Portrait: Britta Lundgren

2005-05-02 11:23

– I want to discuss and support, not act as a kind of policeman pointing directions. That is contrary to my way of collaborating with others. So says Britta Lundgren, Head of the National Graduate School of Gender Studies and newly-appointed Chair of the Committee for Gender Research of the Swedish Research Council.

Britta Lundgren is a Professor in Ethnology at the Umeå University. Her ambition is for an increased integration of gender perspectives in the traditional disciplines together with an increased multiplicity within the field of gender research.

– In the Committee for Gender Research, I want to continue the work on enhancing the legitimacy and the impact of gender research. The legitimacy increases when the gender research is to a greater extent integrated with the overall research community and when pluralism can prevail in the scientific field, argues Britta Lundgren.

– Gender research must be allowed to be a wide field, where one can focus on how gender is interacting with many other factors, for instance class and ethnicity.

The Committee for Gender Research has a policy-shaping role and shall facilitate the impact of a gender perspective in the research. Previously, the Committee for Gender Research was responsible for the earmarked grants to gender research, but nowadays, the responsibility for portioning out means for gender research lies with the scientific councils. They can still apply for support for evaluations at the Committee for Gender Research.

Britta Lundgren’s approaches the work as chair of the Committee for Gender Research with an open mind. She respects the scientific councils’ scientific autonomy and expects the same kind of respect for the gender competence within the Committee for Gender Research.

– Some people might call it being naïve, but that is to be preferred to being cynical in advance. It is important to get in gender competence in both scientific councils and drafting groups, thinks Britta Lundgren.

The faculty boards are appointed by the research community and it takes time to change them. The drafting groups are themselves appointed by the faculty boards and are thus easier to influence. The key is to get in competent people. Clearly that varies over time, reflecting how different research fields develop.

Both pillars are needed

Even if Britta Lundgren herself is filled with fervour to integrate gender perspective in the traditional disciplines, she is not at all opposed to the recent developments in gender studies as an autonomous discipline. As head of a research school educating researchers in traditional disciplines with a gender perspective, she has had great benefit from being a neighbour to the Centre for Women’s Studies, which is also developing gender studies as a discipline.

– Both pillars are needed and I cannot see that we can do without one or the other one.

The experience from the National Graduate School of Gender Studies is something that can be useful for Britta Lundgren as the newly-appointed chair of the Committee for Gender Research of the Swedish Research Council. The National Graduate School of Gender Studies can be described as a good example of how a gender perspective can be integrated in a successful way with traditional disciplines.

The National Graduate School of Gender Studies started in 2002 after having been launched in the previous Government Research Bill, together with 15 other national research schools within various scientific areas. Umeå University is the host university and the universities of Kalmar and Gävle and Mitthögskolan (Mid Sweden University) are partner universities.

Doctoral candidates have been appointed. At present, 39 doctoral candidates are working with backgrounds in various scientific areas. A few of these will defend their doctor’s thesis in 2006, but the majority will do that at the turn of the year 2006/2007.

An increased interest

The doctoral candidates are in most cases half financed by the National Graduate School of Gender Studies and half by the departments they come from.

They have at least two supervisors — one with competence in the discipline and one with gender competence.

– The whole integration idea we had with the National Graduate School of Gender Studies has functioned very well. Because the departments take a significant financial and practical responsibility, the doctoral candidates become physically present in their respective departments. Their sheer numbers also contributes to visibility. That benefits us as well, in comparison with working exclusively in our own environment.

Britta Lundgren has on several occasions heard that the mere existence of the doctoral candidates of the National Graduate School of Gender Studies has increased the interest in gender research at their home departments.

– We can notice an increased interest from those supervisors who previously were lacking in experience of gender research. They attend meetings for supervisors and “half-way seminars” for doctoral candidates, arranged by the Gender Research School.

In the everyday work they see that a gender perspective is of importance and they spread that interest to other researchers, lecturers and doctoral candidates at the departments.

When making inquiries at the various faculties and departments, one has discovered with every year that passes an increasing and deepened interest. New disciplines want to enter the National Graduate School of Gender Studies and the old disciplines want more doctoral candidates.

A disadvantage with the activities of the National Graduate School of Gender Studies is that the doctoral candidates in the beginning can feel divided in their identity: Do they belong to the Gender Research School or to the discipline from which they come?

– Especially those who come from disciplines with a weaker integrated gender perspective can feel lonely both at their own institution and at the National Graduate School of Gender Studies, where there are doctoral candidates who have reached further in gender theory. But that is no longer a major problem.

– We have spent a lot of time on the reflection process in the education for researchers, to continuously discuss and learn to ask new questions of their own material. It is important to have a pragmatic relationship to theory and method. They function differently, with varying results, in various research areas. In the reflection process the doctoral candidates question their starting points and do not take the meaning of gender for granted.

A continuous employment

The mandate of the Gender Research School extends to the end of 2007. After that all of the 16 national research schools will be evaluated by the National Agency for Higher Education. But Britta Lundgren hopes, of course, that the work of the National Graduate School of Gender Studies will continue. The plans for the future are extensive.

– We want a continuous employment of new doctoral candidate, even if it will not take place to the same extent as earlier. Towards the end of 2014 we hope that 60 doctoral candidates have completed their doctorates.

The National Graduate School of Gender Studies wants to facilitate the subsequent career through the creation of 20 two-year post-doctoral appointments, co-financed in the same way as the doctoral candidates.

– By then we will have a strong establishment of gender research with a substantial spreading impact, says Britta Lundgren.

Author Bosse Parbring
Source The portrait was originally published in Gender Research in Sweden, 2005
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