Serving seniors or serving science: a dilemma game
by Marije Blok | Reading Time: 3-4 Minutes /
Serving seniors or serving science? Loneliness is a serious problem among older people. My organization, the National Foundation for the Elderly, aims to tackle this challenge through different activities. My team works on innovations to support ageing in a meaningful way. We investigate wishes of older people in interviews; explore their ideas in co-design sessions and test prototypes. I love my job! And it only got better when I succeeded in creating a PhD position to enrich it: now I would even be better able to serve the elderly! However, soon I discovered that serving science is not always the same as serving seniors and I started to face ethical challenges.
Dilemmas of a double role All researchers face ethical challenges. Lucky us: there are guides to help us out. The Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity – the integrity Bible for (Dutch) researchers – provides methodological and ethical standards. It introduces a set of ‘virtues’ for good scholars, including honesty, scrupulousness, transparency, independence, and responsibility.
As a researcher working for an employer outside the university, I’m also supposed to take principals of my organization into account, including making a difference, being involved, flexible, connecting and distinct. However, both sets of principals sometimes conflict. I often feel like I’m wearing two hats, as values of my organization and science are not always aligned.
The Erasmus University developed the Dilemma Game, supporting researchers in practicing with hypothetical dilemmas. Inspired by playing this game in a course at the faculty, I reflect in this blog post in a playful way on dilemmas I faced in my work. Next to exploring what to do when interests of seniors and science seem to clash, I hope to motivate fellows operating both in science and society to reflect on their work as well. All blocks contain a dilemma (left) and the considerations I made (right).
Representing a wellbeing organization, I felt responsible to make participating a pleasant experience for the older people (B). However, I also found the value of scrupulousness important and didn’t want to be flexible at the cost of this scientific value (A). I choose A, as including new persons would anyway affect the reliability of the results (A+C). Unfortunately, this was not a happy-ending story. The collaboration was disturbed and another participant left because her friend wasn’t welcome.
This dilemma forced me to choose between being flexible and connecting (A) – according to my organization’s values – or scrupulous and independent (B) – following scientific principles. C was a successful mix: beneficial for my organization without ignoring scientific standards.
As an elderly organization, we joined this project to make a difference in older people’s lives and considered this approach (B) suitable for this. Our partners considered replacing participants at the cost of scrupulousness and not in line with ethical standards (A). We considered B, but first discussed this with the partners once again. This worked out surprisingly well, so we ended with C.
Considering what would be most honest from a scientific point of view (A, B) I decided to be transparent in reporting, but to not use their input (A). Instead of interviewing her husband I spent additional time having coffee with the lady, as I felt responsible after her sharing her story (C). This mix was a good strategy and in line with both my organization and research
A beautiful hat ‘I am not a talker at all, but I feel you really listen to me and that makes me share my story’ – an 85-year old lady when I finalize my interview. For a moment I feel guilty, as my primary interest was a valuable dataset. But then I realize that a valuable encounter can be valuable for my research at the same time. Reflecting on my dilemmas taught me that although my organization’s values are not always similar to those in science, decisions aren’t necessarily black or white. Am I wearing two hats, in my position? No, I’m not. I’m wearing a very special one and will do this with pride!
Marije Blok (MSc) is an (external) PhD candidate studying ageing and technology at the Sociology department (VU) and a project manager in the Innovation department at the National Foundation for the Elderly (Nationaal Ouderenfonds). Here she will share the experiences on her journey through science and society.
‘It is important that people see us as normal people and recognize us. We are part of the community as well!’
This quote symbolizes the importance of recognizing people with intellectual disabilities as part of our community. Being part of the community means being able to tell your story in everyday life but also in research. So we – as researchers – need to seek for ways to incorporate the voices of people with intellectual disabilities in our studies. Involving people with intellectual disabilities, however, brings many challenges. In my quest to overcome these challenges and to provide people with intellectual disabilities a platform to tell their story, I think I have found a promising method. So, read on….
How to involve people with intellectual disabilities
People with intellectual disabilities often have difficulties on a communicative, cognitive and conceptual level. As a researcher, this meant I had to look beyond usual interview and focus group methods to productively involve people with intellectual disabilities in my study. By exploring the literature and sharing thoughts with colleagues, I came up with the idea of using photography to enable their involvement. People with intellectual disabilities are often better able to express themselves if they are supported by visual content. After reading other promising experiences with the use of the photovoice method, I became enthusiastic and decided to test it out.
The photovoice method
What exactly does the method involve? It enables people to tell their stories through photographs they have taken themselves. In my study, I wanted to obtain more knowledge about the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities concerning their neighbourhood. So, I asked participants to photograph people and places in their neighbourhood which are important to them. I walked together with the participants through their neighbourhood. I had no active role, but instead I was ‘guided’ by them. In some cases participants found it difficult to take the photos themselves because they had difficulties in handling the camera, so I took the photo for them. However, the participants always determined the topic of their photos themselves. After taking the photos, we planned interviews to discuss them.
Photovoice enabled my participants to share their stories about how they feel in their neighbourhood by talking about their (self-taken) pictures. Using photography as an activity made participants feel involved in my research. They were able to naturally tell their personal story without having to refer to the cognitive skills they lack. During the interviews I asked open questions only, for example: what/who is on the picture?; why did you take the picture? And, if necessary, I asked for explanatory examples, like ‘could you tell me when you visited this place or could you give me an example of a joint activity you have carried out with your neighbour?’. By using this technique, I didn’t need any abstract concepts. These advantages provide people with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to explain their neighbourhood experiences and they were able to tell more about the daily contact they exchange with neighbours. This, in turn, was valuable in my research because it provides me with the possibility to distinguish important neighbourhood characteristics from the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities. This information is useful to advise care organisations in their way of working with people with intellectual disabilities who live in regular neighbourhoods.
Walking with the participants through their neighbourhoods meant gaining an insight into their lives. This was really great! The participants provided so much more information that, in my opinion, I would never have been able to elicit by means of conventional face-to-face interviews. The combination of walking together and discussing the photographs worked really well. In my research I want to find out how do people with intellectual disabilities feel in the neighbourhood and what neighbourhood characteristics contribute to this ‘neighbourhood-feeling’?’. To answer this questions their own personal and direct perspective is crucial! Perhaps equally important, caregivers and participants suffering from cold feet overcame their initial skepticism or fright and became enthusiastic! Moreover, since I started the ‘guided photovoice’ I am in a really good shape: I walked for hours with the participants and sometimes I almost had to run to keep up with them.
Would you like to know more about photovoice or do you have any other alternative strategies in interviewing people with intellectual disabilities or other groups, please contact me!
Tessa Overmars-Marx works as a PhD candidate in the Sociology department. Her PhD Research focuses on the relationship between the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities and neighborhood characteristics. The research project is conducted in partnership with four care organizations working with people with intellectual disabilities.
Sometimes you find data, and sometimes data finds you. Fieldwork is sort of a dating site between the two of you.
I am a qualitative scientist by nature, and a quantitative by nurture. It is not because I was weak at math, or hated computers; in fact, I am fascinated by both. It is rather that I prefer why questions over what questions, matters that are hard to quantify, human reason that comes before its act. Certainly, there are good qualitative research that reveals what happens where (Stepan, 1973), and good quantitative ones to explain why (Inglehart, 1977). But unless the data is conditioned in a laboratory (and even then so, see Zimbardo, 1973), it is acquired in the fieldwork where unexpected things can happen. This post is written to give you an idea of what to expect from it.
After various fieldworks for both qualitative and quantitative projects, I came to the conclusion that fieldwork comes not exactly as advertised. That is that “you collect data and come back to your desk.” Fieldwork is rather a site where you increase your chances of finding data –in comparison to your chances while sitting on your desk; and more importantly, what you find is not always the data that you planned to see on your desk. In a most self-reflexive way: Fieldwork is about finding yourself in the field.
Let me explain this in two cases:
1) The Tugelaweg Blocks
The most divergent case in terms of planning on the desk and encounters in the field might be the research for my master thesis in 2011. The original plan was that I would basically knock the doors of migrant families in an Amsterdam-East urban renovation project to ask about their sense of belonging to their dwellings, but I eventually came back to my desk with low income families’ struggle in coping with changing housing market conditions.
Certainly, I was very much influenced by the ‘Grounded Theory’ (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) which suggests that the researcher develops the theory in the field, instead of treating the data as an empirical test to an existing theory, and go beyond the mere task of describing the field as in an ethnography (see especially, autoethnography). I was also thinking much in qualitative forms of validity and reliability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), and reading much about public sociology (see Burawoy’s 2004 ASA address) and engaged scholarship (Van de Ven, 2007).
Overall, I may not have been very successful in writing the study, but it certainly taught me to ‘keep my options’ during the fieldwork, be not so rigid about what I was looking for, and be a walking-talking thinker –reflecting about my objectives, my practice, and myself as the data reveals in the field.
2) The LineUp of 2000 Families
The LineUp study (Guveli et al. 2013 & 2014), which I am currently involved in for my PhD research, contrasts the above. A migration study that consists of 48978 individuals in 1992 families certainly requires quantitative tools and methods, and much careful planning –especially the sampling and the concepts, right? Well, let’s see. For a representative random sampling, the size and distribution of a population should be known, and often the fieldwork is practised in clusters to reflect that population properly, so you start at that sampling unit and continue. But what do you do when the population bureau data shows a street that does not exist yet? Or points you to a street which is full of industrial buildings?
You walk around the problem until you reach a solution.
I also took my turns in the Turkish migrant-sending towns looking for the ideological remittance –the influence of European political culture transferred to Turkey via return migrants. But I kept my eyes open for other types of remittance while walking, which is equally interesting:
Remittance: in money
Perhaps the most common feature of a migrant sending region is the visibility of economic remittances. In remote migrant villages, one can find palace-like houses built by the early migrants for the traditional family gatherings. However, these seasonal gatherings are only attended by a few grandchildren and remain empty for most of the year, making them obsolete investments. Most of the remittance also turn into pocket money for the left behind relatives, only enabling the local shops and cafés to stay open, but falling short of long term investments. The mosques, however, should be considered as investments for the afterlife. The newly built mosque in Kulu reportedly cost about €1m and paid entirely by migrant families’ lifelong savings.
Remittance: in culture
Despite the popular belief on its oriental origins, and despite its widespread availability in ‘Turkse döner/pizza’ snack shops to support that, “kapsalon” was actually born in Rotterdam. Native Turkish people, living in Turkey, have not even heard about that food, there is no Turkish word for that. So, the traditional kebab place in Emirdağ town centre, photographed above (right), is actually preparing a Dutch food, exported to Belgium and remitted to Turkey by the migrants from Emirdağ who were living in Schaarbeek, Brussels. Though, one must note that its primary customers were the migrants who are used to eat kapsalon in Europe.
The Swedish Pizza in Kulu (left photograph) has a more complex story. With its thin dough, fresh tomato sauce and cheese, it certainly has Italian origins. But the history of migrant workers in Italian pizza restaurants in Stockholm is the story of how Turkish stewards made into chefs and took over the pizza business in Sweden. As for the side dishes, the indispensable “Pizzasallad” (cabbages with sour vinegar) is certainly not Italian, presumably a Swedish invent; and the “Vitlökssås” is certainly not Turkish -it is as foreign as knoflooksaus on döner to native Turks (yes, seriously, no one puts garlic sauce on a “lahmacun” in Turkey).
The remittance in both material and cultural tokens tells me the conservative nature of Turkish migrants in Europe: the lack of belonging is visible when the money earned by migrants is sent to Turkey instead of being invested in Europe; the cultural interactions are often one-way, Turks in Europe do not eat stamppot, they open döner shops instead. My walk in Turkish field did not lead me to the political remittance, there is no such street yet. Perhaps it is because the Turkish migrants do not really open their political baggages, so what happens in Europe, stays in Europe. Perhaps even that migrant Turks do not really live in Europe but rather create small-sized Turkeys to live in. But it takes a walk in Turkish towns to understand that.
Sometimes data surprises you, sometimes it takes a different look to understand; and sometimes, it is the lack of it that tells you the most.
Burawoy, M. (2005). 2004 American Sociological Association Presidential Address: For Public Sociology*. The British journal of sociology, 56(2), 259-294.
Glaser, B. G. and Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.
Guveli, A., Ganzeboom, H., Baykara-Krumme, H., Bayrakdar, S., Eroglu, S., Hamutci, B., Nauck, B., Platt, L., and Sozeri, E. K. (2013). 2000 Families: Migration Histories of Turks to Europe. GESIS Data Archive, Mannheim. (Data Set).
Guveli, A., Ganzeboom, H., Nauck, B., Platt, L., Baykara-Krumme, H., Eroglu, S., Spierings, N., Bayrakdar, S. and Sozeri, E. K. (2014). 2000 Families: identifying the research potential of an origins-of migration study. CReAM Discussion Paper Series CPD 35/14. Retrieved from http://www.cream-migration.org/publ_uploads/CDP_35_14.pdf
Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Reviews, 9, 1–17.
Inglehart, R. (1977). The silent revolution: Changing values and political styles among Western publics. Princeton University Press.
Lincoln, Y. S. & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA, USA: Sage Publications.
Stepan, A. (ed.) (1973). Authoritarian Brazil. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged Scholarship: A Guide for Organizational and Social Research: A Guide for Organizational and Social Research. Oxford University Press.
________ Efe Kerem Sözeri is a Phd Candidate in the Sociology Department. His research project “Political baggage and Ideological Remittance” explores how the migration experience influences (or fails to influence) the political preferences and attitudes of Turkish labour migrants and their descendants, both in Western Europe and in Turkey. More info on his personal page
Academic conferences are costly and time consuming. So, sometimes I wonder: Are they worth it? Or should I just continue to write my dissertation instead? After all, writing is time consuming, especially on days like this:
Conferencing costs loads of time. Not only do we have to travel to the conference venue, and attend it, but we also have to prepare for it. Especially the latter takes a lot of time. In my experience, I spend at least a month working on a conference paper, and at least some days on a power point presentation or a hand-out.
The reason that conferences are expensive is because they usually require us to travel. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but travelling isn’t cheap. For instance, in the last two years I went to conferences in New York and San Francisco. Buying a ticket here (during peak season!), staying in hotel, paying the conference fee, and going out to dinner requires you to bring a bag of money.
What you get back for your time and money
In my opinion, there are at least four benefits of attending academic conferences:
Preparing for your presentation will help you to structure your thoughts. After all, you usually don’t have much time (or space) to present your work. And of course, you don’t only want your story to be concise, but also clear. So, complicated theories have to be simplified and long results sections have to be cut to the bone.
At the conference you are bound to get some (hopefully good) comments on your work, which will tell you how far it has developed. Is your research relevant? Are your research questions clear? And is your dataset suited for the question posed? These are general, but important questions that are often addressed. Knowing whether other scholars understand and appreciate your work will help you to determine what remains to be done.
Learning what your peers are up to may stimulate your creativity and provide you with new research tools. After all, interesting new topics and innovative research methods are often presented at these conferences. Besides, knowing where your research field is headed is important as it will help you to position your own work.
Getting to know peers on a more personal level is not only fun, but may also lead to new opportunities. Future cooperation, publication possibilities and even job offers may result from participating in these events.
So, the answer to my question of whether academic conferences are worth the time and money is: Yes. This is because conferencing provides you with new insights. These insights are likely to improve your work. For instance, having prepared a short presentation on your research, you may be able to write a more concise paper. Peers may suggest new theories that sharpen your insights, or methods that are more applicable to your data and research question. So, in a nutshell, conferencing helps to you to solve your academic puzzle, and to write down what is in your head. Just give it a go and find out for yourself.
Anouk van Leeuwen is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department. Her PhD research is on the (perceived) atmosphere of street demonstrations. The project is integrated in the international collaborative research project called ‘Caught in the act of protest: Contextualizing Contestation’ (CCC)
From May 23 until 28 2014, I attended the annual meeting of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) in Tampere, Finland. The ISSP is one of the major international social sciences projects around the world and measures attitudes on a socially relevant theme. ISSP data are an important source for international comparative social scientific research. The survey has a different theme every year. This year’s theme is Citizenship. A total of 70 participants from 39 countries around the world, ranging from Australia to Canada and from Suriname to Russia, attended the meeting.
Since last year Suriname has become an associate member – ISSP-SR is incorporated in my PhD research. One of the conditions of the ISSP is conducting the survey every year, with a response of at least 1000 respondents. For Suriname I am in charge of the data collection and meeting the requirements of the ISSP.
ISSP members meet annually. At these meetings decisions are made in a strictly democratic way (ISSP has no governing body or principal investigator). Amongst other topics, a main issue was to decide on the content of the questionnaires for the upcoming 3 years. During the conference I took part in the discussions on the content and wording of questions for the upcoming 2015 module “Work Orientation IV” and the 2016 module “Role of Government V”, as prepared by the Drafting Group. It was interesting to find out how questions could have political consequences in some countries, which questions were not relevant for all countries and how members would interpret questions. For example: in Suriname the question on left and right wings parties would not be relevant because our political system is not structured that way. After 2 days of discussions, where members gave their comments, the questionnaire for 2015 and the list of topics for 2016 were brought to a vote and were accepted after some adjustments. With this, the members can now conduct the survey for 2015.
Also, a proposal for a theme for 2017, made by several countries, was presented and accepted by vote. The theme for 2017 will now be “Social Relations and Social networks”. This is a new theme within the ISSP.
Traditionally, the Sunday before the start of the meeting, a research session is organized, in which participants are given the opportunity to present papers that are (preferably) related to the themes of the ISSP modules. Together with my supervisor Harry Ganzeboom I prepared a presentation on “Post Stratification and Efficiency Weights in the 2012 ISSP of Suriname”. The paper describes the construction and use of post-stratification and efficiency weights in my survey on Social Mobility in Suriname that included the ISSP Social Inequality IV module.
Post stratification weights are used to correct biases, caused by selective non response. In my survey we found for example an overrepresentation of women so it seems relevant to think about using weights or not. Efficiency weights adjust for the fact that the sampling design deviates from the commonly assumed Simple Random Sampling design, but is clustered in multiple stages. In my sample, first there was a systematic sample with a random beginning, where some 60 primary sampling points were drawn; in each sampling point a cluster of 80 respondents were then selected.
The most important results and conclusions of this presentation were:
We found the Surinamese survey to be fairly representative with respect to district, ethnicity, age, education and occupation, but with a strong overrepresentation of women (65%), instead of an expected 50-50% distribution of men and women. This has arisen mostly from substitution within If the targeted respondent was a man and was not found at home, some interviewers immediately substituted him with a woman who appeared to be at home, despite of the instruction that substitution was not permitted in this case. The use of post-stratification weights to repair this, turned out to be of little value, because gender has a minor influence on social attitudes and usually is a control variable in the analysis.
Efficiency losses were found to be very strong because of the large cluster size in the sample and are reinforced because in certain areas interviewer portions were very large. These interviewers had an impact on the quality of the survey for example if they would substitute incorrectly or have made mistakes with the coding of occupations, etc. In the next survey we will use smaller clusters and smaller interviewer portions to cope with the efficiency loss.
In this presentation we have shown that interviewer effects can also be significantly reduced when respondents used write-in modes and thus answer questions without the intervention of an interviewer. Unfortunately, in Suriname we cannot use write-in modes on a large scale because there is a relatively high level of illiteracy in the interior, compared to the capital. Therefore we have to hire interviewers and conduct face-to-face interviews.
The construction and use of weights is currently of strong interest within the ISSP. A special working group is installed at this meeting for mapping this problem within the ISSP data and to come up with recommendations. Ganzeboom and I plan to contribute to this methodological research in future meetings.
On the last day, shortly before the closing of the conference, the representative of South-Africa showed a video to promote her country, because South Africa will be the host for the next ISSP conference in 2015. The audience reacted with approval. After some final remarks, the conference came to an end.
ISSP appeared to be indeed a matter of social attitudes.
Tamira Sno is PhD candidate at the department of Sociology. Her research ‘Status Attainment and Social Mobility in Suriname’ focuses on studying patterns of occupational status attainment among Surinamese in Suriname and elsewhere.
Early June 2014 I attended the International Science and Mathematics Education Congress organized by the Educational Research and Publications Associations (ERPA) in Istanbul, Turkey. The visit was partially funded by the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences (VU-GSSS) to which I am very grateful. Though the main purpose of my visit was to present my own work and to meet and learn from other researchers working in similar fields, the visit turned out to be much more than that. During my visit I got acquainted with the city of Istanbul, also known as the City of Cities by Turks, in ways I did not before. This blog is essentially about the extras of doing a PhD –of which going abroad to attend conferences is an important one – and the additional learning experiences that come with those extra’s.
City of intersections – Istanbul
The last visit I made to Istanbul was 9 years ago and I was surprised to find the city even more magnificent and energetic than during my last visit. To some extent this probably relates to the combination of splendid summer weather and the neighbourhood in which the congress took place, namely Beyazit Square in the district of Fatih on the European part of Istanbul. Besides being close to the city’s main tourist attractions, the square is also adjacent to Istanbul University’s main campus where the congress took place. Established in 1453 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II – immediately after Mehmet’s conquest of Constantinople – it’s Turkey’s oldest university.
The history and grandeur of Beyazit Square was one of many marvels the city had to offer after my arrival. The district of Fatih is generally considered to be the heart of Old Istanbul. Some of Istanbul’s most important architectural buildings are situated here, including Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) and Basilica Cistern. Although I had visited this particular neighbourhood before, it had changed in many important ways, of which the introduction of Marmaray was only one. In 2013, Marmaray was opened for public after years of delay. It is best described as a high-speed metro-line that partially runs under the Sea of Marmara that connects Europe to Asia in only a few minutes.
On the day of my arrival I called an old friend who lives in Istanbul to meet up and have a coffee. He had migrated 8 years ago from Paris to Istanbul for work and I was eager to hear his stories about life in Turkey, and Istanbul in particular. He told me to take the Marmaray and get off at the last stop at the Asian side after which he would pick me up in order for me to meet his wife and have dinner at his home. I did as he said, thinking that he probably lived near this last stop since this last stop was already quite far off from the city centre – at least that’s what I thought. To my surprise we had to drive for an hour or so before we reached his house. The city kept on going as we drove further and further away. Skyscrapers and construction sites as far as the eyes could see. At that moment I started to realize how big the city actually is. With a population of 14.1 million this is perhaps not surprising. When we arrived at this home, he and his wife, assured me that this still wasn’t the edge of the city. It was still within reasonable distance. They lived in East Ataşehir, at Eastern part of Asian side, of which you can find an impression below.
The supersized city as a magnifying glass
Besides the distance and all the skyscrapers, there was one other thing that caught my attention. When I entered my friend’s home I was introduced to someone who I thought was a family friend. Later this person turned out to be the housekeeper from Georgia who lived with my friend and his wife. This was, I have to admit, a bit of a surprise to me. In the Netherlands I personally don’t know anybody with an in-living housekeeper although outsourcing of household tasks such as cleaning has become rather normal, even among single households. Having an in-living housekeeper is therefore something I still associate with old movies and Victorian costume drama’s in particular. My surprise is also related to my upbringing in a welfare state in which social inequalities between “the haves” and “have nots” are much less visible to the ordinary eye. This is of course not to say that there are no similar manifestations between these groups in welfare states as ours. It’s that they are less visible. The scale of a super city like Istanbul in this sense probably acts like a magnifying glass for social processes of all sorts, both the positive and negative, and all at the same time.
City of intersections – history and present
Over the next days, as the congress and my stay in Istanbul progressed, I would slowly start to understand some of these processes along with the vastness of the city. In 2009, research conducted by the London School of Economics referred to Istanbul as the “City of Intersections”, which I think is a very good description of the state of the city, both in the literal meaning as in a more symbolic. Examples of the literal meaning immediately come to mind when we speak of a city stretching out over two continents. An example of the more symbolic meaning includes the sight of two women, sitting next to each other at a restaurant, and one of which is dressed in a niqab and the other in a short and bare dress. Never, at any congress, or in any other part of the world I have visited, did I witness something similar. This is I think the strength of places like Istanbul, diversity is the norm rather than the exception. And that in itself creates a kind of flexibility in attitude that we in the West, I am inclined to argue, are not used to nor completely understand.
The rootedness of diversity and the importance of the Ottoman era in today’s Turkish culture
The importance of diversity in Istanbul is probably rooted in the city’s specific historical context as one of the most diverse and tolerant empires of all times – the Ottoman empire – and the city’s specific geo-political importance as a city connecting two continents. According to Oxford Islamic Studies Online the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful states in the world during the 16th and 17th with control over many of the countries around the Mediterranean, the Middle-East and North-Africa. The city’s importance as the capital and home of the Ottoman Empire as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multinational and multilingual power is still very much engrained in the collective memory of most Turks and Istanbulites. The recent revival of the Ottoman era and it’s artistry and craftsmanship, e.g. in architecture, jewellery, fashion and interior design, are only few examples of this. Popular use of the ‘tughra’– the Ottoman calligraphic monogram or seal – ranges from tattoo’s, t-shirts, home wall and car stickers. Other examples include multiple TV shows that are inspired on the Ottoman history and/or take place during that particular period, including the hit-show ‘Muhteşem Yüzyıl’. Translated as The Magnificent Century it is currently one of the most popular shows in Turkey. The show mainly deals with the life of Suleiman the Magnificent, the longest reigning Sultan of all the Ottoman Sultans, and his wife Hürrem Sultan, who used to be a slave girl from what we now know as the Ukraine. Moreover, since the shows first broadcast in 2011, it has reportedly gained an international audience of 200 million viewers with broadcast in 59 different countries, including USA, France, China, Russia and China. One last interesting example concerns the construction of mosques around the world based on the Ottoman style, e.g. the Nazimiye Turkish Masjid in Midrand, South-Africa that was built in 2012. The renewed interest in the Ottoman era and culture is thus not limited to Turkey but well exceeds the country borders.
To understand today’s Istanbul, and for that matter Turkey, is to understand its history as a multiethnic power. This history is of course not only limited to the Ottoman era, but starts well before that with the history of the Anatolian peninsula as one of the oldest permanently settled regions in the world that saw many different rulers throughout its long history. However, one cannot understand this history without understanding the country’s specific geographical location on the brink of two continents. This specific location is of course deeply imbedded in the region’s history and that of its neighbors. Taking into account how history and place are interconnected over time is of course not an easy task to venture on, nor something that one can do within a few days, weeks or perhaps even years. Nonetheless, this visit has inspired me to do just that. I think that places like Istanbul, where all of these things come together, are very important to visit especially for sociologists, since time, place and history are key factors that we always need to take into account in our work when we try to understand how groups of people interact in any given society.
Visits like these might be considered by many as the perks of doing a PhD – the figurative cherries on top of an academic cake –, the extras that come with hard and lonesome work of an academic but that’s not how I see it anymore, at least not for sociologists. I think that when you claim to investigate social behaviour and are interested in finding out why certain groups of people act in certain ways you cannot disengage from getting acquainted with different cultures and places. Here I thus argue that going abroad and taking time to understand differences is therefore an essential necessity for all sociologists and we should not think otherwise.
Demet Yazilitas is a PhD candidate at the department of Sociology. Her research focuses on the influence of social, institutional and psychological factors on gender and ethnic differences in natural science choices of high school students in the Netherlands and Sweden.
Fresh off the airplane, still buzzing from the recent experiences in Rio de Janeiro and the lack of sleep I start writing this blog. I attended the International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health where I presented a poster about the online physical activity intervention which is part of my research project. I learned a lot at the congress about the current state of affairs of physical activity research. Physical inactivity is a worldwide health threat. In this blog I will share some of the knowledge I gained at the congress about worldwide physical activity research.
Physical inactivity is not a luxury problem
That physical inactivity is not just a problem of well-developed rich countries was one of the biggest eye openers for me during this congress. The emphasis on less developed countries in the program had somewhat surprised me. In countries where poverty, crime and pollution are major problems along with diseases such as HIV I would expect physical activity levels of the population to be very low on the list of priorities. However, non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are rising problems in these countries and effect public health in a major way. The importance of physical activity for public health worldwide has been illustrated by The Lancet with a special series on the topic.
More of the same is not enough
The ICPAPH congress has an overarching topic. Last time it was ´the elephant in the room´, which stood for the required awareness raising of the physical inactivity problem and was achieved in the form of The Lancet series. This time the overarching message was ´more of the same is not enough´. There is a big gap between what researchers are doing and what public policy makers need, as explained by Public health professor Adrian Bouman in his key note. There has been a substantial increase in research on the topic of Physical (in)activity, but the focus has not been optimal. Researchers need to take into account the big picture of public health instead of just focusing on tiny subsamples and stressing that more research is needed to answer even more questions. An effective intervention trial is nice but public policy is key when making real world changes to public health. There is a need for more collaboration between researchers and policy makers, this point was also illustrated by the fact that the conference was almost solely attended by researchers.
Brazil cares about physical activity
Brazil is one of the countries that has realized the impact of inactivity on its population and is taking a leading approach in tackling this issue by working on community programs and public resources for physical activity (see the article ‘Policies to promote physical activity in Brazil’ of The Lancet series). This was visible for instance at the beach where you find a wide boulevard for walking and running, a cycling lane and workout stations where people can stretch and do muscle exercises (which are used regularly). You will see many people jogging along the beach in the morning and afternoon, but even in the middle of the day ploughing through the sand in the burning sun.
Dutch infrastructure is a luxury
Attending presentations from people from all over the world who are working on the topic of physical activity promotion also made me more aware of the luxury position of the Netherlands where I live and conduct my research. In one presentation a video was shown of a cycling path that had been improved due to the Connect2 program in England. This program aimed to increase walking and cycling to work by improving the infrastructure. The presenter commented that ´depending on your frame of reference this is an excellent or quite bad example of cycling infrastructure but the point is that the situation has improved a lot´. England is able to improve its infrastructure but I can imagine many developing countries have much more pressing safety issues to deal with first. In Rio de Janeiro for instance, the nice cycling lanes next to the beaches do not always connect to the next neighborhood. Between some of the neighborhoods you see some very dangerous situations where cyclist are on a very narrow two way cliff road with many curves and busy traffic. The Netherlands on the other hand has an excellent infrastructure for cycling and walking, we have sidewalks and separate cycling lanes almost everywhere and the situation is still being improved. The Netherlands is also third in the list of the prevalence of cycling to work just behind China and Denmark. This obviously has an influence on the focus of health promoters. I can afford to focus on people’s motivation for physical activities as major environmental barriers have already been tackled mostly, while in many countries it might be more important to focus on improving the infrastructure and safety.
Walking the walk and using standing tables
It is important to walk the walk and not only to talk the talk. Especially on a research congress it can be difficult to be active enough during the day. So on the first day we had a half hour walk along the wonderful beach promenade (the so-called “agita mundo walk”). Also in every conference room at the back some tables for standing where provided. These standing tables were a great success and should be introduced to all conferences.
In Brazil, I learned how my research project fits into a worldwide context of the pressing issue of physical inactivity and its health consequences. My work focusses on a tiny piece of a puzzle that fits into the context of the global effort to increase physical activity in the world population. Also, I learned that as a researcher I should look for ways to collaborate with policy makers to be able to influence public health.
Elske Stolte MSC is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology. Her research revolves around motivating older adults to be more physically active. By means of an intervention trial she studies the effects of prompting on motivational factors and physical activity.