Relational landscapes and rock star geographers on a solo flight

After a very smooth trip to Malmö, Sweden I stepped into an IKEA catalogue. This hotel room was going to be home for the next four days. I was in Malmö for the Relational Landscape Studies of Urbanisations Conference at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. I have blogged before about how I find conferences exciting and overwhelming experiences. It was great “flying in AUSCCER formation” at the two first conferences I attended. In those instances there were colleagues who introduced me and who guided me and other starting PhD students around. None of that on this occasion, it was time for my first solo flight.

Shards of the past and seeds of the future

Pondering the details of everyday life in the Bronze Age, as I did in a post several weeks ago, took me back to a discussion between Nigel Clark and Michelle Bastian at the RGS-IBG conference in late August. They wondered how we might need to reassemble the shards of the past in different ways in the future. As I pack up to leave Gothenburg and head home, my head is spinning with ideas, comparisons and lists of things to do. So I will just present a few thoughts as disconnected shards that may or may not sit together in a strong stone wall.

Stone wall, Gotland. Photo: L. Head

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Layers of heritage

I have been fortunate enough on the last two weekends to visit two world heritage areas, the Bronze Age rock art of the Tanum area in Bohuslän, and the mediaeval town of Visby, on the Baltic island of Gotland. The Gotland visit was part of a field trip with old colleagues from the Landscape Science program at Kristianstad University, where I worked in 2005-06. A nine day field trip underpins the second year subject Svenska Landskap. It is described as a smörgåsbord of landscapes – a quick taste of many different things. Intensive or block teaching is standard in many Swedish universities, with students concentrating on one subject completely for five weeks.

Seeing with a bus. Photo: L. Head

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Words and weeds in Sweden

Late summer landscape at Vrångö, in Göteborg’s southern archipelago.

I am back in Göteborg (Gothenburg) as Visiting Professor in the Unit for Human and Economic Geography at the University of Gothenburg. Each time I visit Sweden for a prolonged period, I try to do something systematic to improve, or at least regain, my limited Swedish. On this visit I opted for an intensive course. It was hard work; I haven’t thought about subordinate clauses for more than forty years, and learning vocab is much harder for me than it was then. Many people express surprise at this use of my time, since English is the second language of operation of Swedish academic life. All my colleagues here have to publish in English in order to establish an international reputation, and they speak and write English to a very high level. I don’t anticipate that I will ever be able to have an academic conversation in Swedish.

So why would I bother? Continue reading

Daring to simplify: multifunctional landscapes and Twitter

Do we environmental social scientists make things too complicated for ourselves? That was one of the stimulating questions that emerged from the workshop Marie Stenseke and I organised here in Göteborg last week – Enhancing the contribution of the social sciences to sustainability debates: how can we be proactive and practical without compromising on complexity? Klas Sandell from Karlstad University encapsulated the dilemma as ‘daring to simplify’ in the public arena. Natural scientists do it all the time, when announcing the latest discoveries in climate change, cancer research or human evolution. Most people accept that there is a huge amount of complexity and detailed research behind such simplifications. Are social scientists too precious about their expertise in complexity?

Reflecting on the discussion later, and having to report on AUSCCER’s activities for the year, I was reminded that we have made significant steps in 2012. What are Twitter, The Conversation and this blog* if not examples of ‘daring to simplify’ our current thinking and research findings? One great thing about each of these arenas is that they contain the architecture to link to the more detailed work in the background. I at least feel more confident to simplify if I can point the reader to the basis on which I do so. A second advantage is that they are our words (with the concomitant disadvantage that we cannot blame a journalist when things are wrong!). Continue reading

Whiteboards and contingency

I approached the week with some trepidation. Three days teaching the first part of an intensive PhD course. As we don’t have PhD coursework in Australia, what is the appropriate level? What is the right balance between me talking and engendering a conversation within the group? How many authors to include on the reading list? Better to try and give a broad sweep, or a focused ‘take’ on the topic – ‘Sustainable Landscapes’? And the students themselves were at a range of different levels, from Masters coursework to some nearly ready to defend their PhDs, so it had to be accessible in different ways. Continue reading

Invasive species and invading discourses

I took the comfortable three and a bit hour train trip to Stockholm for a couple of days this week to attend the Controlling aliens? Invasion biologies and theorising the native workshop, hosted by Libby Robin and Sverker Sörlin at the Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). Libby and her co-workers have had several collaborative seminars with AUSCCER researchers on invasive species, so it was great to continue the connection on the other side of the world. It is no accident that the discipline of invasion ecology grew out of the colonial experience; it is strongest in former colonies such as Australia, USA, South Africa. The humanities/social science research dimensions are also strong in these areas, providing a critical take on questions of ferals, aliens, natives and invasives. Continue reading

Seeing forests and trees in Sweden

Leaving a warming Wollongong for flurries of early snow in Göteborg is exciting, but it was the trees rather than the weather that invaded my consciousness in the first week. I am living in the centre of the city, five minutes walk from everything I need, and handy to efficient trams if I want to go further. My cosy attic apartment is framed by massive oak beams, a reminder of the deforestation of the deciduous forests of Europe over the last few hundred years, particularly after the industrial revolution. The human labour involved in this endeavour is still visible in the adze marks on the beams. Inside this frame is carved a typical modern Swedish apartment, in what we have come to think of as Ikea style; lined and furnished with birch and pine, solid and veneer, in different combinations. Just down the road, municipal plans to remove diseased Linden trees – in the final glories of their golden autumn display – in the main avenues drew protests and a temporary halt. (Not to mention that the City had forgotten to apply for a permit.) Continue reading