Understanding compliance as multi-faceted: values and practices during the COVID-19 pandemic in Austria

Wanda Spahl*, Mirjam Pot, Katharina T. Paul

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

10 Citations (Scopus)


In some countries, far-reaching ‘lockdown’ measures to contain the spread of coronavirus were implemented early in 2020. In Austria, these early measures were met with a high degree of compliance among the country’s population. In this paper, we draw upon qualitative interviews, and ask how people made sense of the restrictions imposed during the first lockdown in April 2020 and what shaped their compliance. Empirical research has so far tried to explain compliance by means of people’s disposition and motivations as well as demographic and social characteristics. Instead of focussing on who is compliant, we aim to understand how people practice compliance. We do this by approaching compliance through the concepts of values and practice. First, our findings indicate that people assess whether measures are suitable and legitimate in relation to the values of science, the law, and morality. Second, people assign additional personal value to compliance by stressing its positive implications on their own lives. By adopting a nuanced perspective on compliance as inextricably linked to peoples’ values and practices, our paper critically contributes to the political and scholarly discussion of pandemic public health measures. Understanding compliance through the lens of values shows how people make sense of the measures in the context of their everyday lives, helping us to move away from a binary understanding of (non-)compliance that has become morally charged.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-676
Number of pages12
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Compliance
  • COVID-19
  • health policy
  • practice
  • value

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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