Hanne Haavind and Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen, professors at the University of Oslo (UiO), served as project leaders at CAS during the 2010/11 academic year. Their project, Personal Development and Socio-Cultural Change, examined the relation between personal identity and development, and social and cultural processes of change. 

Haavind and Bjerrum Nielsen said they applied to CAS to ‘spend a year exploring our disagreements,’ as they had not worked together before their stay. The project represented some significant milestones for CAS: Haavind and Bjerrum Nielsen were the first two-woman team to lead a CAS project, and their group consisted exclusively of female scholars.

Haavind and Bjerrum Nielsen have since retired. They looked back on their stay at CAS in an interview last month. 

This interview was first published in the CAS newsletter. Sign up here to get the latest news from the Centre delivered directly to your inbox every month.

What do you remember best from your year at CAS?

Bjerrum Nielsen: The people we invited to work with us, and the long and intense discussions in an often too large group. The beautiful environment, the friendly and helpful administration, and the lunches in that gorgeous room under the roof!

Haavind: In our own jargon, we met ‘in the sofas.’ Harriet and I were the only ones who stayed for the full year. A set of two senior scholars from the UK or the US and two junior scholars from Norway stayed together with us for the first six months. A different set of people took over and stayed for the next six months. In addition, we divided the year into four slots, and three (or two) more people from Scandinavia or the US/UK took office during one of these time slots and stayed for at least two months. That gave us a total of 19 guests to handle. A rather complicated tapestry of meetings in these sofas, and an ongoing effort to design and distribute analytical tasks and discuss the outcomes. Close to all the participants were really devoted to what we were doing together. It could not have worked out without the generous grant and the capacity of the administrative people at CAS. We felt like princesses, and could still spend time arguing. 

How have your careers developed since your stay at CAS?

Bjerrum Nielsen: I turned 64 after the year at CAS, so it did not change my career in any decisive way. I am 70 now and have just retired from the Centre for Gender Research at UiO. However, it gave me a very useful and lasting international network where we have invited one other to speak at conferences and seminars. Last year I published the book Feeling Gender: A Generational and Psychosocial Approach (Palgrave MacMillan) -- and the year at CAS was very important for my thinking about what kind of psychosocial studies I wanted to engage with in the book.

Haavind: Well, both our careers were well established already, as professors at UiO. Some project leaders go one step further and create an application for a European Research Council grant or a Norwegian Centre of Excellence. No such plans for us. I can work in the small scale when it comes to finances. The most striking move in our professional trajectory since 2011 is actually retirement -- for me it happened in 2015. I am a total admirer of Harriet’s recent book. Academic debates do not always lead to agreement. It might as well strengthen own position and make it more explicit and consequential for further work. I have been more engaged in supervision and co-authorship with Ph.D. research fellows lately.

What advice do you have for future CAS project leaders?

Bjerrum Nielsen: Start the preparations early, have ready all the data or texts you plan to work on, do not invite too many scholars, and think through what would be the most useful contribution of each of the invited scholars. Even though it is tempting to include many -- and we would have missed any one of the 19 people we invited -- it is probably better with fewer people who can stay for a longer time and give more continuity to the project.

Haavind: To be honest, all but one were truly committed. That is a good score. If I should add something, I would say: Include some junior scholars from your own milieu. We spent the CAS grant to secure full salary for each one of them during the six months they stayed with us. That took them off their own strict plans for progress with their Ph.D., and made sure that they could engage with the joint project. 

Bjerrum Nielsen: Most of all make sure you have an overarching idea that will engage the fellows. This is the only way to make sure that everyone present is actually committed to the joint project. For most of the participants, their work together in smaller teams on analyses of empirical material led to specific plans for co-authoring articles. Not all of these plans came to anything, but we are pleased with those articles that were actually published in the aftermath.