In its recent report, a Nordic evaluation panel concluded that several Norwegian geographers and geography research environments play a prominent international role in development geography, environmental geography, political geography and regional geography research.
The general view of the panel is that much of the geography research conducted in Norway holds a good international standard. The evaluation panel was led by Professor Mats Widgren of Stockholm University.
The evaluation primarily encompasses human geography research in Norway. Only a small number of research units in physical geography were evaluated. In Norway, human geography emerged as a separate discipline in the 1970s and 1980s. Today the country's human geographers outnumber the physical geographers.
Greater breadth called for
According to the panel, there is too little research activity at Norwegian universities in important fields such as urban geography .
The panel also found it surprising that Norwegian geographers show very little interest in conducting research on topics of national importance, such as the petroleum industry, fisheries resources, mineral extraction, reindeer husbandry, Nordic neighbours, North Atlantic communities, the circumpolar North, Russia and the European continent.
Working among social scientists, natural scientists and technologists
Only the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim and the University of Bergen have "pure" geography departments. At all of the other research units, Norwegian geographers are part of groups with researchers in other disciplines.
The panel noted that in recent years the most exciting research incorporating physical geography has been carried out at a department of social science ' namely research on the impacts of climate change at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo (UiO).
The panel also noted that the majority of geographers work at independent research institutes outside the universities. In the panel's own opinion, an obvious weakness of the evaluation is that it provides very little insight into the research conducted in this very large sector, as the focus is on research environments rather than on individual researchers.
Main area of activity: regional development
According to the panel, the one term that best sums up the main area of activity in Norwegian geography research is "regional development".
Viewed from the outside, geographers at Norwegian universities are particularly concerned with research on regional growth, regional vulnerability, regional identity, regional policy and small communities. These are also areas in which the Norwegian authorities have been willing to invest in research, the panel pointed out.
Three best research environments
The evaluation panel mentions three fields and research environments of particularly high calibre in its report:
- Economic and political geography in the form of development studies in regions and countries such as West Africa, Nepal and Costa Rica has become a key field of Norwegian geography research, in which Norwegian researchers have a high international profile. The research environment at UiO is a leader here.
- The Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric) at the University of Life Sciences in Ås is an important, internationally renowned research environment in its field. Research here challenges established myths and "common wisdom" on phenomena such as population growth and drought in developing countries.
- Climate vulnerability research at UiO is the third key field of Norwegian geography research highlighted by the panel.
Room for improvement
Norwegian geographers are spread out among various institutions, and many are the only representative of their discipline in their department. The panel calls for increased cooperation between Norwegian geographers across institutional borders. It also recommends a significant increase in the number of post-doctoral fellowship positions at the universities.
The panel points out that the use of quantitative methods and large datasets in Norwegian geography research is generally weak, and that this is apparent in the lack of comprehensive population studies led by Norwegian geographers.
The panel also encourages more Norwegian geographers to take the decisive step from being theory users to becoming theory producers.
The Research Council's role and observations
The evaluation was carried out at the request of the Research Board of the Division for Science at the Research Council. According to the board, the analysis of challenges facing the discipline as a whole as well as the individual research environments provides an excellent basis for further development.
The Research Council points out that the lack of interest in urban geography in geography departments at Norwegian universities identified by the panel is compensated in part by the urban research being conducted at independent research institutes and university colleges.