanco Esmoris, 2020), the need to think about public good, social justice and solidarity in political terms (Billaud, 2020) and how anthropologists and social scientists more generally can reimagine our research (Kiderlin, Hjalmarson, and Ruud, 2020) and prudently assert our importance in public debate (Beyer, 2020). The diaries are now offered again, reimagined at the end of the year in a new format. The users can now play multiple audio files at once. Make their own meaning. Explore their own cacophony. To seven diarists – one per day of the week – Ian Cook asked to reflect on the following questions: How do we socially and culturally adapt to isolation? How do we experience empty spaces? Are new forms of solidarity emerging? How does it feel to have to work in hospitals, assembly lines or shops when others stay at home? What new questions are we asking ourselves about our parenting and being a child? What new forms of exploitation emerge from the increased digitalization of work? What new spaces of freedom have emerged? How can we understand social media’s role in the pandemic? How are our modes of communication changing in general? What role does humor play in our new shared experience of an absurd situation without precedent? It is quite intense to listen to these short but deep personal political performances each night before going to bed. For the most part, the method of audio diaries offers richness and depth in real time, capturing diarists' own narratives about their own experiences, and opening avenues to unexpected data (Bernays, Rhodes, and Jankovic Terzic, 2014). Though Cook called them ‘audio diaries’, some of the diarists and listeners preferred to refer to them as ‘podcasts’, which they certainly began to feel like when integrated into digital podcasting infrastructures like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and SoundCloud. These platforms made it impossible for our Kyrgyz Republic based diarist, Mohira Suyarkulova, to listen as all platforms were prohibited where she lived. However, now it no longer made sense to follow the traditional serial logic of podcasting. It worked well at the time as it allowed listeners to follow the daily changing updates in the lives of our diarists, with listeners receiving the audio files directly to their phone through RSS feeds. Eight months on, however, we are no longer bound by the need for linearity or timeliness. As such, whereas The Corona Diaries was originally ‘an exploratory, curated academic project’ similar to other pandemic audio projects, such as City Road’s brilliant ‘Listen to the City in a Global Pandemic’ (see: Rogers et al., 2020) it can now become something else; be given a new lease of life. Inspired by multimodal anthropologists’ call to create multisensorial, performative, and, inventive anthropological knowledge rather than only that which is textual, representative, and descriptive (Dattatreyan and Marrero‐Guillamón 2019), this reimagined Corona Diaries is noisy and messy. It allows the user to navigate their way through the five entries by each of the seven voices. In this sense, it embraces multimodal anthropology’s potential to create an ‘entanglement’ –“an adventure, a desire line through a data … [that] calls to mind excitement, risk, confusion and matters of the heart.” (Nolas and Varvantakis, 2018). More directly, Cook stole borrowed the idea from Claudiu Cobilanschi, a Romanian artist who did something very similar with Ceaușescu’s speeches (sadly no longer online). Listening, formed through the intersection of technology and culture, can also be diagnostic. Think of how doctors practice auscultation – listening to the internal sounds of the body, such as the lungs using the stethoscope. As Tom Rice argues, such listening practices are key to the production of medical knowledge, but can also destabilise it. Moreover, as he shows through hospital-based ethnography, such modes of listening require both a proximity and detachment. Doctors need to get close to and touch the patient but are also separated by both the instrument they listen through and the need for detached state of mind. This near-far dialectic takes place when we subscribe to updates about a deadly global pandemic by someone like virologist Christian Drosten. Listeners to such podcasts make an active choice to subscribe to reliable sober detached updates that are at the same time delivered through the proximate intimacy of the podcasting medium (Llinares, Fox, and Berry, 2018; Spinelli and Dann, 2019); they allow voices into their head, which are transduced by the technological apparatus of the headphones. Cacophonic Meaning-Making collects audio diaries that aim to engender a different sort of listening. One that invites listening with an added layer of agency. Not only a ‘listening to’ the audio diaries, nor only a ‘listening in’ to the lives of the diarists, but also a type of ‘listening for’ – a ‘listening for’ in which listeners can make their own meaning through digitally-enabled combinations of voices recorded at different moments during the first suffocating lockdown. Stop making sense. Start making noise.

Humanities Influences
Contact Infomation: First name
Ian M.
Contact Information: Last name
Contact Information: Position title
Programme Director / Research Fellow
Contact Information: Institutional affiliation
Central European University
Contact Information: Email address
cooki [at]

Budapest, Hungary