Japan’s first large-scale CCS demonstration: the social side

This post summarises another paper out this month. This is an investigation into the social dimensions of the Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project, Japan’s first large-scale carbon capture and storage project.

What is the key point of this paper?

The key point of this paper is that carbon capture and storage – a potentially crucial low-carbon energy technology – is being implemented in Tomakomai City in Hokkaido, northern Japan to seemingly broad consent from the local community. This is important because although carbon capture and storage may be very important for Japan’s energy future, elsewhere in the world CCS projects have been cancelled or delayed due to public concern. To get to this point, however, the project developers have had to work very hard and in close collaboration with the local authorities and independent scientists to show the community that the project is viable and that they have adequate monitoring and contingency procedures in place. Our study is one of the first scientific papers in the world to look at the Tomakomai project, and as far as we know the first piece of empirical social science research to be published looking specifically at Tomakomai.

P1020262

Tomakomai fishing port

What is carbon capture and storage?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves trapping the carbon dioxide emissions from coal- or gas-fired power stations or industrial sources like steel, cement and chemical works. This carbon dioxide is then transported, usually by pipeline or ship, and injected into geological structures such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs deep underground. In Tomakomai, carbon dioxide is captured from a facility within an oil refinery to the east of the city. It is then injected, via two wells drilled from onshore, into storage sites several kilometres offshore and more than a kilometre below the seabed.

What were the findings, and what is new or significant about them?

Our main finding is that it is evidence of good monitoring processes, and the developer going slow and taking a precautionary approach, that seems to have kept the community on-side. In other words, rather than just giving an outright assurance that the captured carbon dioxide is securely stored, in Tomakomai the local authority and scientists from the Marine Ecology Research Institute have put a lot of effort into explaining to the community why they can make these claims and how they will know should carbon dioxide for any reason find its way to the seabed.

These findings are especially interesting because the Tomakomai project could be considered a ‘difficult’ case for progressing carbon dioxide storage. It is next to a big community (175,000 people), with a lot of pride in local fisheries, in a country where there is recent experience of the relationship between energy, seismic activity and the sea. Our findings also tell us that history matters. Carbon dioxide storage under the seabed in Tomakomai follows on from a long history of activity in Tomakomai Bay which has interacted with the area’s fisheries, such as paper manufacturing and industrial development. All of this offshore activity in the past shapes how people feel about a new project happening in the present.

The lesson for carbon capture and storage projects globally is that project operators have to be prepared to understand the local context, and that if they want to replicate what Tomakomai has achieved so far there may be a need to monitor to a standard that is considered socially appropriate above and beyond what is ‘scientifically’ required.

Why is this research important?

As above, CCS may have an important role to play in Japan fulfilling its climate change obligations. Under the Paris Agreement, Japan has committed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26% by 2030 compared to 2013 levels – yet the country still relies heavily on coal-fired electricity generation. More widely, though, our paper also indicates that for any big infrastructure project offshore, community relations to the sea can be complex. Developing an in-depth understanding of the relationship between society and the sea is thus important in determining whether a development is appropriate for an area or not.

How was the research conducted?

Between 2014 and 2016, we interviewed people with an interest the Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project – project operators, local government, regional government, NGOs, fishers, port authorities and so on. These interviews took place not only in Tomakomai, but also across Hokkaido and Japan more widely to find out what people who might be able to shape societal opinion thought about the project. Furthermore, we visited the libraries in Tomakomai City and for all Hokkaido (located in Sapporo). There we looked at old newspapers and historical reports, to understand the history of infrastructure development and environmental change in the sea off Tomakomai.

It is worth noting the interdisciplinary nature of the research team – environmental sociology, marine biology and geology. Jun accompanied me to Tomakomai for some of the fieldwork, doing the interviews alongside me and helping to dig out useful material in the archives. Maybe at some point in the future I will go out in a boat by way of return!

Who funded the research?

The research was funded by a grant from the UK CCS Research Centre International Research Collaboration Fund, held between RGU and the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth. Initial pilot interviews were done via a Japan Foundation Fellowship, and further analysis and writing up of the archive data was possible thanks to a Regional Studies Association Early Career Grant.

Mabon, L, Kita, J and Xue Z (2017) ‘Challenges for social impact assessment in coastal regions: a case study of the Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project’ Marine Policy DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2017.06.015

You can read the full paper here. Email l.j.mabon@rgu.ac.uk if you can’t get access.

P1020210

View from Tomakomai City Hall towards the refinery, CO2 capture plant and storage site

Posted in New Publications, UKCCSRC International Collaboration 2016 | Leave a comment

Five years of trial coastal fishing in Fukushima: what is the situation?

The aim of this post is to summarise a new paper that myself and Prof Midori Kawabe have had published on coastal fisheries in Fukushima, five years after trial operations started post-disaster.

What is the key point of this paper?

The main message we want to get across is that five years after fishing resumed in Fukushima following the nuclear accident, local communities are still working hard to restore pride in their region’s marine produce.

P1010576

Fishing boat, Onahama port, Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture

What were the findings, and what is new or significant about them?

We found that citizens themselves have been very important in promoting and moving forwards fishing in Fukushima. Some citizens have set up their own groups to do independent monitoring of the radiation in fish, to provide an independent ‘double check’ to the data produced by the national and regional government. But what is especially significant is that most of these citizens are driven not only by a desire to understand food safety, but also to restore pride to local fishing through actions like organising tasting events and taking to social media to engage with scientists and citizens internationally. When we spoke to people within the fishing communities themselves, they were of course eager to understand radiation better, but more than anything else they were proud of the fishing heritage in their ports and villages.

We also found that the social and cultural effects of a disaster can be just as harmful as the physical and economic consequences. There are still problems caused by the place name association with ‘Fukushima.’ When I speak to my colleagues or give a public lecture here in Scotland and start by saying that I’ve been to Fukushima, people expect that I’m going to talk about the nuclear power station. But Fukushima Prefecture is half the size of Belgium and has a population of 2 million people. So there is still a lot of work to be done to raise people’s understanding of what ‘Fukushima’ is, and of the harm that can be done by assuming Fukushima Prefecture and the Fukushima Dai’Ichi Nuclear Power Plant are the same thing.

Why is this research important?

This month – June 2017 – is exactly five years since coastal fishing resumed on a trial basis in Fukushima Prefecture after the nuclear accident. Over that time, more and more fish species have been released for consumption as scientific knowledge improves and the radiation subsides. At the same time, though, there has been and continues to be a huge effort to manage the social side of marine radiation. This doesn’t mean just understanding and respecting citizens’ concerns, but also bringing fishers, scientists and governors together to decide on the most appropriate pathway for the restarting of fisheries in Fukushima. Although the causes of the Fukushima nuclear accident are clearly unique, large-scale environmental changes on our seas and coasts are going to become more and more common with climate change, so it is important that we understand how these kinds of changes affect society.

How was the research conducted?

Since mid-2014, along with my co-author Professor Midori Kawabe from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, I’ve been interviewing people connected to fishing in Fukushima. We have focused our attention on Iwaki District in the south of Fukushima, and have been talking to fishers, fisheries managers, scientists, academics, politicians and citizens. Over that time, I have been to Fukushima Prefecture three times, and am just about to go again next week. We’ve also been reviewing documentation on risk management and risk communication produced by the national, regional and local governments, as well as by the fisheries cooperatives themselves.

Who funded the research?

The research was funded by a Fellowship I received from the Japan Foundation.

Mabon L and Kawabe M (2017) ‘Making sense of post-disaster Fukushima fisheries: a scalar approach’ Environmental Science and Policy 75: 173-183

You can view the full paper here. If you do not have access, please let me know via l.j.mabon@rgu.ac.uk and I will mail you a copy.

P1000246

Hisanohama port, Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture

Posted in New Publications | Leave a comment

Why I saw north-east Scotland turning blue, and why the ‘day job’ now has to be a just transition

As soon as Donald Trump won Michigan in the US presidential race late last year, I had a feeling large parts of north-east Scotland were going to fall to the Tories at the next election. I just didn’t expect ‘the next election’ at which this happened would be seven months later.

For those not familiar with the context, at the UK elections earlier this week, the Conservative party – who for decades had been virtually wiped out in Scotland – took twelve seats off the pro-independence Scottish National Party. Six of those gains were in the north-east, within Aberdeen City, surrounding Aberdeenshire, and also up towards Banffshire and Moray and down to Angus. This left the north-east corner of Scotland as a big blue blob (with a tiny speck of yellow where the SNP held Aberdeen North) among a mixed pattern of red, yellow, darker yellow and other bits of blue in the rest of Scotland. This gave a clear visual indication that something interesting had indeed happened in the region.

What had made me think the north-east was going to so uniformly fall to the Conservatives? Quite simply, it was the presence of a big population, largely dependent on a dying carbon-intensive industry, yet very much marginalised in mainstream debates in the run-up to the election. I saw how successfully Trump had campaigned in automobile- and coal-producing regions, and realised there would be potential to create a very similar narrative in north-east Scotland should one want to. In case you think I’m making that up, I have the screenshots to prove it.

 

It didn’t happen quite like that, of course. I don’t recall anybody knocking at my door promising to Make Aberdeen Great Again. Nor do I remember seeing any of our British politicians standing in a boiler suit in front of crowds of oil workers promising to open up the rigs. And in some ways, that perhaps made things worse. Because – with a few exceptions I’ll come to later – none of the parties standing for election in the north-east really seemed to be addressing a fundamental issue which is of major concern to the local population. Namely, what can be done to redress the job losses, rising food bank use and decline of our urban environments that are being hastened in Aberdeen and its surroundings by the dwindling productivity of the North Sea and continually low global oil prices.

And, more than that, nobody outside of the north-east really seemed to care either. The decline of the region is quiet and slow. We haven’t had camera crews coming like the ones that used to visit UKIP-leaning marginalised communities in east England. There are as yet no Channel 5 documentaries about life on the wild streets of Rosemount. All of this fits with the sense I’ve been getting when I’ve been doing fieldwork over the last few years – that north-east Scotland has given plenty to the rest of the country over the last fifty years through not only oil, but also fishing, the hosting of defence bases, and more recently renewable energy infrastructure. But now that we need something back, nobody is listening. Science-based fisheries regulations are hard to swallow when your earnings are being squeezed. Climate policy drawn up by someone in Edinburgh on the basis of a report complied in Switzerland is of limited value if it means you get a wind turbine stuck up behind your house.

20170609_185346[1]

Central Aberdeen is filled with new office blocks that developers are struggling to fill

I know all of this for two reasons. One is that for six years now, I’ve been doing research on what the implications of a maturing North Sea might be for daily living in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and further afield like Angus and Moray. The second is that I too am a citizen of Aberdeen. I joke that every single day is like a big piece of participant observation for me, but in seriousness it does give insight into what’s going on. I see what comes through my door before elections. I notice subtle changes in the city centre. I hear what people are talking about.

What I take away from all of this is that there is a great deal of confusion about just who is responsible for managing the north-east’s relationship with the oil industry and, more pointedly, whose fault it is that things have gone so badly wrong. When we asked citizens in focus groups who should take charge of the North Sea from now on in, without fail the answer we got was always ‘the government.’ No more than that, just ‘the government.’ And yet when it comes to oil and society in Aberdeen, there are many different kinds of government. There’s the local government, whose biggest debate over the last few years has been over what to do with some money a local oil magnate was putting up for redevelopment of the city centre. We have the Scottish government, with their renewable energy and climate change targets. We have the United Kingdom government, responsible for things like drilling licences and taxation. All of these feed into a complex picture that informs how oil and gas activity in the North Sea is undertaken, and how that shapes life back onshore.

To muddy the waters further, these levels mix with each other in ways that are not clear. I got leaflets through the door for the recent council election screaming about how national independence referenda were a distraction. People who were not even standing for election were coming to visit towns and villages and appearing on TV. Noticeable is that in among all this confusion, a perception appeared to emerge that the SNP could have been doing more to safeguard oil and gas jobs in the region. I am very careful to call this a perception, because I’m not sure what the SNP could have done about taxation, licencing, carbon pricing and all the other things that are outwith their control. But the key point is that the view seems to be there that is was somehow the fault of Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon, that the problems of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and beyond were being ignored by the leaders supposed to represent them. The MPs were doing good work on the ground for sure, but this somehow got a bit lost in the overall message.

WP_20170402_17_02_09_Pro

Developments such as Triple Kirks have been delayed or cancelled as appetite wanes

Hang on, though. If you want to do something about food bank use, unemployment and workers’ rights, surely the last thing you do is vote Tory? Maybe so, but in all the confusion I talked about above, it’s perhaps not surprising that the people who shout the loudest about how ‘the government’ are doing A Bad Job of Everything will be most likely to win out. And whether through good campaigning or media support or whatever, the Tories were definitely the loudest voice in the north-east. It is telling that – according to the information I got from the BBC news website – Willie Rennie and Nicola Sturgeon came to the north-east once each, and Kezia Dugdale not at all. Ruth Davidson, meanwhile, visited Peterhead, Brechin, Fochabers and Forres. And then, of course, there was Theresa May’s ‘forest’ rally in Deeside. They knew exactly what they were doing. From Aberdeen South, you can’t vote for Saudi Arabia to curb production or the EU to mandate CO2 injection with all oil recovery or BP not to explore new basins, but you can use your vote to kick the people you most closely associate with being ‘in charge’ of mismanaging the North Sea oil industry.

This in many ways is a shame, because the SNP and the Conservatives weren’t the only parties standing. I was very impressed with the attention the Labour candidates had given to more local-level concerns, and was delighted to see my former student Barry Black standing for Labour in Aberdeen West and Kincardineshire (within 10 years he’ll be an elected representative, mark my words). Special mention must also go to Patrick Harvie who, just days before the election, was in the Scottish Parliament pushing the SNP on how their oil recovery goals were incompatible with their climate change targets.

This is not a complete picture. It’s just one angle, based on insights from my own social science research, that might help partially explain why the Tories did so well in the north-east. Here’s a final thought for you. Apparently the people have spoken on a second independence referendum. Getting back to the day job is what Scotland-based politicians now have to do. So as citizens of north-east Scotland, let’s make sure that our Conservative and SNP MPs know that their day job is now to work to deliver a just and equitable transition away from oil and gas for the region. Write to them, get them to ask questions in parliament, hold them to account. After all, it is still at the Westminster level that the decisions about the UK Continental Shelf are made that form the bedrock (sorry) for everything else a just transition requires.

WP_20170319_17_06_23_Pro

Posted in Comment | Leave a comment

Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Hanoi Workshop Day 5

20170519_153504.jpg

The final day of our British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme-funded Hanoi workshop! This was very much a wrap-up day, hence the blog post will be a little shorter than usual. We started 9am to make the most of the day, and spent the first part of the morning finishing off the clustering and initial thematic analysis from yesterday (to know more about what we found out, you’ll need to wait for the paper to come out 😉 )

Before and after lunch, Chris and I led a session on writing for publication. Chris talked more generally about tips and tricks for publication based on his experience overseeing the British Sociological Association journals. Then I used my own policy-focused research papers to discuss how to write up environmental social science for publication. Much to our surprise, we were told that having two international publications (or at least one publication and one international conference paper) is now a requirement for getting a PhD in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. This seems a very high bar, but one that interested and impressed us in equal measure.

In the interim, over lunch we had a meeting with Mr Ha, the head of International Cooperation and his colleague Kevin from Scientific Cooperation. Mr Ha was a huge help to me when I was preparing the proposal, so we were delighted to have the chance to drop by his office and say thanks for all the support.

As a wrap-up we did a lengthy Q&A with the PhD students on how to write for academic journals, as well as bouncing round a few ideas on how to move our findings towards publication that I will keep under wraps for now. We then got taken on a tour of the Institute of Human Geography, complete with its lovely little library (will show the photos to our students next time they complain about books being spread out over several floors!)

20170519_153705

Study room in the IHGeo Library

20170519_153803[1]

Books!

20170519_154116

Human Geography Review journals and world map

Before we left, all the students and most of the staff emerged in traditional Vietnamese dress for a group photo. This also involved Natascha and I being (wo)man-handled into position forcefully by our colleagues to ensure good colour coordination among their outfits, for which we were ultimately grateful when we saw the photos.

As a final surprise, Dr Tung had arranged for us to have a tour of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology – showing us her traffic negotiation skills in the process. There we found out about the different groups living in Vietnam, trying our best after a week of hard work to leave our critical social science heads at the door and enjoy the exhibits and information. Despite being rather tired by this point, we enjoyed very much and picked up plenty of food for thought from our guide.

20170519_164645

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

On that point, we need plenty time to digest everything that’s happened this week. Dr Tung, Dr Dung and Dr Tram are going to join us in Aberdeen in September for the return visit. We’re hugely excited to welcome them and show them the work that’s going on with Aberdeen’s climate change planning and the climate and environmental protection issues being addressed in Aberdeenshire more widely. As coastal regions with big rivers, significant climate impacts and (relatively) marginalised sections of the population living within them, we’ve come to realise there might be more in common between Nam Dinh and north-east Scotland than we thought. At the same time, there’s lots we know we need to do before then – not least thinking through how we can reciprocate for all the amazing food we have been fed here in Vietnam. We return to Aberdeen tomorrow, but this very much feels like the start of something much longer-term.

This is a really good point to say thanks to Dr Nguyen Song Tung, Dr Nguyen Thi Kim Dung, Dr Pham Thi Tram, Dr Tran Ngoc Ngoan and everyone else in the Institute of Human Geography at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences who has made us feel so welcome this week. We look forward to seeing you all again soon!

IMG_1047

Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | Leave a comment

Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Hanoi Workshop Day 4

There is not much to write about today – which is a good thing as it was a productive day where we worked intensively on one task for a prolonged period. That task was starting to try to understand, at very accelerated speed, the significance of what we had learned during yesterday’s field visit to Nam Dinh. When we put this proposal into the British Academy, our two key aims had been to get to know how each other worked better, and to work towards a common methodology for understanding coastal societies in changing climates across very different contexts. On both of these counts, it has been hard work but we are getting towards our objectives.

Start time was supposed to be 9.30, but there were a fair few tired folk after the long journey to the coast, and it was nearer 10am by the time we got underway. Today’s topic was principles of data analysis and theorising, with an emphasis on rigorous qualitative research (although the underpinning principles of what we discussed are equally applicable to qualitative work).

20170518_095735[1]

Chris Yuill talks about themes in data

First interesting discussion point about grounded theory – if we did that in Vietnam, we would fail our project report. This was a point of departure for us to talk about rigour, and about how to balance up the challenge of not closing down the research question too far with the very pragmatic need to understand sample sizes, techniques and theoretical/scholarly underpinnings as part of the academic process.

Our discussion was then cut short by a bizarre yet happy series of events. It transpired Dr Tung – who earlier in the day had been wearing traditional Vietnamese dress and carrying a large bunch of flowers – had been awarded a major science and technology prize. A cameraman came to film her speaking in our seminar. Several terrifying minutes of confusion followed from our end until someone explained to us what was going on.

20170518_145800[1]

Afternoon task

After that it was time for lunch, and then the fun began. Fun involving writing ideas, points and observations from the field on Post-It notes, at least. Our objective for the afternoon was to do a kind of accelerated trial run of developing themes and ultimately codes from the data, with a view to understanding how one can start to make sense of complex data in a flexible yet semi-systematic way. Two hours of chaos followed, during which we all stuck our observations up on the walls and then worked together to group the individual observations – of which there must have been a good few hundred – into themes.

20170518_153259[1]

Working towards themes

By 4pm (when we stop so everyone can beat the Hanoi traffic home), it was a bit rough and ready but we were starting to see some ideas emerging. Health issues, gender, knowledge, biodiversity, community. There is clearly still some way to go to refine these and focus them in, but the key point for all of us is to start to think through how we might go from describing what we saw in Nam Dinh – or indeed anywhere else we work on climate change and coastal communities – to trying to understand what the social dynamics are. Tomorrow, the last day, is when we’ll try to work towards refining these themes and seeing if we can think about where some concepts or future research directions might come from.

20170518_144549[1]

I don’t know why, but I love this photo. Really sums up this afternoon.

Thanks are extended to the British Academy for their support through the International Partnership and Mobility Scheme.

Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | Leave a comment

Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Nam Dinh Province field visit

Today started early – a 5am alarm call to be picked up at 6am. The three of us heading off unaccompanied into early-morning Hanoi in a silver people carrier with a driver who didn’t speak any English was a little disconcerting, but we soon stopped to collect Tram (once she’d found somewhere to park her scooter) and Dung. We joined the motorway south of Hanoi, destination Nam Dinh Province about two hours’ drive away.

The less said about some of the driving we saw around us on the road the better, but by eight o’clock we had reached Nam Dinh, a small leafy green city with a visibly slower pace of life than Hanoi. There we met the rest of the group, who had arrived in two other cars ahead of us and had already parked themselves at a roadside cafe. Squatting on the little red plastic stools one sees all over Vietnam, we enjoyed a morning coffee of the hot variety with condensed milk, and – for those who had not had breakfast – egg rolls.

20170517_082137

Breakfast briefing from Dr Tram in Nam Dinh

It was then a short walk to the first interview stop of the day, the Nam Dinh Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development offices. Now most interviews I have done have involved two or three people, six at most. Today we had almost twenty. Five representatives of DARD, led by their Director-General, had arranged to be available – and from our side there were the twelve IHGeo researchers plus ‘Team RGU’. In case you are wondering what a twenty-person interview looks like, it goes something like this. The various team members give us an overview of their policy frameworks and activities for climate change adaptation and socio-economic development. We than ask questions in a rather haphazard manner, picking up on things that interest us and chipping in by using the desk mic that is at each of our seats. The relevant team member then provides an answer, which is translated back to us. In Japanese social science research I have heard different words used for different types of interviews, and this was definitely closer to what would be called a ‘hearing’. Still, the data we got was useful, and when we debrief tomorrow and Friday we will talk about the importance of being able to make-do, adapt and think on one’s feet when in the field.

20170517_110417

Meeting with Nam Dinh Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

This process continued for nearly two hours until our time is up, but it was good natured with healthy discussion emerging the more we spoke. What was clear is that climate change is a very serious issue for Nam Dinh Province, which is low-lying and right on the coast. Sea level rise, deposits of salt in soil and increased storms are all posing a serious risk to the region, and there is a real awareness at municipal government level of the problems. This is supported with attempts to respond to the challenges via adaptation planning at provincial level, and also training and skill-building among government officials.

The morning ‘interview’ was followed with a typically extensive and sociable lunch (including the delicacy of snails) before we loaded back in the cars and moved onwards to Xuan Thuy National Park, a further hour and a half away from Nam Dinh. The Deputy Director and his team took our questions, during which it became apparent that climate change is a major risk to both biodiversity and people’s livelihoods, and that finding ways to conserve biodiversity in the face of climate change is crucial for continued social and economic development. All of this was conveyed without anyone one using the term ‘ecosystem services,’ for which I was rather grateful.

20170517_161443

Interview with resident of Xuan Thuy National Park area

Then came the rewarding part. We broke into three groups, each with one RGU researcher and 2-3 of our IHGeo counterparts, and spent an hour interviewing local residents whose lives had been affected by climate change. ‘My’ group had come with their interview schedule prepared and translated into Vietnamese (bearing in mind that at the end of the workshop yesterday we had some bullet points on flipcharts in English). Our IHGeo colleagues led the interview, and a full hour’s discussion followed with only minimal translation and input from me. The three groups heard – in different ways – how climate change was having negative effects on people’s lives in Nam Dinh right now, contrary to the discourse of ‘far away’ climate change we often get in the UK. Having to work longer to catch seafood, needed to change the type of produce farmed or caught, suffering stress and similar health effects.

18485882_10102172968740631_5433761190784117030_n

Xuan Thuy National Park – far right is Co-Principal Investigator Dr Nguyen Song Tung

Last stop of the day, after loading up on honey from the Xuan Thuy National Park office shop, was the coast of the park itself for a bit of field observation. Some of us climbed the crumbly and rather rickety concrete observation tower to look at the encircling rain, others stayed around to watch a boat unexpectedly coming in and landing a catch of oysters. Much shouting among the IHGeo contingent, followed by the production of plastic bags. About half the group had decided to buy some oysters and take them back Hanoi. 10,000 Dong for a kilogram. That’s about 40p for a kilo of freshly-landed seafood.

20170517_173003

Buying oysters

The three cars set off, first under a sun making a good effort to put on a glorious sunset behind the passing rainstorm and then under deepening darkness, back towards Hanoi. We stopped off again in Nam Dinh to hunt for tea, a process that caused much frustration as it transpired the three team members from Nam Dinh knew nothing about their hometown. Tomorrow we will work towards techniques for drawing themes out from our initial reflections on the fieldwork (plus from IHGeo’s findings in Nam Dinh to date), and in the afternoon the RGU researchers will be giving a seminar on their own latest research.

Our activities in Vietnam are supported by the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme.

20170517_082148

Nam Dinh City

Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | Leave a comment

Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Hanoi Workshop Day 2

Today may best be titled ‘When Epistemologies Collide’. We came to a consensus in the end, but it was a full-on day.

Natascha started us off with a rich and theoretically-driven lecture on the social dimensions of science and the positionality and values of the researcher. Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, Science and Technology Studies. Now when I was taught this kind of stuff at uni it tended to be done in a fairly abstract way, with a big pile of theory and some historical examples. Those that got it got it, and those that didn’t went on to have fruitful and meaningful research careers (just to be crystal clear, that is intended as a joke).

20170516_103715

We, by contrast, decided to go from the super-theoretical to the hyper-empirical by then launching straight in preparing the interview schedules for tomorrow’s field trip to Nam Dinh Province (the location Dr Nguyen Song Tung and Dr Pham Thi Tram told us about yesterday). Our visit will have something of a dual purpose – one, to build the RGU team’s familiarity with the field site as preparation for comparative case study-based work in the future; and two, to give some of the younger researchers in IHGeo experience in interview techniques.

20170516_113256

Team making good progress

Now it may be considered folly to attempt such a wide-ranging plan, but there was method(ology) in our madness. Namely, to work together and use the preparation of an interview schedule as an end goal to think through what kinds of social issues around climate change we want to understand, what sort of data we need to do so, and crucially what the questions are we need to ask of our participants and of ourselves to get this.

20170516_121653

By lunchtime the two working groups had made good headway, and we enjoyed a filling lunch of meat, greens and rice in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences canteen, a notably healthier and more reasonably-priced eatery than its RGU counterpart. Then we returned to the meeting room and creative chaos ensued. How can we focus in from social impacts of climate change in coastal communities? How can we start to make questions when we don’t know exactly what social factors we want to look at? But can you think of a way to phrase that so that you get a deeper response? We were, in short, coming at the problem from very different methodological traditions – the three sociologists from RGU approaching from a tradition where one approaches the problem in an open-ended way and, guided by underpinning theory, draws themes out of the data; and our IHGeo colleagues thinking more in terms of interviewing to extract information towards the purpose of understanding problems and serving particular policy goals. The reason I write this is not to say that one of these approaches is ‘right’ and one is ‘wrong’, but again to raise the point that making space at the start of a collaboration to understand each other’s approach to ‘science’ is just as important as knowing the techniques we can use and the data we can generate.

This discussion lasted the whole afternoon, and whilst it had tired us all out we all agreed it was productive. Once everyone had got over the hurdle of realising that even within the confines of the term ‘interview’ there were wildly differing understandings, it was plain sailing towards coming up with a topic guide that balanced our different ways of thinking and will (hopefully) give us a line of enquiry that allows specific insight into climate change within Nam Dinh and the responses across levels, but at the same time doesn’t close down the line of questioning too much or make too many assumptions about what we think is going to be important to our respondents. Interdisciplinarity is never easy, but when you do have moments of understanding each other it is very rewarding.

Tomorrow we head to the field, with a 6am departure from Hanoi to reach Nam Dinh Province by 9am. Given the energy required for today’s work and the early start tomorrow, my Wednesday post just might be a little more photo-based…

20170516_150459

Thanks again to the British Academy for their generous support!

Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | Leave a comment