Making (female) health care work matter

The performative publics of #systemrelevant during the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany




performative publics, media practice, health care work, berlin hospital movement, network analysis, digital ethnography


Over the last two years, digital media have contributed significantly to increasing the visibility of those who are outstandingly challenged by the pandemic. In Germany, the Twitter hashtag #systemrelevant [systemically relevant] initiated a public debate on values and working conditions. Applying the practice-theory-based concept of performative publics, we analyze the formation of this specific public with a special focus on its gendered structure. Results of our mixed-methods approach show how health care work has become the dominant issue of #systemrelevant. Civil society actors and engaged health care workers set the agenda, and journalism primarily responds to these voices. Although care work is performed predominantly by women, most of the attention online is given to men. However, on the level of tweets and linked content, the discourse in #systemrelevant counteracts stereotypical images of women in health care. Overall, the ethnographic data on the most significant collective actor show a continuous tension between symbolic recognition and their struggle for improving working conditions.

Author Biographies

Wolfgang Reißmann, FU Berlin

Researcher in the DFG-funded project ‘Performative Publics’

Freie Universität Berlin

Fachbereich Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften

Institut für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft

Arbeitsstelle Journalistik

Otto-von Simson-Straße 3

14195 Berlin (Deutschland)

+49 30 838 69 392

Miriam Siemon, FU Berlin

Researcher in the DFG-funded project ‘Performative Publics’

Freie Universität Berlin

Fachbereich Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften

Institut für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft

Arbeitsstelle Journalistik

Otto-von Simson-Straße 3

14195 Berlin (Deutschland)

+49 30 838 69 392

Margreth Lünenborg, FU Berlin

PI of the DFG-funded project ‘Performative Publics’

Freie Universität Berlin

Fachbereich Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften

Institut für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft

Arbeitsstelle Journalistik

Garystr. 55

14195 Berlin (Deutschland)

+49 30 838 57 352

Christoph Raetzsch, Aarhus University

PI of the DFG-funded project ‘Performative Publics’

Aarhus University

School of Communication and Culture – Media Studies

Helsingforsgade 14

8200 Aarhus N (Denmark)


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How to Cite

Reißmann, W., Siemon, M., Lünenborg, M., & Raetzsch, C. (2023). Making (female) health care work matter: The performative publics of #systemrelevant during the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany. MedieKultur: Journal of Media and Communication Research, 38(73), 073–099.