An Embarrassment of Changes: International Relations and the COVID-19 Pandemic


Mathew Davies and Christopher Hobson argue that the COVID-19 pandemic is part of an ongoing polycrisis that requires significant changes to the ways in which the discipline of International Relations understands the world. They propose that “Polycrisis is a way of capturing the tangled mix of challenges and changes [that] closely interact with one another, bending, blurring and amplifying each other” (p. 160). They then identify eight key properties of a polycrisis: the simultaneity of crises; feedback loops between crises; amplification of one crisis by another; the lack of clear boundaries between crises; the layering of different interest group concerns over crises; the lack of shared definitions of crises; cross-purposes in which efforts to remediate on crisis worsen another; and emergent properties in which the harms of the polycrisis are greater than the sum of its parts. The authors ultimately caution against too hastily defining the pandemic and its significance, proposing that we must instead “stay with the ambivalence and discomfort of the present moment” (p. 162).


Mathew Davies and Christopher Hobson

Publication Date

5 July 2022


Australian Journal of International Affairs (vol. 77, iss. 2)



Resource Type

Academic Journal Article

Systems Addressed

Geopolitics and International Security • Health

Resource Theme

Disaster Prevention and Response

Uses the term polycrisis

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