Rethinking the State: Social Contracts in Times of Critical Societal Change. A social contract analysis through the lens of COVID-19 in the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom
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The outbreak of COVID-19 has largely impacted the dynamics between states and their respective societies. This research is concerned with the analysis of these state and society dynamics as perceived in the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom during the first three months of the outbreak of COVID-19. The societal dynamics between state and society are described through investigating a social contract between state and society. The social contract is a theoretical concept that describes the exchange relation between state and society based on the provision of services by a state and the acceptance of state authority by citizens. The research is based on fieldwork in the form of digital interviews with citizens in the Netherlands, Spain and the UK and content analysis of press conferences in the respective countries. The analysis of this research was performed through looking at the way states have been spatialized. State spatiality is about the way power can be performed by states through the way they operationalize their power over a given space. The analysis shows that the different states all have a different approach towards ‘dealing’ with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nonetheless, citizen response towards this approach, in the form of (dis)satisfaction with the state response and implemented measures have shown to be rather similar. Thus, expectations from citizens towards the state show to be tailored towards the state response, creating a social contract in which citizens feel provided for by the state and legitimize the state approach. The framework of normativity that impacts the dynamics between state and society, and what is being understood as a ‘correct’ approach towards the COVID-19 outbreak has shown to be largely impacted by a neoliberal narrative.