PhD Defence by Rodrigo Bueno Lacy

Friday, November 13, for many a curious date, one of our members of the Geography Group, Rodrigo Bueno Lacy, successfully defended his PhD Thesis entitled ‘In the image of Kronos – or how Europe is devouring itself. The iconological construction of EUropean identity, its geopolitical implications for the project of European integration and why it needs to be re-imagined ‘. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the opponents and audience needed to follow the defence at a distance via the live stream connection.

In his thesis he addresses how consciously or unconsciously the European identity and implicitly of course what is excluded from being ‘European’ is socially constructed also by means of cartographic images. The relation to the title of my personal website is obvious. This is a prominent form of Placemaking. Rodrigo strongly criticises how this European identity is superimposed and enforced upon others and how many are also excluded in this way. In his thesis, he develops a ‘critical cartography’. In this defence, he was generally praised for his emancipatory engagement. On the other hand, the opponents almost jointly addressed in how far the imagination of an evil top-down power superimposing a specific conceptualisation of a European identity, does justice to the diversity and layered identities of Europe. In the same way, one could ask who the ‘other’ in this case is? From this discussion, one might also wonder in how far this very engaged view, is maybe also contributing to, instead of emancipating from an ‘us’-‘them’ thinking, which he, in the first instance, intended to criticise.  Reality in this sense might be much more complex and probably needs to be looked at much more from a relational perspective starting with a flat ontology. Nevertheless, addressing this issue in the way Rodrigo did, already contributes to a critical debate about how identity is not naturally given but continuously is part of identity politics and the politics of placemaking. This cannot be stressed too much.

It is again fascinating to see that the basic issues addressed and the theories mobilised in this analysis are very generally applicable in many different fields of Human Geography, Spatial Planning and Environmental Politics, irrespective if it is about borders, migration, integration, tourism, diversity, urban development, mobility, place experiences, economic relationships, armed conflicts or whatever. Especially in human geography, we tend to look for local contexts and the situational aspects of many phenomena and want to unveil the small stories of everyday life, but these more general aspects also show that there are also larger stories to be told. Looking into these general mechanisms of placemaking is also an essential aspect of doing fundamental research in academia. In that respect, Rodrigo’s contribution to the debate is a very valuable one.

First MOOC of Radboud University

On the second of November, with a few months delay, because of Covid-19 pandemic situation, we finally launched our MOOC on Qualitative Research Methods, in close cooperation with the Geography Department of the University of Zurich. This is the first MOOC of the Radboud University and therefore a first step bringing our university into the 21st century of online teaching. The Radboud University can be very proud of its beautiful green campus, especially also in this autumn season, and for a long time has seen this as their competitive edge, and therefore was very reluctant in developing off-campus online education. In the meantime, the university has become aware that one needs both, a beautiful campus for in-person and on-location teaching as well as an online presence reaching out and accessible for a worldwide audience. And I am proud that with our MOOC we could contribute to both, as our online course is combined with on-campus teaching in a real blended way.

But our course is more than just an online presence of our university. It is as well a dynamic platform in which different universities can share their expertise in Qualitative Research Methods with their own students as well as with a larger audience. It is therefore also a platform on which we openly try to bring together the best one can get in this field from wherever in the world. As such it is also an attempt to ‘de-border’ our university in particular and academia in general, and a contribution to a sharing society. Our course will therefore also for certain develop further and offer a spectrum of different modules for a diversity of needs.

If you are interested you can peek into our online course:

In the current times of the Covid-19 pandemic, of course, the emergence of all kinds of quick-and-dirty online teaching modes are ubiquitous. This MOOC, however, is very different as we started this project well before the pandemic hit us. We developed this not for pandemic reasons but to get the best out of both online and on-campus teaching. We also wanted to move beyond many free online courses which for reasons of accessibility also lowered the standards for academic teaching. We really wanted to keep up our high academic ambitions. At the same time we also did not want to turn everything academia has to offer into an endless sequence of brief video’s, no, we know that it is the mix of different modes of teaching (watching, reading, doing, discussing, presenting, reviewing, engaging, reflecting, assessing, practising, etc. etc.) which stimulates the learning experience. Many features of online teaching can help us in doing that. It is also this, which is the big challenge for me in developing this MOOC and in developing it further. I learned a lot as I usually do from teaching and interacting with students. These kinds of intellectual challenges make scientists ticking.

Especially now, under the current pandemic situation, we became again aware of how important it is to not just academically reflect at a distance (at least 1.5 m), but also to be physically and personally confronted with the topics we investigate and we teach about. The direct exchange, the touch, the feeling, the engaging and experiencing is central in our learning, not just in relation to the objects and subjects of our study, but also in relation to each other, to the (fellow) students and to the lecturers. In the current on-campus meetings with students, which enhance our MOOC, I experience the more, how important it is to really experience that both lecturers, tutors and students need to be in a collaborative and friendship relationship to jointly discover and learn. Under the current difficult pandemic conditions teaching sometimes really sucks, but on the other hand, it is still a big privilege… as this cartoon, which I found on the pinboard at our department next to the xerox machine, expresses.