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Christophe Verrier

ESR3

Originally from Canada, Christophe is the PhD fellow working on “Housing governance beyond city boundaries” within the joint research unit PACTE of the Université Grenoble-Alpes. Interested in the functioning of institutional frameworks spanning multiple levels of governance, he aims to offer a better understanding of local path-dependencies in shaping the behaviours of housing stakeholders, and its impact on housing outcomes over time. Christophe holds a master’s degree in urban studies from 4Cities, a joint-program organized by six universities across Europe, as well as a bachelor’s in political science and German studies from the Université de Montréal. Before joining RE-DWELL, he researched housing policies within the project “Vienna in Transition” at the Department of Sociology of the University of Vienna.

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Webcams and virtual whiteboards against climate change (and your mental health)

Posted on 29-07-2021

What use will we have for our webcams and all the online spaces occupied during the last year and half? As I was looking for an angle for my blog entry on the kick-off of RE-DWELL, I realized that between our recent virtual habits and the return to the “old” normal, one encounters certain areas of tension, especially in an international project like ours. Because ultimately, while we may be tempted to revert to our former patterns of hypermobility once the pandemic is over, one should never forget the impact of our movements on climate change: a crisis that needed to be addressed a decade ago.   The kick-off session showed how far we have come in relation to remote work and learning. The organizing staff managed to bring a bunch of strangers together to start exchanging in creative and effective ways: a most complex task. Breaking down the event into multiple two-hour blocks and mixing formats of interactions kept Zoom fatigue to a minimum. Short personal introductions alternated between live presentations for supervisors and pre-recorded videos for ESRs, creating rhythm and variation. Similarly, to initiate a common reflection on the key concepts of our research, brainstorming sessions rotated between small team discussions and wider plenary reports. These activities build momentum for the project: as we got to know each other’s backgrounds and interests, we could develop a mutual understanding of the goals we wish to pursue as a group. That we could achieve this online is a feat in and of itself. During the event, we used Miro – a virtual whiteboard to create mind maps. At first, I must admit that I was overwhelmed: a dozen mouse pointers moving around my screen to share, change and connect different thoughts and concepts. After the initial shock, I understood its value as a tool that not only underline linkages between concepts and ideas, but also acts as a window into the creative process of my new colleagues. This allowed me to better grasp how they organized their thinking in a way that would have been difficult in a “traditional” setting. Indeed, in a seminar room, a whiteboard can rarely accommodate more than two people writing at the same time, perhaps leading to less spontaneous visual representations. While this may sound like an ode to virtual meetings and online learning, it most definitely is not. Let it be clear: I do not like distance anything. I don’t enjoy seeing my face on a screen, I never know when to speak, and my attention span shrinks significantly. In short, as much as I always loathed talking on the phone, I feel even more awkward in front of a webcam. In “real life”, I love socializing after meetings, seminars, or after a workday. You wish to drink coffee before class? I am there. You want to grab a beer before the weekend? Count me in. But after an online appointment I am consistently relieved to turn off my camera and log out. Here, I could be happy that we are (hopefully) on our way out of the pandemic, that we may return to “normal” sooner than later. I will finally be able to chat with colleagues during the break and be awkward when meeting new people in person rather than in front of a screen. But fleeing back to our old habits without thinking would be a mistake. Indeed, how can we justify our hypermobility when knowing that we can function and connect remotely? When we consider the environmental impact of international travel, this becomes especially true for a project tackling sustainability In the pre-Covid era, while we were aware of greenhouse emissions from business trips, comparatively little was being done. Hopping on a plane to attend a meeting, seminar, workshop, or conference held in a different country was a thoughtless routine. However, we now know that the world will not collapse if we stay put and hang out on Zoom rather than in a conference room. In our case specifically, acknowledging that we could kick-off the activities of our network online relatively painlessly, can we just fly to the first meeting that can be held in person, without weighing the environmental impact? I think this issue links nicely to the discussions we had after the kick-off on the role of ethics in research. I believe that we should extend our considerations of ethics as to broadly reflect on how we conduct our activities. Indeed, as I work in a project tackling sustainability, what should I make of the greenhouse emissions linked to my regular travels? Not so much to look for a definitive answer to this question, I see it more as injunction to weigh the actions I will pose in the next three years and to ponder on how they are in accordance with the values I wish to carry in my research. That the urge to jump on a plane to finally meet my new colleagues in person is also part in contributing to the issues we wish to solve in this project. Ultimately this is all part of the trade-offs we are forced to make: while webcams may help us fight climate change, they are a long way from effectively replacing the physical interactions we all need.

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