Extreme Researcher Goes International

Fittingly enough, I’m writing this post sitting outside in warm sunshine just off the African Coast. However, before embarking on this week’s actual blog post it’s maybe worth noting that this blog is now ten posts old. I’m not entirely sure what that is in dog years but this baby sure is growing up fast.

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Credit: kristinakuzmic.com

Then for the actual news. I have in the past few weeks been formulating my travel plans for year 2016. As a PhD student my main priority is to write as good a dissertation as possible in a reasonable amount of time. However, since the type of dissertation I am writing relies partly on ethnographic material gained through conducting interviews in various international adventure sports destinations, I do actually need to do some traveling to get those interviews.

Also, for me simply finishing the dissertation is not an end goal. Rather, if I succeed, it will be the beginning of a new career in the academia. To qualify as a potential academic professional it is important that one gets experience from outside one’s own university. I therefore started making plans on how best to do that quite early on in my PhD studies. Below is listed the current plan for year 2016. This may still change some, as I am pursuing a travel grant to attend a conference in Ireland in August, and there might be other changes as well.

Anyway, I started my year of travel recently on a quick trip to Björkliden in Arctic Sweden where I participated in an ice climbing festival. This was a short trip but seeing that my research objects, i.e. male adventure athletes are not ‘natives’ rooted in a specific locale but rather ‘on the move’ like myself, these “ethnographic trips” (Thorpe 2009, 493), instead of traditional place-based ethnography, are actually probably the best way to study them. Based on my recent experiences and reading the likes of Robinson, Thorpe, and Wacquant (I’m mobile now so unfortunately can’t provide precise references), I have also started to think that I may want to compliment the ‘official’ interviews I do with some ‘unofficial’ ones but that’s a topic in itself that I should probably discuss in detail in a future post.

Right now I’m in the Canary Islands where I’m trying to, besides enjoying rock climbing and running in the sun, to also do some work. I will also take part in a running race across the whole island. The circumstances for this endeavor are not exactly ideal, however, as I blew my 21-week training program right at the end by getting a vicious two-week flu that somewhat dissipated one week before the race. Anyway, participating in the race is more pleasure-oriented than work-oriented anyway, so if I’m unable to finish, then I hope to nevertheles get some work done while here.

In April I’m traveling back to the Arctic to participate in a skimountaineering race weekend in Narvik, Norway. This is a festival-type event with races on Friday and Saturday and a non-competetive (possibly hung-over) social ski tour on Sunday. I’m a bit scared of this as it’s the first time I try my hand at competitive skimountaineering. Most important, though, will be trying to land another interview here. The circumstances would seem to be promising, as there looks to be both communal living and organized and unofficial socializing ahead.

During the summer I will then spend another couple of weeks in the Alps. I did so also in 2015 and conducted my first official interview, that worked as my pilot study, there and did another unofficial ‘interview’ that actually took place on several occasions during the two-week stay. This year I don’t have any running races scheduled for this alpine trip, so the focus when I’m not working will be on getting as much alpine climbing done as possible.

In August I’m going back to Tromsø Skyrace. That’s where I first started writing my fieldnotes last year, and this year I’ll see about getting a proper interview done also. The race is part of the newly branded Skyrunning Extreme World Series, so I’m sure there are lots of potential informants present. My experiences last year were very encouraging, as it was super easy to talk to world class athletes in this event. Access like that is only possible outside the mainstream sports, and makes the interview part of my thesis a whole lot easier than if I was writing on football or the like, as I don’t think it very likely I’d even get close to talking to someone like Leo Messi.

Oh, and did I mention I also made myself some wicked 90s-style business cards to hand out to informants? Now if these don’t spell out P-R-O then I don’t know what does.

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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I was recently informed that my application to spend the Fall of 2016 as a doctoral exchange student at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, was accepted. Now Turkey may not sound like the most obvious choice for an English Studies major looking to do their exchange period but I chose Hacettepe because it is both very convenient to arrange as they are an international partner of the University of Vaasa, and also, perhaps surprisingly, they have very big and high-quality programs in American and English Studies and house academic staff such as Serpil Oppermann, that have a very high profile within ecocritical research. I will also participate in a big international mountain/trail running race while there and plan to spend an extended period of time at Turkey’s internationally most famous rock climbing destination. Again, the idea is to collect some interviews in these destinations.

There are still two hurdles on the way of this becoming a reality, however: 1) There is still some bureaucracy left to do before everything is 100% official but this shouldn’t present a problem, and 2) I need to get funding for this. This second one is actually a major hurdle as, if I am not lucky enough to get a continuation to my current research funding, I will have to either quickly try to scramble together some impromptu travel grant, or simply cancel the exchange. Which would blow. I will keep you posted of any news on this front.

OK that’s about it on the current plan. Let’s finish then with an audiovisual representation of what I realistically expect this research year to look like. Once I have the ‘stache sorted, that is.

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Credit: Gogolbordello.com

Featured image (not visible in mobile theme) credit: wikitravel.org.

(Edited March 13, 2016: I forgot to mention originally the obvious problematics of an environmentally inclined researcher traveling around as much as I plan to do. Yes, I am aware of my growing carbon footprint while I do this, and this issue will be discussed in my 4th article that I hope to write during the Summer. I’ll blog on it, too, when I have done more thinking on it.)

(Partial) References

Thorpe, Holly (2009). “Bourdieu, Feminism and Female Physical Culture: Gender          Reflexivity and the Habitus-Field Complex.” In Sociology of Sport Journal, 2009, 26, 491-516.

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