Positionality of a Niche Geographer.
In the multi-level perspective (MLP) framework on socio-technical transitions (i.e. how people and technology are co-evolving over landscapes), 'niches' are "the locus for radical innovations" (Geels, 2011, p. 26). Niches are opportunities for change in a world of 'regimes' (established practices and rules; the system and all that which keeps it stable). When a wind turbine is installed on the rolling hills of the countryside, it is materially transforming space.
I'm an environmentalist at heart. I love nature (as understood in popular discourse - trees, rivers, mud, bees, etc.) and I want to reduce negative human impacts on nature. My undergraduate program, Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo, was full of Birkenstock-wearing, patchouli-smelling, pot-smoking, 'change the machine!'-chanting beautiful souls who, like me, revelled in courses like "Greening the Campus and Community" and "Development of Environmental Thought". The program felt passionate and purposeful. And I got some practical experience through the co-op program to boot!
My Master's followed after a year hiatus (during which I became a flight attendant). I made the switch to the department of Geography and started to dig into 'Energy'. This was largely influenced by learning about Rudolph Diesel inventing the diesel engine to run on peanut oil in 1892. My first car was a VW Turbo Diesel which I fully intended to convert to WVO or Waste Vegetable Oil (I didn't, but it's still a future dream). My Master's thesis was "Biodiesel Energy in Small Island Developing States: Addressing Challenges to Development".
Fast forward 9 years (...through a blur of flying, living in Vancouver, getting married, moving back to Toronto, and having 3 children). I started my PhD in the fall of 2019, when my youngest was only 4 months old. My research focus: energy transitions and the transformation of rural spaces where these transitions will incur - the spatial or geographic 'niches'.
But... that didn't work out and I found myself in a situation where I had to do some deep reflection on my positionality and purpose in relation to pursuing a PhD. I took my interest in sustainable buildings (have you heard of earthships?) and experience as a home renovator to Mr. Sustainability himself (aka Dr. John Robinson), who has taken me on as a PhD student. My research focus now is on retrofitting single family homes in Toronto through net-zero (climate action!) to net-positive: the idea that human activities can (re)generate positive impacts for people and the environment.
I'm (still) in love with the "Ph" part of this process. Learning about different philosophies, concepts, and theories is constantly blowing my mind and fundamentally transforming the way I understand and relate to the world - the personal or self 'niche'.
Niche Geographer. Transformative change in self and space.
The picture on this page is old but still captures my day to day life. The house is a mess (my ecological niche - ha!), my oldest has run off with my camera/phone, but there's evidence that I am getting school work done in the moments that I have (can you spot the journal article print-out and my glasses? Hint: placed out of reach of the toddler). It's going to be a long, long process, just as life-long learning should be.
"In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity" - Sun Tzu
Geels, F. W. (2011). The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: responses to seven criticisms. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. 1: 24–40.