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Cultures of Masking

This TechCare project explores the sociocultural and politico-economic dimensions of a crucial technology of everyday life for managing the COVID-19 pandemic: masks. In the current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, different public norms regarding mask wearing have emerged across cultures. While public health authorities around the world have issued guidelines noting that mask wearing would likely have beneficial public health effects, some societies may have greater difficulty adopting widespread mask wearing. Popular media reports have suggested many theories for why masks were quickly adopted in Asian countries, while other countries particularly in North America and Europe were slow to accept them. Theories range from cultural differences in perceptions of masks (“marker of modernity” versus “sign of disease”), to histories of mask adoption in response to air pollution, allergens, or pathogens. But while speculations are rife, actual research-based data about mask usage in the COVID-19 pandemic is thin. This research project aims to produce qualitative and quantitative evidence in order to answer important public questions about why, and whether, cultures differ in mask wearing attitudes.

The principal investigators for this project are Dr. Priscilla Song (Associate Professor, Centre for the Humanities and Medicine, HKU) and Dr. Emma Buchtel (Associate Professor, Centre for Psychosocial Health & Department of Psychology, Education University of Hong Kong). They are working with co-investigators Dr. Izumi Nakayama (HKIHSS Research Officer Fellow, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, HKU), Dr. Joseph Walline (Honorary Assistant Professor, Centre for the Humanities & Medicine, HKU), Dr. Chaoxiong Zhang (Postdoctoral Fellow, China Academy of Social Management/School of Sociology, Beijing Normal University), and research assistant Iqra Abbasi (Computing & Data Analytics Student, HKU) to employ an interdisciplinary mixed methods approach.

The project is funded by a Sin Wai-Kin Fellowship from the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Hong Kong and Knowledge Transfer Funds from the Education University of Hong Kong. Click here for news updates about the Cultures of Masking project!

➤ Selected Publications

Song, Priscilla and Joseph Walline. “Virtual Technologies of Care in a Time of Viral Crisis: An Ethnographic View from Hong Kong.” Somatosphere (2020).

Walline, Joseph and Priscilla Song. “Hong Kong’s COVID-19 Debate: Are Health and Freedom Really at Odds?” East Asia Forum (2020).

➤ Knowledge Exchange and Impact

Fabric of Society: Living through the Pandemic: Special issue of Perspectives Asia (published by German non-profit Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung) on how the pandemic is reshaping state/society relationships in different Asian countries, featuring an interview with Dr. Emma Buchtel and Dr. Liman Li on the cultural psychology of mask and vaccine attitudes based on data from this project (see pages 40-43)

Fabric Mask Design Competition: A 2021 knowledge exchange project encouraging students at EdUHK and HKU to apply cultural psychology research to design a mask that would encourage people in Hong Kong or the United States to wear fabric masks.

Hong Kong PPE Care Package Project: A humanitarian aid effort with YaleWomenHK to source and donate thousands of N95 respirators and surgical masks to frontline medical workers in New York City and other areas suffering PPE shortages during the April 2020 COVID-19 surge in the United States. Received a 2020 Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors Excellence Award.

➤ Links

Dr. Emma Buchtel’s website on Cultures of Mask Wearing (including a survey debriefing, fabric mask design competition, and other resources):