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Anders Westerström tracks urban development in the waterfront district of Masthuggskajen in Gothenburg.

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Masthuggskajen in Gothenburg is a central regeneration area on Södra Älvstranden that, on completion, will feature 1,300 dwellings and 5,000–6,000 workplaces. The project has high ambitions, with the densification expected to resolve the issues of segregation and housing shortages, as Gothenburg implements its vision to embrace the water, connect the city and reinforce the regional centre. The entire project is expected to become an engine of local and regional growth.

Another standout feature of Masthuggskajen is its unusually dense and high-rise nature, not to mention the way it departs from many of the City’s own norms for urban development. According to the City’s land development enterprise Älvstranden Utveckling AB, the project is also the first in the world to receive sustainability certification and there is a comprehensive sustainability programme around which the development consortium has coalesced. In addition, many other actors have been invited to join in the development process as a means of bringing new thoughts, ideas and perspectives into the area. A prime example is the “Sharing Cities” research project, funded by Vinnova, the Swedish Energy Agency and Formas, which has enabled various small-scale advocates of sustainability, both commercial and non-profit, to take part in workshops with the development consortium to discuss shared interests and needs.

How does this feed into your thesis project?

In my thesis project, I intend to track the development of Masthuggskajen over time – from the initial decisions to consider regeneration in 2008, through the planning process and, in real time, some way into the implementation phase up to around 2022. I am interested in how the concept of sustainability is being applied in the project and how this is affecting the actors taking part in the processes and negotiations associated with the area. Relevant questions in relation to this include:

    Are there any ideological connections, intersections and common interests between the small-scale sustainability advocates, both non-profit and commercial, and the driving forces behind the development of Masthuggskajen?

    What happens to small-scale non-profit and commercial advocates of sustainability when they become part of large-scale institutional and commercial contexts?

    Are there any conflicts or disagreements between different actors regarding the use of the sustainability concept within the development process at Masthuggskajen? And if so, how do these play out and change over time, and to whose advantage or disadvantage?

Can you give us a glimpse into life as a doctoral student at the Department of Cultural Sciences?

My working day varies a great deal depending on the time of year. At the start of the semesters, I have quite a lot of teaching to do, which takes up a considerable amount of my time (sometimes a bit too much). I teach on the intermediate course Culture – Democracy and the City as part of the first-cycle Culture programme, and on the course of the same name on the second-cycle Cultural Studies programme. These courses have a strong emphasis on understanding culture in relation to, and as an expression of, power structures in society. On the first-cycle course, for example, we dip into a range of cultural theories that came to prominence in the 20th century, such as the critical theory of the Frankfurt School or Guy Debord’s Situationism; we then embark on an analysis of culture’s role in contemporary urban development processes, as part of which we critically examine topics such as gentrification (class-based displacement) and the marketing of cities. I love teaching and I learn so much from my students and the texts we delve into together. My partner is a drama teacher and she has inspired me to use all sorts of creative teaching methods. A text seminar might therefore end with the students summing up the topic of the day by means of a living statue or a collage. Many students find they remember more about what we discussed if they have engaged several of their senses during the seminar.

Once the teaching is finally done, I usually throw myself into the piles of course literature that a doctoral student is expected to read. These compulsory and elective courses are also part of my education and can touch on everything from academic writing and scientific theory to critical perspectives on new social movements or growth-friendly urbanism. The courses are an important and necessary element, and much of what I have read, written and heard within their framework has fed into my research project. The actual research work may involve writing up field notes, transcribing interviews or reviewing various public documents, plus of course being “out in the field”. Another key component of my work is the writing. My ambition is to write every day. I live by the motto that “good writing is rewriting” and as I write, it sparks thoughts and ideas.

As a doctoral student, I am also expected to take part in the programme of seminars. I try to prioritise attending the seminars of fellow doctoral students, even though our subjects may differ on some points. As well as being a way to learn about my colleagues’ projects, the seminars also address meta-perspectives on the research process, such as theoretical, ethical and methodological questions. The original idea behind the subject of Cultural Studies was to work across disciplines and combine the humanities and social sciences. I therefore also try to take part in seminars and courses at departments and faculties other than my own in order to gain new perspectives on my research. I often say that being a doctoral student is the best and worst job in the world. The best because I get to spend all my time on topics that interest me. The worst because the academic working process can be quite solitary. As part of the socialisation process that leads to a PhD, my texts are also constantly reviewed and picked apart by my colleagues and supervisors. This can sometimes be quite tough and challenging, but it is still better to have a strict supervisor than to face a strict examiner unprepared.

Is there anything that has surprised you in your thesis work so far?

I am surprised by the extent and the formal way that small-scale commercial and non-profit sustainability advocates are involved in urban regeneration projects through activities that create a sense of place. I had an idea that this might be the case when I started my work, but the empirical evidence has significantly strengthened my argument. Another of the project’s exciting challenges is seeing how these actors are affected by the global recession that the coronavirus pandemic appears to be causing. It may be that we see a paradigm shift in the conditions for urban development at Masthuggskajen and for Gothenburg as a visitor destination.