Helena Pettersson, Associate Professor in Ethnology, Umeå University; Katarzyna Wolanik Boström, PhD in Ethnology, Umeå University; Magnus Öhlander, Professor of European Ethnology, Stockholm University

Transnational Mobile Highly Skilled Professionals

With focus on transnational mobility among professionals in the medical field, we will present three research projects.

The first paper is presented by Helena Pettersson, “Research Cooperation, Fictive Kinship, and International Knowledge Transfer among Scientists”. The focus of the paper is how scientists’ use their peer’s network when applying for positions abroad in order to develop their scientific training. The study is based on ethnographic fieldwork with in depth interviews and observations at a plant science institute. The informants are at different career stages from Europe. Academic mobility across domestic organizations and global networks is an important topic in today’s discussion of knowledge circulation and its economic consequences. An aim with the peer’s network is to establish junior scientists in to a new scientific community. The junior plant scientists must learn and gain new scientific skills and achievements. They also form strong relationships with the peer and the fellow lab members, especially at a similar career stage. Gained scientific skills and an extended scientific family are central resources for the junior scientist’s career development. The concept “fictive kinship” is used to catch power and loyalty relations between people and groups that are not by blood bound to each other. As a family in a traditional, biological sense with inheritance of both power relations and material goods, there are informal leadership, symbolic capital, lab resources and machines to be inherited. The data collection is based on ethnographic field work with in depth interviews and observations.

The second project, run by Katarzyna Wolanik Boström and Magnus Öhlander, is called “Polish and Swedish doctors in Swedish health care: A study of occupational cultures”. The project is empirically based on narrative interviews and focuses on physicians that move to work in another country for shorter or longer periods. Some of the interviewed Polish doctors have worked in several countries and most of them seem to look upon Sweden as their final destination. The main research question is about why well-educated, highly skilled professionals leave their country of origin to work abroad and what happens when they make use of their skills and competence in another organizational framework and cultural context. The project is formally ended. Wolanik Boström and Öhlander have written about cultural frictions and the skill of mobile everyday ethnography, that is a way of learning enough about a new workplace to be “culturally passable” and to perform the professional role. Further they have analyzed what happens when symbolic capital (exams, cultural and social capital etc.) moves between health care settings in different countries. This could be understood as the devaluation of capital resulting in the process of deskilling – reskilling and the negotiation of professionalism and status.

“Swedish Highly Skilled International ‘Returners’ in the Medical Field: A cultural analysis of transnational experiences, transfer of knowledge and skills” is the title of the third project. Researchers in the project are Pettersson, Wolanik Boström and Öhlander. It is based on interviews with three categories in the medical field: (i) medical biologists, who are depended on international mobility for successful research; (ii) specialist physicians, involved in research and/or clinical practice, for whom mobility is supposed to enhance both; and (iii) specialised physicians working as volunteers for international organisations, gaining skills on effective work under difficult circumstances and with limited resources. The aim is to describe and analyse incentives to move abroad, experiences of living and working in another country, and what happens when they return, e.g. the returners’ possibilities to apply and implement the newly gained professional knowledge and experiences at Swedish working places.

Helena Pettersson (helena.pettersson@umu.se); Associate Professor in Ethnology, Umeå University. Pettersson’s research has during the past years focused on academic mobility among physicists, medical professionals and life scientists and has conducted fieldwork in various laboratory environments.

Katarzyna Wolanik Boström (katarzyna.wolanik.bostrom@umu.se); PhD in Ethnology, Umeå University. She has done research on highly skilled professionals, occupational cultures, status, narrativity, intersectionality, and family stories.

Magnus Öhlander (magnus.ohlander@etnologi.su.se); professor of European Ethnology, Stockholm University; has done research in different fields, for instance about elderly care, ideas about racism in Swedish public debate, and notions about immigrants as patients in health care. He has written about culture theory and ethnographic methods.

Find out more about the Migration cluster at the Department of Social Anthropology.

All seminars in the series.