Social representations of ‘social distancing’ in response to COVID-19 in the UK media

Nerlich, B. and Jaspal, R., 2021. Social representations of ‘social distancing’ in response to COVID-19 in the UK media. Current Sociology. ISSN 0011-3921

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The emergence and spread of a new pandemic, COVID-19, have raised topics of concern for health professionals, policy makers and publics across the globe. Governments have struggled to find the right policies to stop disease transmission, but all have introduced social distancing. In the United Kingdom this has come to be understood as staying at home and, when outside, maintaining a physical distance of approximately two metres between oneself and others. In this article, the authors examine the emergence of this new social representation as portrayed in one UK broadsheet and one tabloid with the widest circulation: The Times and The Sun, between early March and early April 2020. Using social representations theory and thematic analysis, the authors show that social distancing struggled to emerge from underneath government obfuscation. It was first seen as a threat to normal life, which in modernity is predicated on mobility; it was later portrayed as a threat to social order; and finally perceived as a burden that, like the lockdown (its conceptual twin), needed to be lifted.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Current Sociology
Creators: Nerlich, B. and Jaspal, R.
Publisher: Sage
Date: 24 February 2021
ISSN: 0011-3921
Rights: © the author(s) 2021. article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 09 Mar 2021 13:59
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:05

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