A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: sentiment analyses of new connections and communities in a COVID world.
Quarantine re-makes the city around us, re-defining “inside” and “outside,” “home” and “neighborhood.” “Staying home” means complying with a socially and politically constructed bubble that delimits not only who or what can move from one side or another, but the protocols to be followed when that barrier is breached. Moreover, transitioning from one to another is not just a matter of spatial movement, it also involves a shift in identity, from the one quarantined to the one not quarantined. Finally, quarantine is a temporal state: fourteen days, or until the city lifts the quarantine measures. Under these conditions, what does “home” mean? What does “inside” mean? And when one is quarantined, what do more collective identities like “community” and “neighborhood” mean? Under these circumstances, “home” can have a negative valence—it can be isolating and alienating from the people around you. On the other hand, “home” can be a source of new realizations of self, and new formed of connectedness and solidarity. In this project, I utilize a large set of Twitter data gathering thoughts on quarantine from different countries at different times, from March to September. Mostly urban, the tweets originate in cities undergoing quarantine from around the world: Seoul, Paris, New York, each instituting different quarantine protocols at different times. Using sentiment analysis and textual analysis, I examine Twitter as 1) a source of positive and negative valuations of quarantine; and 2) as a record of activities and relationships forged under quarantine. On the one hand, preliminary results would seem to validate dire predictions from Durkheim, Simmel and others with regards to alienation in the city. And, indeed, many people use Twitter to bemoan their isolation and their truncated lives. On the other, many Twitter users explore the possibility of new connections with self and with community amidst physical separation. In this, quarantine’s temporality plays an importance role by allowing people to construct visions of community and togetherness as a future temporality. This paper explores the possibilities for building urban community in a pandemic world through an exploration of the way “home” and “neighborhood” have been re-conceptualized. Ultimately, what comes from this research are insights into being together while being apart, and “home” as a staging area for the construction of community. The essay ends with hopeful speculations on a post-pandemic city that retains communal solidarity while maintaining distancing.