Impressions of Ankara

…based on a measly two days in town.

The first thing that strikes you about Ankara as you exit the plane is the rather acrid smell that lingers in the air. My man at the Norwegian Embassy told me this is because of all the coal being used for heating. The Turkish government has installed gas heating in all of Ankara, but coal is so much cheaper that people use that instead. In the poorer quarters, people even burn garbage, resulting in an even worse smell. And, as I learned in the seminar on renewables, Turkish coal is of a particularly poor quality (those evil lignites), resulting in a lot more fly ash and sulfur dioxide.

The seminar was good, I learned a lot about Turkey’s point of view, and my own presentation went well. The only glitch was that after several portings from Powerpoint to OpenOffice Impress and back, some of the pictures in my presentation had a lot of static in them. Technology: can’t live without it, but you can hate it every day of your life. The Crown Prince came, spoke for fifteen minutes and left, all while we were required to stay seated. So much for cornering him and smirking. Anyway, here he is:

The closest I got to the Crown Prince of Norway

The closest I got to the Crown Prince of Norway

The city of Ankara doesn’t have much to offer, tourist-wise. The Embassy people just laughed when I asked them, and the receptionist at the hotel (fancy Sheraton, actually) sounded like no-one had asked her about that before. Anyway, I visited Ankara’s main attraction, an old castle, which was quite nice. The really positive experience was of course being able to walk around a large landmark without being bothered by a) other tourists (I was the only one! The caslte was huge!) or b) sellers (They all waited patiently for me to make contact!). Apart from this, the city has a very business-oriented feel. It’s thoroughly administrative, in that it was chosen as a capital in 1923 by Atatürk, when only 30 000 people lived there. Now, there are 5 million.

I’m writing this from the airport in Vienna*, so pictures and links will be put up later.

UPDATE: Added picture and some text

* Which is actually quite nice. Small and convenient, but with free wireless everywhere and at least two spots with great sofas or chairs. Do you hear that, Munich and Charles de Gaulle?


The time for turkey

In the United States, people are getting ready for their annual turkey slaughter, or Thanksgiving as they call it. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Ankara, Turkey, and trying not to make a slaughter out of my presentation on renewable energy today.

I’m attending a seminar at the Middle East Technical University, where HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway will be attending. I’d try and sneak in some anti-monarchisms in my talk, if I didn’t think he’s already sick of it. On the other hand, it should be a crowd pleaser in fiercly republican Turkey. Hmmm…

Bergen (also, Ankara!)

I spent the weekend in Bergen, visiting friends and my brother-in-law. In an extremely unlikely coincidence, it had been snowing for two days before we arrived on Saturday, something that stopped the moment we got off the airport bus. This, in combination with clear skies and beautiful winter sun, made for pictures like the following, from Fløyen:

Bergen seen from Fløyen

Bergen seen from Fløyen

All in all, a splendid trip.

Tomorrow I leave for Ankara, Turkey, to hold a presentation about renewable energy at the Middle East Technical University. The reason? The Norwegian Crown Prince is visiting the semi-European country, and wants to learn about renewable energy. And for some reason they send me…

Anymore, more on that later. I’ll try and post from Asia too.


What does this say? Was this to be expected? I think so. Scientific publishing is more and more about catching the reader’s interest.

Philosophy of science

I just finished the last two-day session in my course in the philosophy of science. The course has been both interesting and frustrating at the same time. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to ponder the greater questions, and get a peek at a different subject matter. On the other hand, it didn’t always feel so relevant. The course was very philosophy heavy, and I would have preferred more sociological perspectives, but I guess it’s impossible to please everyone. One of the linguists complained that he saw no practical use in the course at all, and we in the STS gang at least got some of our perspectives presented.

Some thoughts from the last two days, though:

1) I’m going to have to change my essay again. Out goes the historical perspective, in comes the theory. Which is good, because it felt forced. Now, to write the damn thing.

2) I have started reading my copy of The Foucault Reader, which had been gathering dust on my shelf for a while. Thank you, provocative and arrogant literature professor, for spurring me to delve into this matter again. I really have to see if he is as much of a power nihilist as you presented him.

3) My adviser represented the STS field, and maybe I’m thinking too much from within a doxa * (again: thank you, provocative and arrogant literature professor), but I keep hearing Bourdieu and his field theory in everything he says about the scientific community. Yet he’s a staunch Bourdieu opponent. I guess it’s because Bourdieu emphasises conflict, while Latour (the original STS guru) is more about communication. Must. Think. More. On. This.

* By the way, doxa is a crucial concept in Bourdieu’s field theory. I’m just saying…

On productivity

I took the night train from Oslo last night, arriving in Trondheim just before 7:00 AM. This gave me an opportunity to actually show up early at work. It always feels good to come in before Kjetil, my office mate.

Anyway, having now worked (relatively) productively for eight hours, I have a grand total of 4 1/2 pages of new text to brag about. This didn’t strike me as all that much, especially considering a lot of it will have to be reworked later. But then I got to thinking: at this rate, I could have a new Master’s degree in a month, or complete my Ph. D dissertation in three. Now it feels so much better…

Spaces of possibility

In addition to working on the essay on philosophy of science, my doctoral partner Åsne and I are working on a paper for a conference to be held in June of 2009, ECEEE. The topic is on how new markets are constructed, and we’re using the case of how the Norwegian electricity sector was deregulated in 1990 to show what goes into creating a market where there was none before. Why start this early when the conference is in June, you say? Because the paper is due in January, and in order to get some feedback from colleagues here at the department we need to present our basic ideas in two weeks.

Anyway, both while working with this topic and during my preparations for the panel debate on climate, I am continuously struck by the importance of what I’ll call “spaces of possibility” in the political sphere. The idea is basically that in order to gain any form of political traction for a policy change, it has to be included in the mental space of what is feasible among policy makers. This is partly what climate change proponents have to struggle with when they propose policy changes to reduce emissions. A different example from the Norwegian political situation is our current center-left government’s dual promise of improving the welfare state while simultaneously maintaining the current taxation level. Clearly, this leaves little room for big changes to the status quo.

This notion is of course not new, but whether one wants to call it hegemony (after Gramsci), dominant discourse (after Foucault, for example), paradigm (after Kuhn), centrism or simply consensus, it still strikes me as an important notion for understanding how politics are done. Anyone wanting to change today’s political organization must take into account this rather conservative tendency, and start by trying to expand the space of possibility before even suggesting policy change. I believe this is what climate researchers have been trying to do for the last twenty years, because anything that turns into general scientific consensus stands a much better chance of being accepted as within the space of possibility than if there are major disagreements.

This works both ways. Once you are inside the space of possbility, you can do the most remarkable things and still be seen as serious and realistic. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by American troops, or the latest bailouts of the financial sectors of the world for incredible amounts of money have, despite protests, gone amazingly well. No riots in the streets when the US government give away half an annual budget to a small board of incompetent gamblers, but see what happens if they raise gas prices to offset emissions…