New Common - Elbow bump - Margriet Sitskoorn

The corona crisis urges us to look for a new ‘commonality’, a new together


The coronavirus crisis is still unprecedented. Nothing will be normal for quite a long time. In this light, a group of fifty Tilburg University scientists present a new concept: 'the new common', in which the word 'common' refers to a public collectivity and communality.

By Emile Aarts, Hein Fleuren, Margriet Sitskoorn and Ton Wilthagen
This article first appeared on

What started as an incident on a Chinese cattle market grew into a real pandemic. After the first outbreak in March, the government took control and announced the first coronavirus measures. This was mainly about social distancing and how to act in case of complaints. It soon became clear that the discussion focused on the effects of the crisis on health care and on curbing the spread of the virus. Television and radio programs were filled with virologists, epidemiologists, IC experts, and other physicians who shared their valuable insights with the public. A coronavirus dashboard was developed to closely monitor the spread of the virus.

After an initial peak in the number of infections and the number of deceased coronavirus patients in April, it seemed that the virus was reasonably under control towards the summer. However, it was constantly pointed out that a possible second or even third wave could follow. Currently, the number of infections is rising again.

The coronavirus crisis will have enormous and possibly lasting consequences

It is slowly becoming clear that the coronavirus crisis will have enormous and possibly lasting consequences, not only on our health, but also on society in a broad sense. Consider the increasing unemployment; the sharp contraction of sectors such as aviation, culture, catering, and recreation; growing nationalism and protectionism between countries; large-scale loneliness; declining solidarity between generations; sharpening of the contrast between rich and poor; and disastrous consequences for the weak and dependent members of our society. A vaccine is not going to solve all these problems (see SCP, 2020).

Premier Mark Rutte previously introduced terms such as the 'new normal' and the 'social distancing society'. It is not in keeping with the expectations that there will be a new normal in the short term. Nothing will be normal for quite a long time. Things in daily life will be unpredictable for a long time, and for the time being, things will not or never go back to normal. It is understandable that people feel insecure, worried, and even depressed about this, as various studies show (EenVandaag opinion panel, 2020).

The new together, better than the old

That is why it is urgent that the humanities and social sciences contribute to a new perspective. What is needed is an optimistic and forward-looking view of how we can tackle the causes and consequences of the current crisis collectively and in an innovative way. Analyzing and understanding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic requires insights from many disciplines: cultural, economic, legal, philosophical, psychological, sociological, digital-technological, and theological.

We have to look for a new 'commonality', for new forms of togetherness, solidarity, and participation based on a broader notion of prosperity. The ambition must be that this new commonality becomes better rather than worse than the old commonality. After all, the old way in which we had organized society brought us into this crisis. The above-mentioned problems predate the coronavirus outbreak and are now being exacerbated. The current crisis is an ecological system crisis that has subsequently led to a health, an economic, and a social crisis.

The New Common

Together with a group of fifty Tilburg University scientists, we refer to this new concept with the term 'the new common', in which the word common refers to a public collectivity and communality. The first findings and visions are contained in a book with the same title: 'The New Common: How the Covid-19 Pandemic is Transforming Society' (Aarts, 2020). In this book, which appeared on September 19, the researchers provide insight into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of the social sciences and humanities in all kinds of social areas.

It is clear that society and our planet will become even more vulnerable if we do not renew and change

The contributions to the book make it clear that the path to a new and better commonality will not be easy. There is a great need to take that path, but besides opportunities, there are also many threats and uncertainties. For example, the digital transformation can lead to significant improvements in health, the environment, and political participation, but the same technology can also come at odds with human rights.

More emphasis on the local

Greater emphasis on the local, both in policy and in production and services, can also contribute both to a new and integral collectivity and to strengthening sustainability developments. People find themselves at the crossroads of all kinds of social systems and are currently being treated partially, fragmented, and sub-optimal in roles as employee, parent, client, patient, consumer, and so on (De Sousa Santos, 2002). However, the question is whether the local level has sufficient resources and expertise for a truly integral approach to social and individual problems, especially in times of financial uncertainty.

It is clear that society and our planet will become even more vulnerable if we do not renew and change. As scientists, we want to tackle this task together with social parties and organizations. We see this as our responsibility and as the way to add value to our knowledge.

The 'New Common'

The corona crisis has compounded major societal challenges. Tilburg University shares knowledge and insights to reshape our society. We are happy to discuss this New Common.