Tricks of the Trade
Robbert van Driessche (24), student of the Research Master in Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology Studies, spent six months researching resistance to change in urban (re)design.
“Since I got involved in the field of Urban Studies, I’ve started looking at cities differently. One day, I was walking through my hometown of Hulst, a fortress town in Zeeland. I observed the old city walls, the gates, the canals and bastions, and wondered why they were still there. After all, their defensive function disappeared a long time ago. When I told my supervisor about my fascination with the persistence of these fortifications and their effects on urban (re)design, she was very enthusiastic. She suggested that I compare Hulst with Maastricht, given their similarities as fortified cities.
Of course, I looked into archival and municipal documents to answer my questions. But that wasn't enough. To explain the persistence of the fortifications and why they became part of the cultural heritage of these cities, I needed to find out about the values and meanings that various groups attributed to them. So I interviewed 26 people, ranging from public officials to members of historical committees to employees of urban design agencies. Sometimes I would explicitly ask why something was important to them, but as my interviewing experience increased, so did my sensitivity in working with this qualitative approach. Only the transcribing of the interviews took about 180 hours in total. Add to that the travel time, actual interview time, coding, analysis, etc.
Then, about four months into my research, I found out that the comparison between Hulst and Maastricht was neither feasible nor desirable, especially because there were ongoing conflicts between different parties in Hulst about the restructuring of the old city centre. Focusing on those conflicts made my work much more interesting. It was quite a painful decision to cut out about half my data and all the work I had done, but it eventually improved the quality of my work. I guess part of research is learning to deal with that.”
In this series, students talk about their inspiring (research) project