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Calls for solidarity have been an ubiquitous feature in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we know little about how people have thought of and practised solidarity in their everyday lives since the beginning of the pandemic. What role does solidarity play in people's lives, how does it relate to COVID-19 public health measures and how has it changed in different phases of the pandemic? Situated within the medical humanities at the intersection of philosophy, bioethics, social sciences and policy studies, this article explores how the practice-based understanding of solidarity formulated by Prainsack and Buyx helps shed light on these questions. Drawing on 643 qualitative interviews carried out in two phases (April-May 2020 and October 2020) in nine European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, German-speaking Switzerland and the UK), the data show that interpersonal acts of solidarity are important, but that they are not sustainable without consistent support at the institutional level. As the pandemic progressed, respondents expressed a longing for more institutionalised forms of solidarity. We argue that the medical humanities have much to gain from directing their attention to individual health issues, and to collective experiences of health or illness. The analysis of experiences through a collective lens such as solidarity offers unique insights to understandings of the individual and the collective. We propose three essential advances for research in the medical humanities that can help uncover collective experiences of disease and health crises: (1) an empirical and practice-oriented approach alongside more normative approaches; (2) the confidence to make recommendations for practice and policymaking and (3) the pursuit of cross-national and multidisciplinary research collaborations.

Original publication




Journal article


Med Humanit

Publication Date



COVID-19, health policy, medical ethics/bioethics, medical humanities, public health