Adviser on the Edge

Spatial perspectives on career guidance and development


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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….?


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The role of humour in the creation of island graduate identities

What I love about research is the way that interesting ideas come at you sideways. So, a couple of weeks ago I met a friend who is based at the Centre for Nordic Studies in Orkney and has been researching the relationship between language and identity focussing on the community of Stromness from the 1960s to the present. She leant me her masters dissertation into the dialogical negotiation of cultural identity in Orkney and it was fascinating!

I particularly loved the discussion of Bakhtin’s work and the lens it can give to examining the construction of Orcadian identity. This reminded me of how much I loved studying Bakhtin in my first degree and got me thinking about how I could use my background in literature and literary theory in my current studies.

One of the statements that stood out from Becky’s research was:

“Bakhtin’s identification of carnival laughter offers a useful framework to describe how humour in Orkney acts not only against bigsy-ness [an Orcadian word that roughly translates as ‘arrogance’] and towards inclusiveness but at the same time is characterised by ambivalence, allowing things to be said publicly which can then be disclaimed by appealing to the fact that ‘everybody kens its only said in fun’” (Rebecca Ford, 2013, unpublished)

And this reminded me of how in my masters studies one of the key findings was that graduates looking for work in Orkney described avoiding talking about their degree because they didn’t want to seem ‘too big for their boots’ – that is they avoided being ‘bigsy’. And yet, at the same time they did need to show their skills / abilities in the workplace, and to be able to talk about their degree in contexts where it was relevant. I guess in this respect, there seems to be a high demand on graduates in a small community to maintain different identities, that are constructed in different ways in different settings, and yet, their identities must still remain consistent enough so that their identities don’t contradict each other. It is quite possible that carnival laughter plays a part in this, I suggested in my dissertation that in order to be successful, graduates commonly adopted a strategy that involved ‘downplaying’ their abilities directly (in speech) but making sure that they demonstrated their skills practically (through voluntary and community work particularly). Thinking about this in the light of Becky’s work, I wonder if the added advantage to this strategy is that it allows a particular form of self-deprecating humour – with graduates (humorously) downplaying their skills in a way that may actually ironically improve their reputation because the people they are talking to know that the graduate is really very capable indeed (they can see it from the work they’ve done).

One of the examples of humour in Becky's dissertation was a story about a library assistant who thought someone wanted a book about 'Thomas O'Quoyness' when actually they wanted a book about Thomas Aquinas (with 'Aquinas' and 'O'Quoyness'  being pronounced very similarly in an Orcadian accent).

Quoyness chambered tomb in Sanday. One of the examples of humour in Becky’s dissertation was a story about a library assistant who thought someone wanted a book about ‘Thomas O’Quoyness’ when actually they wanted a book about Thomas Aquinas (as ‘Aquinas’ and ‘O’Quoyness’ can sound very similar in an Orcadian accent).