Between January and April 2020, I undertook my placement for the DurhamARCTIC doctoral training programme with the School of Global Studies at Gothenburg University (SGS) in Sweden. Under the hosting duties of Dr. Anders Burman I was integrated into the department under the title of Visiting Researcher. My remit was to contribute to reading groups and seminars, participate in co-authorship of chapters and/or journal articles, and teach select modules on both undergraduate and post-graduate courses. However, with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic I was unable to fulfil my teaching responsibilities.
During the second week of March 2020 the novel coronavirus was recognised as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. As a result, most Europeans countries went into a self-imposed ‘lockdown,’ implementing restrictions on both domestic and international travel, regulating time spent outside of the house, and outright banning physical contact with those that did not share a household, in order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Although the Swedish state did not implement any lockdown restriction measures, during that second week of March two colleagues from SGS had reported COVID-19 symptoms to the department head, Prof. Merritt Polk, and so the department offices were closed and all classes, seminars and reading groups were moved online. From then until now, August 2020, I have been working from my home office, half an hour by car or commuter train, outside of Gothenburg.
Gothenburg SGS is an interdisciplinary teaching and research department that produces work on the topics of Peace and Development, Environmental Social Science, Human Rights, and Social Anthropology. Yet, within these broad categories there are myriad different projects and proposals that address the multiple confluences where these topics meet, and the complexities of which these meetings consist Urban studies, gender studies, asymmetries of power, political and social ecologies, biopolitics, water conflict, migration, and assemblage thinking, were just a few of the topics which my colleagues and I engaged in through the seminars and reading groups.
Through Dr Burman, I became a member of the Environmental Social Sciences (ESS) and Heritage Studies reading groups, and the Power, Resistance and Representation (PoReSoc) collaborative book project. Although the Heritage Studies group was cut short by the closure of the office, both the ESS and PoReSoc groups were successfully moved online and conducting using Zoom conferencing software. The ESS reading group was a weekly space in which speakers both internal and external to the department would present current research with the aim of opening up a space through which themes and methodologies could be interrogated by the wider group. I presented the conceptual framework of my own research to this group in late March, finding such an open and interrogative/collaborative atmosphere of invaluable use in the development of my project. The PoReSoc meetings differed in that we met with the express goal of negotiating a central theme within studies of power and resistance that would develop into a collaborative publication. The PoReSoc meetings providing fertile ground for the exchange of social theories and methods of academic writing. My overall experience within this group was very positive, as collaborative writing and co-publishing is an angle that I wanted to explore personally during my time at SGS. I presented brief outline of where discussions of power and resistance lie within my own project, and received helpful praise, criticism, and suggestions that have helped shape the current contours of my research.
In response to the ethical and practical questions and concerns raised by the coronavirus’ effect on the ability to perform ethnographic fieldwork, my colleague Dr. Nicolás Acosta and I established an Alternative Methods reading group. Our seminars were attended by a small group of postgraduate researchers and postdoc’s, each and all finding the discussions held useful in planning fieldwork or alternatives to fieldwork that they would engage in in the near future.
Finally, SGS made all PhD thesis defence panels public and staff and students were openly invited to these events. Reflecting now on experiencing these panels, it is difficult to overstate the capacity these events hold for building positive relationships with colleagues and delimiting the feelings of isolation and wrongheadedness that can accrue while studying for a PhD. Witnessing these panels was an invaluable moral boost that I am keen to see adopted by the educational system in the UK.
Each of these groups have been key resources in the development of my research during the course of my first year of doctoral training, introducing new concepts and theoretical approaches, while also providing a space for interrogating my own concepts and ideas. Working within such open and collaborative groups, with colleagues both generous and sincere in their contributions and discussions has been another indispensable element of my time at SGS.
It is also worth noting here that the work environment of the SGS offices played a key role in my ability to connect with my colleagues, from those with full lectureships, to postdocs and graduates and undergraduates. SGS have nurtured an egalitarian workplace, using a large shared kitchen and dining space as a hub of informal meetings and discussions. These informal conversations over lunch or coffee often lead to invitations to reading groups, seminars, and collaborative projects, and deeply enriched the overarchingly positive experience of my placement within different institution in another country.
Click here to see Eric Boyd's Durham ARCTIC Student Profile.