Blowing bubbles: COVID-19, New Zealand’s bubble metaphor, and the limits of households as sites of responsibility and care

Susanna Trnka, Sharyn Davies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


When New Zealand embarked on its COVID-19 lockdown, the world saw the emergence of a new social form: the “bubble.” This chapter examines bubbles for the social dynamics they enabled and elided, as well as for what the bubble metaphor suggested but did not always deliver. During level 4 lockdown, most New Zealanders (with exceptions such as essential service workers) were restricted to physical contact with members of their residence - a social unit the government referred to as the members of one’s “home, " “household, " or “bubble.” Not all care relations can, however, be reduced to a single home or household, nor are all households units of care. Regulations enabling bubble expansions in specific circumstances provided some means of addressing care needs that superseded households (e.g., singletons becoming “bubble buddies” to mitigate loneliness). But little was done for those consigned to bubbles whose members were unattached to one another, much less antagonistic. There is thus a need for bubble regulations to match more closely the flexibility inherent in the bubble as a concept when planning for future crises.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCOVID-19: Global Pandemic, Societal Responses, Ideological Solutions
Subtitle of host publicationTwo Volume Set
EditorsJ. Michael Ryan
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781003142089
ISBN (Print)9780367695156
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Covid-19
  • New Zealand

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