De-Sanitising the ‘New Normal’: The Lived Experiences of ‘Digital Research’ in context of the COVID-19 India


  • Ahana Choudhury Department of Sociology, Tezpur University


new normal, digital research, pandemic


This paper examines the lived experiences of the ‘new normal’ and ‘digital research’ among the social researchers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. While the pandemic erupted a crisis around the globe, the developing nation of India encountered its bitter effects in the form of lack of potent infrastructures to contain it. Besides, the swift propagation of ‘digital research’ by the educational institutions emerged as a workable alternative for some scholars but posed graver consequences for others belonging to marginalised groups. Reflecting upon this, three themes have appeared from the study; the digital monolith, voices and its checkpoints, spacing and (de)spacing. The themes portray the transgressions in the practices of social research and the reflexive spaces of the research actors within the social reality of the ‘digital research’. The themes paved the concept of ‘academic non-membership’ as a situation where researchers are often excluded from the nexus of academic communities while being powerless in conforming to ‘digital research’ standards and the technical institutional orders. Drawing this, the paper explores the complex articulation of ‘digital research’ through the innate voices and testimonies of the researchers, at the backdrop of the ‘new normal’.


Abidoye, B., Felix, J., Kapto, S. & Patterson, L. (2021). Leaving No One Behind: Impact of COVID-19 on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). New York, NY and Denver CO: United Nations Development Programme and Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures.

Airoldi, M. (2018). Ethnography and the digital fields of social media. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 21(6), 661-673.

Alexander, J.C. & Smith, P. (2020). COVID-19 and symbolic action: global pandemic as code, narrative, and cultural performance. Am J Cult Sociol, 8, 263-269.

Asia (2020, December 15). India’s digital divide grows among rural women [Blog Post] Retrieved from

Begum, N. (2022, May 29). 40% Northeast Students Lacked Digital Education Tools During COVID: National Achievement Survey 2021 [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Blanco, E. Baier, A., Holzmeister, F., Jaber?Lopez, T. & Struwe, N. (2022). Substitution of social sustainability concerns under the Covid-19 pandemic. Ecological Economics, 192, 1-10.

Boellstorff, T., Nardi, B., Pearce, C. & Taylor, T.L. (2013). Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method. Princeton, U.S.: Princeton University Press.

Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2012). Thematic analysis. In H. Cooper, P.M. Camic, D.L. Long, A.T. Panter, D. Rindskopf & K.J. Sher (Eds.), APA handbook of research methods in psychology, Research Designs: Quantitative, qualitative, neuropsychological, and biological (Vol. 2, pp. 57-71). Washington, DC, U.S.: American Psychological Association.

Burrell, J. (2009). The Field Site as a Network: A Strategy for Locating Ethnographic Research. Field Methods, 21(2), 181-199.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York, NY.: Routledge.

Cavell, S. (1995). Philosophical Passages: Wittgenstein, Emerson, Austin, Derrida. Oxford, U.K.: Basil Blackwell.

Chakraborty, P., Mittal, P., Gupta, M.S., Yadav, S. & Arora, A. (2020). Opinion of students on online education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 3(3), 357-365.

Chugunov, R. Bolgov, Y. Kabanov, G. Kampis & M. Wimmer (Eds.), International Conference on Digital Transformations and Global Society, (pp. 96-105). Retrieved from

Corpuz, J.C.G. (2021). Adapting to the culture of ‘new normal’: an emerging response to COVID-19. Journal of Public Health, 43(2), e344-e345.

De, R., Pandey, N. & Pal, A. (2020). Impact of digital surge during COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Information Management, 55, 1-5.

Ghosh, B. (2020, December 20). Doing Digital Ethnography during the COVID-19 pandemic [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Góralska, M.H. (2020). Anthropology from Home: Advice on Digital Ethnography for the Pandemic Times. Anthropology in Action, 27(1), 46-52. 10.3167/aia.2020.270105

Government of Assam (1955). Assam Act XIX of 1955. Retrieved April 5, 2022 from

Government of India (2021). Towards a Self-Reliant Digital India. Delhi, India: Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology.

Government of Assam (2022). Master Plan Guwahati 2025. Retrieved April 5, 2022 from,The%20Plan%20had%20perspective%201986

Howlett, M. (2021). Looking at the ‘field’ through a Zoom lens: Methodological reflections on conducting online research during a global pandemic. Qualitative Research, 22(3), 387-402.

Iivari, N., Sharma, S. & Ventä-Olkkonen, L. (2020). Digital transformation of everyday life – How COVID-19 pandemic transformed the basic education of the young generation and why information management research should care? International Journal of Information Management, 55, 1-6.

Joshi, A., Malhotra, B., Amadi, C., Loomba, M., Misra, A., Sharma, S., Arora, A. & Amatya, J. (2020). Gender and the Digital Divide Across Urban Slums of New Delhi. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(6), e14714. DOI: 10.2196/14714

Kiger, M.E. & Varpio, L. (2020). Thematic analysis of qualitative data: AMEE Guide No. 131. Medical Teacher, 42(8), 846-854.

Kokkinakos, P., Markaki, Q.I., Koussouris, S. & Psarras, J. (2016, November 24). Digital Transformation: Is Public Sector Following the Enterprise 2.0 Paradigm? In A. V., Chugunov, R. Bolgov, Y. Kabanov, G. Kampis & M. Wimmer (Eds.), International Conference on Digital Transformations and Global Society, (pp. 96-105). Retrieved from

Little, M. (2011). Theorising personhood: for better or for worse. European Journal for Person Centered Healthcare, 2(1), 37-45.

Miller, D. (2018, August 28). Digital Anthropology [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Nilsberth, M., Liljekvist, Y., Olin-Scheller, C., Samuelsson, J. & Hallquist, C. (2021). Digital teaching as the new normal? Swedish upper secondary teachers’ experiences of emergency remote teaching during the COVID-19 crisis. European Educational Research Journal, 20(4), 442-462.

Oyekola, I. & Eyitayo, O. (2020). Social Stratification. In O.A. Ogunbameru (Ed.) Introductory Sociology (pp. 123-139). Nigeria: Obafemi Awolowo University, Press Limited Ile-Ife.

Pathak, D. N. (2021). Idea of Pandemic?Pedagogy: Reflexive Rumination on Teaching and Learning Practices. Higher Education for the Future, 9(1), 62-74.

Patton, M.C. (2002). Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods. California, U.S.: Sage Publications.

Rabinow, P. (1977). Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. Berkeley, U.S.: University of California Press.

Rashid, S. & Yadav, S.S. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Higher Education and Research. Indian Journal of Human Development, 14(2), 340-343.

Sengupta, M. (2006). Historiography of the Formation of Assamese Identity: A Review. Peace and Democracy in South Asia, 2(1), 121-134.

Sharma, S. (2020, September 17). Modi’s ‘Digital India’ still a far-fetched dream for hinterland; not even 30% of rural India has internet. Financial Express. Retrieved from

Singh, S. (2012). Digital Divide in India: Measurement, Determinants and Policy for Addressing the Challenges in Bridging the Digital Divide. In Elena Druica (Ed.), Digital Economy Innovations and Impacts on Society (pp. 106-130). Hershey, U.S.: IGI Global.

Singh, A. (2021). Whose Country is Digital India? Unpacking Dominant Power Relations Mediated by the Digital India Campaign. Asiascape: Digital Asia, 8(3), 164-189.

Suneja, V. & Bagai, S. (2021). Examining the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Online Education: Reviewing the India School System Based on the Perspective of Major Indian E-tutoring Platforms. Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective, 1, 1-6.

Tarozzi, M. (2020). What is grounded theory? London, U.K.: Bloomsbury Academic.

Underberg, N.M. & Zorn, E. (2013). Digital ethnography: anthropology, narrative, and new media. Austin, U.S.: University of Texas Press.

Varma, A. & Jafri, M. S. (2020). COVID-19 responsive teaching of undergraduate architecture programs in India: learnings for post-pandemic education. Emerald Insight, 15(1), 189-202.