On Distance and Proximity

On July 22nd 2011, I was home from work when I heard a loud blast. It sounded like thunder. Strange that I had not seen any lightning, with a sound this loud, I thought before carrying on with household chores. Half an hour later I took a break, logging onto Facebook. ‘Explosion in Oslo, it’s on TV2!’, a friend’s status said. The TV images seemed unreal. There were familiar images of places I frequently passed, shred into the unrecognizable. The police was asking journalists and others to evacuate the area – in my language, not a foreign language spoken by people far away.

Two years later, and I am studying Norwegian society’s response to the attacks of July 22nd. Our project is studying a constantly evolving phenomenon – from the public debates straight after the attacks, through the so-called Gjørv Report concluding that the attacks could have been prevented, the trial where the perpetrator was convicted, and the memorial ceremonies one year and two years after the attacks… The themes discussed, and the way they are discussed, are constantly changing. And I am here to witness it all, as are most of my colleagues on the project.

The physical and emotional proximity to our field of study has made me wary, knowing that the people I am communicating my research to will also have their own memories and stories of the events of that day. This recognition has been a helpful reminder of the potential emotional sensitivity among those I will be interacting with throughout the project period. More than ever I am realizing how we as researchers run the risk of overlooking this potential when approaching a post-crisis community from a distance. Keeping this potential sensitivity in mind while trying to create the necessary distance in order to see patterns and connections will be a continuous challenge, but also key, in striving for a balance between distance and proximity.

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