By Dydimus Zengenene (Uppsala University)
One of the key training and research components of the POEM project is ‘secondment’. Secondments entail engagement of POEM fellows with partner institutions for a given period of time to learn new skills and perspectives in their relevant areas of research. Elina and I were honoured to be hosted by the Department of European Ethnology/Cultural Anthropology at the University of Hamburg in Germany for the period of May and June 2019 as part of our secondment.
The department is one of the most respected centres of research and teaching in Cultural anthropology across Europe under Professor Gertraud Korch who happens to be part of the POEM supervisory team and coordinator of the ITN. The university hosts three fellows and the POEM administration team which makes it the project management office of POEM.
My research seeks to investigate the dynamics of managing online communities in various mediated memory modalities. The main objective of the secondment for my project was to learn how to understand communities and memory modalities through ethnography of infrastructures. This entailed introduction to and interrogation of the concepts of infrastructure, communities and open knowledge. Through intense interactive sessions, I was given guidance on literature and ethnographic approaches of research. Notable sessions included participating in classes where anthropology students presented and defended their research ideas and methodologies. This provided an opportunity to reflect upon and understand different ethnographic research designs with a view of improving our projects. A weekly colloquium organised by Angeliki Tzouganatou, one of the fellows, to deliberate and share knowledge on open knowledge was interesting and informative to participate in. With such presentations as the innovative use of open knowledge in Europeana, the sessions were a platform to contribute to the debate on open knowledge from a practical perspective.
Sharing an office with three other fellows based at the University of Hamburg was a great opportunity not only to share but to discuss our research, the challenges we face and motivate each other. It was the first time that fellows under my work package on memory modalities (‘work package 3) were all under one roof for such a long period discussing possible synergies and collaborative work.
Besides the warm weather with intermittent rain, we were provided with an opportunity to experience and view our projects from different perspectives, around different professionals. All the sessions rejuvenated our motivations and informed us of possible new approaches to address the same research topics. Special mention to Prof Koch for the patience of reading and listening to our views, and being available and thorough in the weekly meetings. The POEM team made our stay in Hamburg interesting and beneficial. The three smiling machines by way of ‘fellow fellows’ provided the necessary collegial company and enough subjects to debate on.
By Elina Moraitopoulou
Starting this short contribution with some context on my project and how it is situated in the broader POEM structure will hopefully provide with some extra insights on why secondments, as explained by Dydimus, are an inextricable component of our program -and probably of other programs with structures similar to it.
My research project focuses on youth participation and the different practices of memory-making among young people in school environment. Out of the 13 POEM fellows, Susanne Borsema and myself are the only two to be based in non-academic organizations other than our host university: Susanne spends most of her time in Berlin where she’s hosted by the Museum of European Culture, whereas I am in London, hosted by Ashoka UK. This arrangement comes with several benefits, such as tuning in other work cultures, expanding our network of people and participating in discussions and processes that add a different perspective to our research. In most cases, reflections and learnings acquired from our everyday working environments expose us to diverse realms beyond academia providing us with valuable insights for our research. However, this same arrangement can also become particularly challenging, for example when library and other university resources are more difficult to access or even, most importantly, when day-to-day interaction with fellow researchers is less feasible.
I am not an ethnographer by training, which -especially at the early days of the project- has been more a source of excitement and eagerness to learn rather than an obstacle. However, as the project advanced, the need to acquire supplementary training beyond personal reading, turned out to be a necessity. For that reason, a one-month secondment at the Department of European Ethnology/Cultural Anthropology, University of Hamburg, was integrated as fundamental part in my first year of research. As its main objective, this secondment was designed to provide me with introductory training to anthropological concepts and more precisely to some ethnographic methods and practicalities of the field. Alongside these new learnings, however, came a series of events and experiences which -at the very least- helped me reframe the approach to my topic, change my perspective and start anew on assets that have been persistently blocking me for months. It was through meetings with Professor Koch; readings and endless conversations with fellow colleagues; as well as a first five-day stay to the place I would later call “my research field”, that eventually did much more than “just” helping me refine my research design.
The research reality and routine of a PhD is unknown to everyone that hasn’t been through the process themselves. When sharing their experience, fewer people may go beyond their research findings and conclusions to eventually dig deep in the invaluable emotional learnings that add to their development as humans. The most persisting and discouraging struggles, indispensable part of every PhD journey, can only be best tackled through genuine, sincere connections with fellow travellers, those who draw a safe zone for doubts and fears to be
shared and relieved and for resilience to be developed. It is these less-obvious but invaluable connections that find space to grow in the context of such programs and eventually form the backbone for a unique research adventure. A big ‘thank you’ to all the POEM fellows based at the university of Hamburg for their warm support over this secondment period (and beyond!).