Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Seminar in Eskilstuna

The first conference that I participated in as a PhD student was in Eskilstuna, at a campus of Mälardalen University. It is quite close to Örebro, about one hour by train in the direction of Stockholm. I combined the trip with a visit to Eric, whom I interviewed for my brother's website about wintersport:
The next day, Thursday 18 October, it was time for the conference so I went o meet colleague Max at the venture: IdéLabben, at the Institute for Innovation, Design and Productdevelopment, close to the central station. The day started at 10 am, lasted until 4 pm and we heard a lot of speakers from different fields. One of the most interesting was Maths Isacsson, who has conducted research in Bergslagen for 35 years. He talked about the projects in teh region, what it meant for the regional cultural heritage and the restructuring plans. Being an industrial area in decline, the region profited from EU's Structural Funds, especially after Sweden joined this Union in 1995.
Now, as in many other deprived areas in Europe, buzz-words around which the discourse focuses are Cultural Industries and Experience Economy. He spoke about the changing image - or rather images - of Bergslagen in media, with the local inhabitants and in Sweden.
Other speakers were a journalist, businessmen, researchers from other regions such as Norrbotten and even a guest speaker from Newcastle, a city situated in an industrial restructuring area. There was even a short discussion about the arrival of Dutch families to Bergslagen and what it means for local politics when an entrepreneur from abroad wants to turn a forrestcottage into a restaurant for instance. The cottage in the forrest has been abandoned for years without anyone really taking an interest, but when some small sized enterprise wants to buy it in order to commercialise it, this can cause many protests!
There was a short movie about the history of Bergslagen and the local culture of male blue collar workers resisting education and creativity. This, together with the usual networking and a lecture by an art and image scientist about a painter that painted these stereotypical heavy industy images (Johan Ahlbäck) made that he conference was well worth visiting.
Now, off to Åkerby for the next conference!

Monday, 15 October 2007


A train, a major road and signs of two multinationals
in this picture, taken from svampen in Örebro.

The urban economy

The third Seminar dealt with abstract concepts such as Globalisation and "Space of flows". We had read texts by Saskia Sassen en Ash Amin from the book A companion to the city amongst others, each representing their view of how the postindustrial city adapted to the new world order. A swedish text in which the author attempted to operationalise Manuel Castells ideas of the space of flows and the space of place was also part of the literature. The arguments in this text were basically that "people live at places while the power reigns though flows" and "the elite is cosmopolitic - the people is local."
Our assignment was to operationalise these abstract concepts by describing in about one page (A4) what we would research in case we'd write about the new urban ecoconomy and how we would do that. We had a text by Helle Nörgaard as an example, in which she tests Saskia Sasssen thesis aboutglobal cities and social polarisation on the case study of New York. She looked at income level and compared the income level of the newly immigrated labour force with that of the established white urban professionals working in FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate). Nörgaard found little evidence for Sassen's thesis.
The value of a seminar like this is that it really makes you think about how easywe use abstract terms such as globalisation. But it is a lot more difficult to define these terms and texts really need a lot of "unpacking" before we, the readers, really understand it and even more thinking before we can come to concrete terms and phenomena that are empirically testable.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Second Seminar

The aim of the second seminar was to discuss the difference between Humanities (Hum) and Social Science (Sam) when it comes to researching. History is a subject taught at Humanities while the other subjects (Political Science, Human Geography and Sociology) are taught at Social Sciences. At Hum., research is more inductive, starting from the bottom, defining the phenomena and possibly formulating a theory for the specific research case. In doing so, emphasis is mostly put on uniqueness. At Sam., research is more deductive, starting from a theory, using a number of existing definitions and applying that to the research object. That makes that emphasis is put more on generalisation.
We also discussed the use of comparative studies and studies at the borderline between two disciplines. We had read two books, one where sociologists (Mats Franzén & Eva Sandstedt) try to write a historical overview of the Swedish debate about neighbourliness in the 50's, 60's and 70's and one where a political scientist (Natasha Vall) tries to compare two cities: Malmö and Newcastle. Comparatuive studies are valuable but difficult, which probabaly is why there are so few PhD Student who 'dare' to write a comparative dissertation.
Do I dare?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Urban and Regional Studies

I might have forgotten to give a more detailed insight in how the research school is organised and what I mean when talking about "we". Well, the idea of the interdisciplinary research school " Urban and Regional Studies" is that PhD students and researchers learn from each other's research in different disciplines. There are about 24 members of the research school and the closely linked Center of Urban and Regional Studies. The people that I work most closely with are the other 6 new PhD students: Peter, Human Geographer, Susanna and Maja (both Sociologists), Anna-Lisa (Political Scientist), Andreas (Historian) and Marcus (Social Work Scientist). Those are also the people that take the course "The city in its context". Together with two other courses, seminars and conferences this is the common basis of the PhD students at URS.

First Seminar

After four weeks, and not much news so far, I can provide a small summary of the two seminars that we have had. The first seminar in this text and the second seminar in another text.
The theme of the first seminar was "The city as research object". We read texts by Friedrich Engels, Jane Jacobs, Louis Wirth, Lewis Mumford and Robert Putnam. These texts represented a wide range of disciplines and Zeitgeists. Engels described the slum conditions in 1845 Manchester. A city then at the height of Industrial Revolution. The article can be classified as one of the first urban sociological texts. Louis Wirths' Urbanism as a way of life (1938) represents the thoughts of the famous Chicago School. He states that life in cities differs greatly from the rural way of life. The most important symbols of the city are the clock (time is money) and the traffic light (rules are needed everywhere, in order to regulate the large flow of humans). Putnam's text Bowling alone introduces the term "declining social capital" and states that the number of people in the USA that have been bowling at least once in 1995, is bigger than the number of people that went voting. However, these people play less and less in teams, and more alone than ever before.
It is interesting how all writers use terms such as Street Ballet (Jacobs), Urban Drama (Mumford), Public Plazas (Whyte) and Social Capital (Putnam). This illustrates the will and need of combining the socio-cultural and the economic-political aspects of urbanism.
Finally, an attempt was made to put our future work on a scale provided by Ronan Paddisson and another table by Ingemar Elander.
As it turns out, most of our works (including mine) can be placed within the socio-cultural tradition concerned with Urban Reconstruction. What I'm about to do next is to try to specify this more by looking at positivism and post-positivism. A course about Geographical theories, focussing on Karl Popper e.g. would not be a luxury!