Dr James Bonner
Post doctoral researcher and freelance writer
Engaging with water in place: An emerging exploration of water experiences
Over the course of my research I have been considering water- both generally and in the context of Malawi, as well as wider literature and perspectives on social and environmental accounting, sociology, political ecology and sustainability science themes relevant to my work. In parallel I have become increasingly thoughtful about water in the context of my own life. How it affects me personally, when and how I engage with it, and what it means to me. The more I thought about it, I realised that I have a strong association with water- not just from a 'scientific' point of view, but more from a sensory and aesthetic perspective. As much about how it made me feel as it made me think.
Some thoughts and feelings about me and water...
Though I am not a strong swimmer, and my sporting activities tend to be much more land based- particularly cycling- I really enjoy the sense of 'being' in water, especially in outdoors settings (this is something many people share). In particular I have, over a number of years, found myself making trips to places that have geothermal baths (including New Zealand, Hungary, Belgium, Iceland, Japan). My travelling has often, and increasingly, drawn me to the 'north'- with repeated visits to the north of my own country Scotland, and to the Nordic nations- places of coastlines and fjords, lakes and lochs, rivers and streams, rain, snow and ice. I am also a fan of islands- including the hundreds we have on Scotland's west coast. Further to this, I have 'harboured' a long time passion for the visual arts- particularly painting and photography (especially of landscapes), as well as architecture and other landscape art- and many of my favourite artworks and artists depict, and have been inspired by, water. My favourite colours have always been watery and aquatic blues and green, and I am, as it happens, one of the water astrological symbols- Pisces the fish... I live very close to my city's river, and I cycle along it every day. It seems water is of me.
Pursuing a PhD is a very 'literary' pursuit, with so much time engaged in academic reading and (attempts) at self generated writing- from reviewing literature, writing proposals, developing ideas, forming and reviewing papers, etc. Never mind the construction of a thesis! This unrelenting processing of words can be tiring- and I often find it quite difficult. I am someone who is really aided by, and represents my engagement with the world, in more visual mediums- and which can also be a springboard for me to write. My blog, which is a combination of images and words, has often helped me do this in my previous work. A PhD is often very 'desk based'- involving many solitary hours alone, inside, at a computer. Again I find this difficult, as I love spending time outdoors, moving about on my bike or just sitting in an outside cafe space (my favourite painting, Vincent van Gogh's 'Cafe Terrace at Night', hints at that... on display at Kröller-Müller Museum, in a park in the central Netherlands. I cycled to it one day during a fortnight cycle touring, combing two passions- and probably something to do why I have have powerful associations with it...). I have read a lot of my research literature in such spaces, and also written up some important pieces over a coffee in a cafe. (Later in my doctorate I bought myself a new lighter laptop with a good battery (and a remote Wi-Fi connection). I wish I had done this earlier, as it does let me find spaces outside to do some work.)
As my research has progressed I have increasingly drawn on theoretical inspiration, as well as creative methodological approaches, from the arts- it feels like it is the arts where I really want to try and take my work towards in the future. I have also increasingly sought to incorporate my love for being outside into how I do my research- particularly the methods I have adopted, where I often use my bike as a means to explore, engage with, and record my experiences with water. This feels an important thing to consider while pursuing a PhD- what are the things you really like and are passionate about, both 'intellectually' but also in a emotional and corporeal sense, and how can you incorporate and develop those in your research. Of course undertaking a doctorate is a significant intellectual pursuit, but we, as researchers, are more than 'just brains'- we are emotional and physical too, and sometimes it feels the PhD process neglects that a little. In the end we might produce a thesis, maybe some academic papers, or some other projects and outputs. But ultimately it is us that are (hopefully!) awarded the title of 'Dr', not those other things, and we should reflect on how we can develop ourselves, and those different, but intertwined, aspects of our being during our research journey.
The various pages on this website under my PhD section describe some of the projects and pursuits that I have been developing over time- and a chance for me to represent some of these emergent aspects of my research and how I have been developing and changing as a person. In a way they are outputs of my research, but also a record of the emergent and reflexive process of undertaking it- and it feels important to give as much attention to the latter as the former.
Some different outputs from my research
Aside from the material and writing I have been developing here, I have been contributing to various other projects and pieces of work- linked to others at my institution, the University of Strathclyde, as well as external researchers and practitioners. Herein I am seeking to apply my interdisciplinary research in such collaborative links, and extend the research and impact of some of my work and ideas. These include:
A reflection on my research in Malawi, as well as my wider work with water, as a contribution to the 'Troubling Waterscapes' online exhibition- a project developed by an international group of artists, activists and researchers to convey and narrate some of their work on water relations within the wider discipline of political ecology. https://pollen2020.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/troubling-waterscapes-goes-live-and-invites-contributions (See in the online exhibition at 'Reflect with us > Representation of water relations in place'. Note- best viewed on a PC/tablet).
A reflexive commentary with a fellow doctorate researcher in the podcast 'Designing rigorous and reflexive research with Ann Cunliffe and Barbara Simpson', published via Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) (Simpson, Cunliffe, Augustine, Bonner, 2019) https://www.sgsss.ac.uk/news/podcast-designing-rigorous-and-reflexive-research-with-ann-cunliffe-and-barbara-simpson/