Kaia Schultz Rønsdal

Marginality in public space creates challenges to us both as individuals and as a society. Phd candidate Kaia Schultz Rønsdal brings years of professional experience from different social services when she writes her dissertation on social mechanisms and marginality in urban public space.

Photo: Rune Selnes

What do you study?

I am working on a dissertation within the field of science of diaconia on how analysis of marginal life in public space has implications for a re-interpretation of vocation.

Science of diaconia involves research on practices, theories, and ideologies in relation to diaconia. Traditionally diaconia is explained as the church’s social work although the field can also include social practices outside the church context. Many people experience a calling, some by a deity, to make certain life decisions or to specific professions. Gustaf Wingren writes about how we are called into action by others both as professionals and as individuals regardless of faith.

Marginality in public space creates both an embodied and a mental challenge and a discomfort to us as individuals and as society. The individuals here are experienced as strangers and this strangeness is intensified by existing in spaces we consider familiar and our own. I believe that knowledge about the lives in these spaces is decisive for social work. Furthermore, it is precisely the spaces of these strange others that are significant. Both in their own right and for society as a whole. It is not outright simple to acquire this knowledge. I aim at interpreting everyday life in a small area around Oslo central station starting from minute field narratives that form the foundation of the analysis.

The theoretical foundation stems from French sociology and human geography and is concerned with the significance of body, space, urbanity, and spatial interpretation as space is a relational phenomenon that is constituted in practice and interaction. My goal is to observe groups that move about and sometimes meet in these spaces and through analysis discuss whether aspects that may be included in a discussion on vocation are discovered.

The starting point is that maybe Wingren’s notion of vocation which claims that everyone is called into service by others no longer resonates with the motivation and drive to meet and assist others. I believe that it is in the spaces where people meet and bodies respond to other bodies, whether marginalised or not, that vocation may manifest itself and therefore the practices that are directed at others must be founded in these spaces.

In other words, I am not concerned with diaconal practice per se. Rather with the lives that diaconia traditionally have been concerned with and the spaces where these lives are lived, as I believe that a possible re-interpreted vocation may be found in these spaces and lives. With that it is where diaconal practice must be rooted and consequently focusing on these lives and not on diaconia. In short, one could say that I do research on marginality in public space and that I believe that it is in this space new knowledge that is necessary for founding social and diaconal practice is developed.

Why did you start researching this topic?

I have worked several years both as professional and voluntarily in different operations concerned with substance use, both within rehabilitation and at street level. There was always a certain discomfort that was difficult to pinpoint that was related to awareness and professional foundation of the practices. How come there are people we need to ‘do something’ with and for whom? When I by coincidence took at course at the faculty on power and perspectives on humanity in practices related to care work I was given new perspectives on this discomfort. A desire to work more with these issues developed. As I later wrote my master’s thesis within professional ethics and science of diaconia the need to dig deeper did not abate. Working on it was an eye opener concerning the significance of space also in regards to social practice. I also have an innate fascination and love for cities and specifically people and social mechanisms in cities. My work hence became ever more urban and the interest in marginality in public space increased.

What do you hope to find out with your research?

I hope that the knowledge stemming from the marginal spaces may enrich the discussion on how to found diaconal and social work. In the desire and need to take action for another human being and maybe specifically as professionals we seem to forget this other. Especially in a day and age with ever more focus on professionalism, rationalisation, and results in the social sector it may be that the needs of society as a whole gets more focus than the lives and needs of the marginalised other. The solution is often that different models and methods are developed in order to meet these challenges, but those are often concerned with how to improve the work situation for the practitioners with the goal of better results for society. It might just be that one should rather direct the focus to the spaces where people are and consider whether knowledge about these could impact how these practices are organised.

Why is your research important?

In a time with dramatic increase in visible marginality in public space it is necessary to have knowledge about these spaces. Especially in a discussion on whether and how we as individuals and society should respond.

As marginality in public space becomes more visible and the people are more unfamiliar strange it becomes an even greater challenge. With the massive global increase in the flow of refugees the thematics are highly relevant as the discussion has a transfer value to larger contexts.  Knowledge of marginal spaces also has significance in the discussion regarding the welfare state and where we found citizenship and belonging.

What qualities should a good researcher have?

Curiosity! I believe that a researcher who stops wondering and asking questions is quickly done. There is always more to discover and find out. A good researcher is never a hundred per cent satisfied with an answer. An answer is a new question. Creativity is necessary to think outside the box. A good amount of stubbornness and self-discipline and the ability to have fun is also important.

Do you see any challenges in your field of research ahead?

I think it is a challenge to develop a larger conversation and discussion on the thematic of public marginality that is not concerned with actions that promote society’s need for some kind of solution. Normativity in research is also a challenge as it fixates certain beliefs on what real research should be. I believe that normativity cannot be avoided when lives and spaces are concerned. Concepts like vocation and diaconia does not necessarily stir an interest outside the fields of diaconia and theology, so writing and conveying with universal validity is important.

Published June 22, 2015 1:51 PM