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Researcher profile: Annika Skoglund

Annika Skoglund uses ethnographic methods, such as participatory observation and shadowing. PHOTO: MIKAEL WALLERSTEDT

Activism at the workplace

Environmental activism not only exists outside companies, but also among the employees at energy companies, for example. This is according to Annika Skoglund, who in her research has followed employees at Vattenfall in Sweden and the UK.

Annika Skoglund came to Uppsala and the Department of Engineering Sciences in 2015. Her research is about internal activism and how individuals in organisations can create change by adjusting the structures a little.
Focus for one of her projects is on employees at Vattenfall who she has followed for three years. Vattenfall has been criticised for not using environmentally friendly energy. The question is what the company’s employees who work with wind power think about this?

She uses ethnographic methods, such as participatory observation and shadowing. The latter means following a person everywhere, even to the gym.
“They usually exercised every Friday with kettle bells, and so I came along,” she says with a laugh. “As an ethnographer, one should try to do as much as possible like the participants of the study do in order to learn about their everyday working practices.”
Of course, it is not all that easy to be let into a company as a researcher. It has to be done step by step, and before it was final, a formal agreement with Vattenfall was required, where Annika Skoglund signed a confidentiality agreement.
“I would be personally liable to pay damages if I violated the agreement and spread certain information. However, they don’t get involved in my research.”

For the project funding from the Swedish Energy Agency, a visiting professor was hired for 20 per cent part-time. Together with him, she is now analysing the results and sending in articles.
The research is controversial since it differs from the established perception that activism only exists outside capitalist organisations.
“The theories say that as soon as you show commitment as an employee, the management will try to use it. But we have not seen the employees’ environmental activism taken care of in any strategic manner, but rather they are left to take their own initiatives, such as sorting waste or cutting back on travel.”
What is it like to research this at the Ångström Laboratory among all of the engineers and scientists?
“Our department distinguishes itself in that we are sociologists who constantly tie in to technology. We teach the engineering students how people influence technology and social development. What does it mean to be an engineer today – for example in wind power at Vattenfall? As sociologists, we take up completely different questions about why certain technology choices are made.”

Another of her projects is about the IT company Prezi in Hungary and alternative forms of entrepreneurship. She and two other researchers filmed continuously, resulting in two documentaries that were shown at the Slottsbiografen cinema earlier in the autumn.
The researchers analysed the materials and wrote the script, but they got help from professional film teams and cutters.
Why did you devote so much work to making a film out of your research?
“Mainly because it’s really fun! It’s not anything I have a use for in my career yet, but on the contrary, is considered to be non-scientific. But it’s important in work to do what gives the most, both for the production of knowledge and for the distribution of knowledge. Hopefully, it will be different in ten years.”
The goal is to get the film published by a special journal for research films, with peer review, but until then, quite a bit of work is needed to meet legal and ethical demands.

Annika Skoglund has not always worked with an ethnographic method. She wrote her doctoral thesis entirely without having to do with people and instead examined policies and newspaper articles. Then she received criticism from a Professor Emeritus at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology who said that her research did not fit in.
“I began thinking and decided now I’ll go into a company and get as close as possible and shadow the employees. So I have him to thank for that criticism. Sometimes, the hardest criticism is also very beneficial. Imagine if he hadn’t said anything. I might have continued on as before.”

Annica Hulth

2017-02-10

Find out more:

Title: Associate Senior Lecturer in Industrial Engineering at the Department of Engineering Sciences.
Age: 39 years old.
In your leisure time: I realise my ideas.
Last book read: “On Method” by Giorgio Agamben.
Last film seen: I was at the film festival this weekend and saw “The Untamed” – a surreal Mexican film by Amat Escalante.
Hidden talent: Kite surfing.
Makes you happy: When I get love poems from my partner.