The Featured Researcher for October 2022 was Hanneke Booij.
HEIs University of Stirling & Glasgow Building Preservation Trust (GBPT).
I am in the third year of my ethnographic, collaborative PhD project with the University of Stirling and Glasgow Building Preservation Trust. In this PhD, I am investigating resilience, sustainability, and creative futures for small heritage organisations with a social purpose. I am particularly interested in how small heritage organisations define, configure, and apply these concepts in practice and how this impacts upon heritage practice and heritage engagement.
It was part of my PhD Funding application to include an international research visit, so I had discussed suitable places to visit early on with my supervisors. The University of Stirling and the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) in Oslo have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). This MoU aims to strengthen the development of research in heritage and society as well as to develop an international early career research culture across the two organisations. Considering the MoU and the similarities in developments in heritage and society between Scotland and Norway, Norway seemed a good choice. Both in Scotland and in Norway relationships between heritage and society are facing changing demands based on societal changes. This has led to an increased demand for the democratisation of heritage and an increase in community-based heritage policies. These developments have impacted heritage practice. An increased awareness of social inequalities in both countries has led to a reconsideration of issues of representation, diversity, and social justice. However, the approach to heritage is different with Scotland’s heritage sector taking a social and well-being approach to the economy, while heritage in Norway is approached from an environment and landscape perspective. Both countries aim to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
I successfully applied to SGSAH’s Visiting Doctoral Research Fund in 2021. After a long wait and several risk assessments due to the pandemic, I set off for my four-week research visit to the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) in Oslo in June 2022.
The aim of my Doctoral Research Visit was threefold:
- In broad terms, I was interested in advancing international understanding of heritage policies and practices by comparing Scottish and Norwegian policies, funding landscapes and heritage practices with a focus on resilience and sustainability.
- Secondly, I wanted to extend my ethnographic fieldwork by undertaking semi-structured interviews with people in voluntary heritage organisations in and around Oslo and Bergen to compare their community engagement, resilience, and sustainability practice to those I had spoken with in Scotland.
- Finally, my personal development aim for this VDR was to the network through knowledge exchange by working with NIKU colleagues and providing a presentation to NIKU and its wider network of organisations.
I travelled to Oslo and stayed in a leafy suburb of the town, taking the tram to the NIKU office most days. It was a joy to get into the Norwegian routine of starting early and finishing at 4 pm, after which there was plenty of time to explore Oslo’s museums, built heritage, small islands, and fantastic parks with sculptures galore. I combined a trip to Bergen for fieldwork with a pleasant and very sunny hike up Ulriken and a hill walk to a charming mountain cabin where volunteers offered warm waffles to wet hikers like me.
I found the ethnographic fieldwork with a wide variety of people involved in heritage very rewarding and enlightening. This ranged from Norwegian Government policy employees to researchers at NIKU to volunteers in practice. I learnt a lot from doing ethnography ‘on the go’! When you are in a different country, some things can be planned, and some things happen spontaneously. This resulted in a very full-on schedule.
I take ethnographic inspiration from academic literature in heritage and social sciences. I also have experience with various ‘walk and talk’ style ethnographic fieldwork activities with GBPT, including cycling, going up scaffolds and nature activities. However, this relatively short and intense fieldwork experience felt like the next level. Being with people who were switching between Norwegian and English while walking, being on a small ferry, on a bus, hill walking, joining in guided tours and last but not least, folk dancing! It was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time! Lots to ponder over in my reflective diary!
My three top tips for anyone wishing to do a doctoral research visit:
1. Make a plan for your stay, and make sure you contact people in advance if you wish to meet with them. Their diaries are busy (I started planning in January for a stay in May/June). Also, do your university risk assessment on time; this process can take a while.
2. Enjoy and be flexible and allow time for serendipity. Once you start meeting people, they are likely to refer you to others who may be very useful to speak to. I met a good contact by chance at breakfast in a youth hostel. It happens.
3. Plan your finances. I found it difficult having to pay for accommodation and other things up front and then claim them back, which is mostly how my university’s financial process works. This means being out of pocket for a while, which can be an issue. I was only able to do this due to my husband’s support. I know everyone’s financial situation is different. Make sure to check with your university what the processes are and how this may work for you.
All image credits: Hanneke Booij.
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