Economic Bifurcations in Pandemic Leadership: Power in Abundance or Agency Amid Scarcity?

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Social psychological scholarship has emphasized the importance of effective leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the wider material contexts of these dynamics have often remained understudied. Through a critical discursive lens, this paper investigates differences in the social constructions used by leaders of richer and poorer nations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We identify a sharp economic bifurcation in global discourses of pandemic leadership. Pandemic leadership in wealthier nations exercises power in abundance by mobilizing institutions and inspiring communities through discursive frames of coordination and collaboration. Conversely, pandemic leadership in poorer settings negotiates agency amid scarcity by tactically balancing resources, freedoms and dignity within discursive frames of restriction and recuperation. Implications of these findings are unpacked for understanding leadership especially during an international crisis, highlighting the need for critical sensitivities to wider societal structures for a genuinely global social psychology.