Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


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Migration, education and employment: socio-cultural factors in shaping individual decisions in Orkney and Shetland

So, my latest paper has just been published in the Island Studies Journal. The paper is titled: Migration, education and employment: socio-cultural factors in shaping individual
decisions and economic outcomes in Orkney and Shetland. The paper unpacks some of the theoretical background to my research and discusses some of the initial findings from the first interviews in the project. I have summarised some of the key points from my paper below.
Island studies journal

Front cover of the Island Studies Journal Vol. 11 No.1

So in terms of the background to the project I start by discussing the potential role of place in shaping individual decisions. In order to do this I draw on the theoretical framework of Bourdieu, who broadly looks at the way that our social environment can become internalised and influence the decisions that we make (the internalised social environment is our ‘habitus’). Through this use of Bourdieu I challenge rational models of decision making which tend to assume that career and migration decisions are made on a purely economic basis, and suggest that social and cultural aspects of our environment also impact on our decisions.
Looking at the findings of the research project so far I cover two areas: higher education destinations and graduate destinations. Analysing the interviews with higher education students from Orkney and Shetland, these are the main findings I discuss:
HE destinations
  • “Proximity” is important in deciding where to study for university. This proximity is, however constructed in terms of social and cultural familiarity as well as simply geographical distance.
  • Personal challenge is an important part of going to university. Students typically chose locations which had an element of challenge but which were ‘close enough’ to remain manageable.
Graduate destinations
  • Graduates have typically developed more geographical confidence through being at university and at the point of graduation describe being able to live anywhere
  • However graduates still lack professional confidence, and typically see the first years after graduation as a key period to build up their professional experience. For many graduates it is felt that this may be best done away from their home communities.
  • There is a strong theme of wishing to return to the islands at some point in the future, this is often associated with having children and settling down, with the islands being identified in terms of familiarity, homeliness and comfort.
  • Some graduates do return home immediately, either viewing this in terms of ‘settling down’ or in terms of having a break from their studies and recuperating at home before moving away again. However even the graduates who return home more permanently  typically do not rule out perhaps ‘going south’ again in the future.
I finish the paper with further discussion and indicate a few areas for further research. In particular I note that there is a potential interrelation of place-based habitus with other forms of habitus – including occupational and class habitus. Class in particular is something I’m becoming increasingly interested in (as you will have seen from my previous blog) so you can probably expect to see more from me on that particular topic in the not too distant future!
I hope you enjoy the paper and as always if you’d like to comment to let me know what you think that would be fabulous – your comments are fantastic for pushing my thinking on these issues!

 


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Orkney Research in Progress Conference

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Orkney Research in Progress Conference, I meant to blog about it at the time but I’ve only just got to it now!

The conference was arranged by Orkney Heritage Society, and included a fantastic range of speakers. My presentation was on the career and migration pathways of students from Orkney and Shetland (no surprise there!) and in the presentation I covered some national trends in entry to Higher Education and destinations from Higher Education before looking at some figures from Orkney and Shetland. I have been lucky enough to secure some data that covers the destinations of graduates originally from Orkney or Shetland six months after graduation (covering the last 5-10 years), so some of the data I presented was from my initial research into this data set (for those of you interested this data set is from the DLHE survey). I am hoping to work up some of this content into a full published paper before long, so watch this space….!

Me presenting at the conference - thanks to Orkney Heritage Society for the photo!

Me presenting at the conference – thanks to Orkney Heritage Society for the photo!

I really enjoyed the other speakers during the day too –

  • Andrew Appleby’s talk on Neolithic pottery, it was great to hear about his experimentations with adding fats to Orkney clay to make it more malleable, a really interesting practical exploration to help understand how Neolithic people survived and thrived in Orkney!
  • Scott Timpany’s talk about Orkney’s wooded landscape – it’s amazing to think that Orkney once had so many trees!
  • Hugo Anderson-Whymark’s talk giving an overview of stone objects in Orkney in prehistoric times – I never knew the patterns on stone might be important to why some stones were used for some objects and not others.
  • Rebecca Ford on a dialogical approach to discourse and community, looking at the work of Bakhtin particularly and how community is constituted – I always enjoy her thoughts, and it made me think again about the role of humour in Orkney.
  • Helga Tulloch’s talk on the Stromness Yule Tree game – which I’d never heard of before, but it was really interesting to think that this annual game could be representative of a struggle between ‘land’ and ‘sea’ with farmers predominantly making up one team and fishermen the other, and how the result of the game may be used to predict the relative prosperity of these industries over the coming year.
  • Tom Rendall’s talk on migration and the ‘mither tongue’ looking at the importance of dialect and how incomers to Orkney use (or don’t use) dialect – which was another interesting one from my perspective and my interest in movements of people and identity.
  • Carola Huttman on George Mackay Brown, which gave an excellent insight into his work, something I always feel I should know more about…
  • Liz Lovick on Orkney Ganseys and Lace – which was fascinating from my perspective in terms of identifying unique ‘Orkney’ patterns for fisherman’s ganseys, but also at how patterns had moved around, with Orkney patterns borrowing from Icelandic, Norwegian and Shetland patterns, I guess perhaps moving with the fishermen who travelled between these communities?
  • and finally Peter Leith on Weights in Orkney and Nordic Communities, which had some great visual aids, and I never knew there was a weight called a scruple! That must be where the word ‘scruple’ as in ‘moral misgiving’ comes from….?