by Marguerite Coetzee. The morning of the first day of lockdown, I was woken by a complete absence of sound. It felt like an episode of a budget sci-fi film.

The usual rumbling of a delivery truck outside our window wasn’t there. The call and response of people either side of the street was absent. The incessant hooting of taxis was gone. Even the overly vocal dog next door was silenced. Only the wind, like the hum of a distant ocean, found its way through a gap in the window frame. A dove swooped past and I felt and heard it, rather than catching a glimpse.

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Soundscapes & fearscapes — sounds of life

Our acoustic environment is filled with soundmarks that make our immediate soundscape unique, compared to anywhere else in the world. These sonic facets of a community offer insight into the physical qualities of and social actors within a space. Similarly, stories and storytelling help us make sense of our surroundings, as well as how we imagine a future world and the people in it. Storytellers have the power to create a sense of fear or of hope in relation to future possibilities, as well as a notion of optimism or pessimism towards humanity and its ways of being.

Cyberpunk & Afropunk — narratives of revolution & resistance

On a Saturday in April 2020, a community of futurists and authors gathered virtually for a nine-hour symposium: Science Fiction as Foresight. Writer Karl Schroeder presented on theories of change, identifying six lenses through which we perceive change. Paraphrasing his definitions:

  1. He did it — someone with agency causes change through prophecy and punishment
  2. Natural cycles — nature as a metaphor for how the world works: it creates, destroys, and repeats
  3. It’s all clockwork — existential dread and the death of free will
  4. We can manage the system — things appear random but, if we break it up into parts, we can exercise control
  5. Dimensions of surprise — radical uncertainty
  6. Constraint — escape the system and its limits through creative means and exploring pathways of possible change


Storytelling is transcendent — it has the ability to go beyond the here and now, the usual and expected. Brands and businesses have the opportunity to contribute to how we view and experience reality, through the stories they share with us.

So what?

Culture in quarantine doesn’t start and end here; it draws on past problems, and carries them through to life after lockdown. Brands and businesses have the opportunity to reflect on where society’s fault-lines lie, and how they could contribute to a solution.

Now what?

Conducting fieldwork in a pandemic isn’t only possible but necessary. Brands and businesses have the opportunity to be present and listen. Here are some innovative ways that researchers are exploring the world while staying home:

  1. Sounds of Pandemia: a collective testimony of the global crisis we are inhabiting (contribute to the sound archive here)
  2. Pandemic Dreams Archive: what do earthlings dream of in the age of global pandemic? (share your dreams here).

See also


Marguerite de Villiers Marguerite Coetzee is a senior strategist at Instant Grass International and an anthropologist, artist and futurist who provides research and insight services through Omniology. “Curiosity“, the latest series in her regular column on MarkLives, explores the hidden and obscure histories, stories, and experiences of things in South Africa.

This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.

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