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Romain Chuffart: Report on placement at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute


Plaque of Fridtjof Nansens Institutt


Between 28th March and 10th June 2022, I undertook my placement as part of the DurhamARCTIC doctoral programme funded by the Leverhulme Trust at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI), a think tank and research institute located between Lysaker and Fornebu (Bærum Municipality), Norway. Their main building “Polhøgda” was the home of Norwegian Polar explorer, Fridtjof Nansen. Since the late 1950s, the Institute has been at the forefront of Norwegian research life with the aim to broadly explain “how to solve global and regional problems through international cooperation?”

I was hosted at FNI as a guest researcher and was given access to  Dr Andreas Østhagen’s (Senior Fellow) office who was away in the United States during my stay. Before leaving, Dr Østhagen introduced me to most of the on-site FNI researchers, mostly political and social scientists,  and to the working culture at the institute. During my placement, I was added to the Polar and Russian politics, and Law of the Sea and marine affairs working groups which comprise most of the researchers working on Arctic research. My main research assignment was under the “Challenges to Ocean Governance: Regional Disputes, Global Consequences?” (OceanGov) project, funded by the Research Council of Norway (Norges forskningsråd), that focuses on identifying conditional propositions and trends that can potentially explain why dispute for ocean space escalate whereas others are settled, within three maritime spaces: The Arctic Ocean, the Black Sea, and the East China Sea. Overall, this project is an in-depth study of ocean governance and international politics, linking region-specific findings with global governance trends more generally. Such projects, with published deliverables such as research papers and reports, constitute the bulk of FNI’s work as one of Norway’s leading think tanks.

With Dr Østhagen as project lead, I was tasked with developing my own research under the Arctic Ocean work package. From the get-go and under the guidance of colleagues, my idea was to bridge the gap between my expertise in the rights of Indigenous peoples and the Arctic, which I had been honing in through my doctoral studies at Durham University, and my understanding of the Law of the Sea and ocean studies. The research deliverables, which I ended up leading, therefore focused on potentially conflicting use of ocean spaces through looking at the intersection between current positive norms governing ocean space and Indigenous rights in the context of the evolution of ice geoengineering. I brought in two external colleagues to collaborate on a research paper, which will be my main deliverable under the OceanGov project and submitted later this year to a research journal (TBC). Alongside Mr Aaron Cooper (Doctoral candidate, Stavanger University), I will present a preliminary outcome of the research at the workshop of the European Society of International Law’s Interest Group on the Law of the Sea on “Law of the sea and its in/ex-clusiveness” at the end of August 2022.

Beyond high quality research, my placement at FNI also allowed me to get more familiar with Norwegian work culture. For instance, whereas in research and academic jobs prior to my doctoral degrees I was used to work a certain number of hours and sometimes stay later at night to work on projects, I quickly noticed that Norwegian work-life balance was more important than staying longer at the office.  Depending on current projects and schedule, only of a handful of my FNI colleagues would stay past 4pm. While it is often easy to get caught in starring at your computer screen and tiring yourself, Norwegian work culture allowed me to focus on research as a full-time job. By participating in FNI’s daily life and research activities, I was able to get informal feedback on both my doctoral research and FNI projects from colleagues. This allowed me to develop ideas that I intend to explore further in my thesis in the future. The placement also allowed me to develop and build on relationships within the Norwegian and Arctic research communities.

In addition, it is worth noting that although FNI researchers work on their own in their office, there is a lot of social interactions between colleagues facilitated by friendly daily schedules and work environment. Most on-site FNI researchers collegially eat lunch on the ground floor of Polhøgda at 12 noon (sharp) every working day. This allows for more informal conversations and discussions about research and non-research topics. At the end of every lunch time, one staff member reads the daily quiz from the back page of a Norwegian newspaper. Although I was able to practice my Norwegian language skills with some colleagues, they were always kind enough to translate the questions into English for the few guest researchers for whom Norwegian is not their first (or second) language.  Lunchtimes were also punctuated with different outdoors activities such as running or yoga, or small presentations and seminars on different topics pertaining to global governance and international affairs. Overall, this has been an invaluable experience that helped cement the idea that I would like to pursue a career in research beyond my doctoral studies.