“See-sawing” through the summer

Four weeks into my internship I have been thinking about my actual research as well as the process of it as a metaphorical ‘see-saw’. Here is why:

Source: Richter Sportgeräte

Securitization and elections: a place for contestation

I have been kindly given the opportunity by the Laidlaw Programme to conduct research on how securitization occurs in the 2016 Austrian Presidential election campaign. At its core, securitization theory posits that there are no external, objective security threats, instead certain issues become security threats through a discursive and intersubjective process. By engaging with the so-called “second generation” of securitization theory I am hoping to be able to highlight how securitization moves evolve, and how they are contested and challenged within the context of election campaigns.

From the UK’s Brexit vote to the US presidential race, to me, security seemed to be ubiquitous in the election campaigns that I witnessed over the past two years. My project is entitled ‘Multiple Speakers, Competing Discourses’, inspired by the observation that in election campaigns there are several speakers of security who aim to articulate different, often contrary things, as threats to security. Taking this as a starting point my goal is to show that election campaigns are a unique context in which securitization occurs. After transcribing and translating the main televised face-to-face debates between the candidates of the 2016 Austrian Presidential election, Dr Alexander Van der Bellen and Norbert Hofer, I have started to trace and map a sequence of securitization moves. Whilst speaking to my supervisor, Dr Faye Donnelly, we came across the idea of visualising this process with the help of see-saws as it aptly captures the back and forth movement, the on-going contestation and the various counter-moves between the candidates.

Van der Bellen opposite Hofer during a televised debate. Source: Austrian Press Agency

Losing momentum

On a more personal level, I also experienced a continuous back and forth in my motivation level in the past weeks. The first few days were slow but steady. Settling in and getting an overview of what was to be done was relatively easy. This was also thanks to the Laidlaw Leadership weekend back in March when we had to start thinking about our project’s objectives and possible risks that we could encounter while doing research. After the first week my research rapidly gained momentum to the point that I spent almost a whole day and night reading only on the intersection of securitization and social identity.

However, just like after being on the upside on a see-saw I found myself dropping back on the ground again quicker than I thought. The vast amount of research on my shoulders started to outweigh the enjoyment of it and it was hard to push my own motivation up against that. I kept reading and reading, without knowing where to stop and unsure whether the material I had looked at was relevant to answering my research question. I felt stuck, unable to move.

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An illustration of how I felt my research was going.

Unload, reflect and keep moving

I actually took a day off, and put everything I was reading aside. Revisiting the material provided to us during the Leadership Weekend, such as the time management matrix, explaining my research objectives to friends and family who do not study International Relations, and especially talking to Faye helped me to recalibrate and bring back movement into the stagnant research situation.

As the weeks go by I am still in the process of balancing the workload, so that I can enjoy it and not get overwhelmed by it. I keep going back to the project and time management skills that we looked at during the Leadership weekend to reflect on which parts are actually relevant to my research question. Unloading those things that are not relevant at the very moment has to be one of the biggest lessons I have learnt over the past weeks, and is something that I am going to continue working on in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, going back and forth is not a bad thing. Like on a see-saw, it is more fun when there is a continuous up and down, rather than no movement at all. For me, it is just about making sure that these fluctuations are balanced and not as extreme, so that I do not get stuck again.

The whole Laidlaw program, including the Leadership weekend, getting to know fellow interns and working on a research project that I am really interested in has been a great experience so far, and I am looking forward to the second half of the program. I am grateful for the amount of support we as Laidlaw scholars have been getting; to Cat and Eilidh, to friends and family who have to endure me pestering them with securitization theory and especially to Faye, who has been giving me invaluable advice and guidance. I hope everyone is enjoying their time doing research, soaking up some sun and see-sawing through the summer themselves!

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