Course: COVID-19 in Poor Neighborhoods – The Global North and Global South Compared

Course Elements

The main course element is block seminar via Zoom from 28.03.2022 – 01.04.2022.
The course link will be distributed to participants via email on 02.09.2022. It will likely be:


  • You need to participate in the first session (dates and times, download full pdf).
  • You need to register for the course by sending an email to Iwona Wieczorek ( with the following data by Monday 28.03.2022, 18.00 CET – note that registration counts as incomplete, if any data are missing:
    • Course name
    • full name (as stated on your student ID)
    • Matrikel-Nr.
    • subject you are enrolled for (e.g. sociology, urban planning)
    • study phase (Bachelor or Master)
    • TU (!) email address (note that we will only communicate with you via your official TU university email address)
  • The course is in English, so your English needs to be good enough to follow the course.
  •  Please also note that due to lack of staff and time, we are not going to answer to any organizational questions via email – they will be discussed in the first session.

General Topic “COVID-19 in Poor Neighbourhoods”

The course is embedded into a larger project that will be conducted mainly in Germany, Botswana and Indonesia in 2022/2023 but will involve other project partners from the Global North and the Global South, most of whom will visit Germany in 2022 (for the aims of this specific course, see section “Aims of the Course” on page 2). The overall project addresses the following issues (for a detailed outline, see next section): What are the economic, social and technological/digital consequences of the Corona Crisis on poor neighbourhoods in the Global South as compared to the Global North and how can they be overcome? Using the example of food supply and food retailing, the project will reveal the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic both on (1) inhabitants and (2) businesses in poor neighbourhoods and show, if and how (3) rural and urban communities are entangled, (4) digital infrastructures can be and are used in social and economic life as countermeasures for the crisis and (5) how the Global North can learn from the Global South and vice versa. In doing so, project will not only contribute to decolonizing social science research but also provide road maps for public policy options and formulations relating to disaster and social assistance management.

Objectives and Innovative Aspects of the Overall Project

Although Europeans are starting to hope that the Covid-19 pandemic might be over soon due to effective vaccination and the disease becoming endemic, on a global scale, this is far from true. Regardless, the Covid-19 pandemic can only be overcome in the long term, if two prerequisites are met: Due to the international division of labour and global value chains, the crisis needs to be addressed on a global scale. In addition, societies can only become resilient against pandemics, if not only the pandemic itself but also other major societal challenges are addressed, namely poverty both within societies and on the level of the world system. Based on these premises, we focus on the economic and social consequences of the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in poor neighbourhoods in in the Global South as compared to the Global North. The Covid-19 pandemic seriously endangers people’s lives (health risk). Some of the best means of slowing down or even preventing the spread of Corona were introducing travel restrictions, physical distancing,
contact reduction and working from home.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has been limiting people’s movement in physical space, socio-economic interaction has become stagnant. In consequence, there is a strong tradeoff between health risks and other socio-economic risks: A lock-down implies shutting down the economy which in turn will rob people of their means for livelihoods. This becomes no more apparent than in food supply and retailing: As people need to eat, a lock-down of food retailers might result in food shortages. Moreover, if people do not earn money, they also cannot buy anything, including food. Economic shut-downs thus have increased the need for food aids and other forms of social assistance which (at least in the Global South) are often accompanied by mismanagement, maladministration and corruption. In addition, while online ordering of food delivery is viewed as part of essential services in some Global South countries, digital “street vendors” face the risk of harassment or racism as hygiene and service quality are questioned.

All in all, these food-related consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic might literally result in starvation and thus not only produce a different type health risk but also result in an economic crisis and social conflicts. This is true especially for poor people because they usually have lesser or no access to adequate health care, often have manual jobs which require close contact and do not have enough savings to buffer even a week of income loss. This project will therefore focus on poor urban neighbourhoods, including their relationship to rural neighbourhoods (rural-urban connections), as in countries in the Global South, economic shut-down additionally results in a crisis of de-urbanization as those having piece and manual jobs in urban centres are forced to go back and depend on the limited resources in their respective villages – and also may further spread the virus. The crisis and related government regulations affect both local businesses and everyday people (= consumers). As physical spaces become limited by the Corona Crisis, an often suggested idea for reducing the negative impact of Corona is digitalization, e.g. online trading and home office. However, digitalization, too, does not only vary between countries but also strata of the population including increment of digital divide.

It is therefore unclear whether or not the Corona Crisis would increase socio-economic digitalization. We will analyse how social interactions, everyday life and the livelihood of both inhabitants and businesses (especially street vendors) in poor neighbourhoods have changed and if and how digital infrastructures can be and are used in social and economic life as countermeasures for the crisis. How the Corona Crisis is handled and what effects it has strongly varied between countries and world regions. Currently, most analyses focus on the wealthy countries of the Global North. If one neglects the poor countries of the Global South, one does not only neglect the effects of the pandemic on most parts of the world population but also risks a backlash in countries which have already successfully mastered the crisis. This backlash might be caused by international travel and can go two ways: Many Global South countries strongly depend on tourism from the Global North countries. The Global North countries’ economy strongly depends on global value chains. This is especially true for food production, as most countries from the Global North import large parts of their food from the Global South.

Aims of the Course “Covid-19 in Poor Neighbourhoods –
the Global South and Global North Compared”

Against this backdrop, this course aims for the participants learning about their mutual countries (both in general, and about the poverty, food markets, digitalization and the effects of the pandemic). The aim of the workshop is getting an overview of the specifies of the respective countries as well the current situation in order to start a discussion, what type of questions we should ask. In order to do so, the 5-day course is organized around daily topics – namely: Introducing the country, poverty and poor neighbourhoods, the organization of food markets, digitalization and the Covid-19 pandemics. Each day, lecturers from different countries will introduce the situation in their respective country by giving a 5-15 minutes talk in which they answer a set of questions (see section “daily topics” on page 3ff.), followed by a short discussion and a summarizing discussion. At the end of the day, we will discuss results.