(Re)building society: A longitudinal study of post-corona social recovery in Croatian general population (ReSPoC)


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the global world to threats to individual wellbeing and the welfare of communities and society in a way that was hardly foreseeable and imaginable not very long ago. In fighting the virus different countries have employed very different strategies. However, there is a general impression in both experts and the general public that the world started to fight back too late, that the consequences are going to be long lasting and immense for the world’s population and global market, while the consequences for mental health of people and changes of social patterns in our societies are uncertain and completely unknown so far. By witnessing quite a few pandemics over the history of humankind it has become clear that peoples’ psychological responses and behaviours related to infection may be crucial in both transmission of disease and in managing the accompanying stress of individuals and breakdown of societies (Taylor, 2019). For the latter, there is a need for large-scale and methodologically sound research to enable us to analyse empirical data and advance our understanding of how people cope with extraordinary events like a coronavirus pandemic and how their responses to such a threat shape their worldview, perceptions of the society they live in and their expectations about society in the future.

Therefore, the aim of this research proposal is to investigate how (Croatian) society is going to look after the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e., how Croatian citizens perceive their current society and what kind of future changes they predict. Specifically, we want to explore how individual characteristics and experiences of individuals and communities during the coronavirus crisis determine perception of society in the future, after the pandemic finally ends. Our research objectives are fourfold: 1) to explore how individual characteristics, both sociodemographic and selected individual variables predict our respondents’ perceptions of current and future makeup of their society; 2) to identify how individual characteristics interact with experiences of surviving the COVID-19 pandemic in predicting respondents’ perceptions of the current and future social makeup; 3) to determine (in)stability of changes of how the respondents perceive both current and future social makeup over the course of about one year; 4a) to compare changes in the perception of current and future social makeup among different age groups; i.e., among adolescents, adults and seniors; 4b) to establish if trends of the perceived current and future changes in the social makeup follow the objective vulnerability/risks of COVID-19 in different age groups; i.e., we want to explore if those who were the least likely to get seriously ill (youths) also perceive and expect a more favourable makeup of future society compared to those who were at higher risk (senior citizens).

The study is designed as an on-line longitudinal research with a sample of 1200 adult participants from the general public of Croatia, aged 18 to 75. We expect that pre-crisis individual characteristics, i.e., those characteristics people enter the crisis with (e.g., sociodemographic and individual traits) as well as characteristics of their experiences during the crisis contribute significantly to what people expect and how they perceive their society in the future. Specifically, individuals who have struggled with more negative experiences and coped with them less efficiently will perceive the future society in a more pessimistic way; they will expect in lesser degree the democratic makeup of the society to continue in a way we know it, while expecting more and being more ready for supporting policies aimed to build and preserve security as the major social goal. We also expect them to be more ready for a broader state control over its citizens and to tolerate more restrictions related to individual rights and liberties. Hence, the present research contributes to the literature on social capital by exploring its pillar component – social trust, networking/cooperation and social norms - in a relatively new democracy being challenged by the global health crisis. Social capital in general may not serve as a panacea for social recovery after a major crisis; however, it is a crucial building-block showing the capacity of the communities and society to “bounce back” and recover. Hence, the present research looks at how Croatian citizens perceive the current level of social capital and the future prospect of it after experiencing a global pandemic. Furthermore, the contribution of the study is in identifying characteristics of those individuals who have dealt with crisis (un)successfully, as well as in identifying a range of expected social changes to be followed in three waves. Based on analyses and follow-up of people’s perceptions and expectations of social changes in the future we shall be able to offer recommendations for managing social change that is inevitably going to happen.