History of the Skagen Conference… so far

The Skagen Conference challenges researchers to think differently about how one might frame inquiry practices in the 21st Century. Embracing the epistemological challenges of feminists, postmodernists, post structuralists, interpretive sociologists, feminist techno scientists, and other related schools of thought, participants discuss and experiment with innovative and creative ways of knowing.

This event lives somewhere between a workshop and writing retreat. It’s held in a deliberately gloomy time of year in Denmark. In late November, wind and rain dominate the landscape. Inside, candlelight and warmth contribute to an atmosphere of coziness for writing, thinking, and conversation.

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Sometimes, a temperamental weather pattern will sweep away the clouds. Then, the brilliance of the sun draws participants outside to walk and talk along the sea, eyes squinting toward the glaring angle of the northern winter sun.

The idea of hosting the conference in this sensory atmosphere is to promote a feeling of intensity and coziness all at the same time. This feeling of hygge is appropriately situated in Denmark

Disrupting norms of inquiry

Leading experts provide workshops and facilitate conversations during this retreat. These moments are intended to push participants out of their epistemological comfort zones.


These disruptions often weave arts practice into scientific analyses, or activate more affective intellectual stances. During these writing or creative production sessions, participants try to activate different cognitive centers of their brain to respond to a facilitator’s questions or prompts.

These playful moments encourage and help develop modes of sensemaking not typically used in academic research. Through these workshops, participants can’t help but critically analyze the foundations of their habits or routines of research practice, leading to a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their frameworks.

The rationale for this week-long conference is based on the premise that current normative definitions and parameters for research methods continue to constrain the creative and flexible adaptation needed to adequately address the complexity of contemporary social contexts. skagenconferenceartworkThe goal is to find better resonance and fit between qualitative research practices and complex social contexts, such as digital and social media, global networks, and entangled human-technical relations.

This workshop-style event explores issues and practices both above and below method. Above method, researchers can consider some of the epistemological and ideological conditions within which we find ourselves doing inquiry in the 21st Century, which are tied closely to shrinking budgets, greater public scrutiny of academic research, and the push toward ‘big data.’ Below method, we can explore the creative everyday practices of good researchers, where we find pathways to meaning that both defy traditional conceptions of methods and also extend our understanding of ‘what counts’ as a part of one’s method.

The underlying model of critical pedagogy

The pedagogical model undergirding this format could be read through the critical pedagogy of Paolo Friere, especially in his concept of conscientização (1970s); Antonio Gramsci’s discussions of how organic intellectuals can recognize and resist the pedagogy of hegemony (1930s); and Augusto Boal‘s frameworks for theatre of the oppressed (1960s-70s). All of these scholars were interested in helping people develop techniques and tools for developing critical awareness of the complex ways in which they are situated in society by forces around them, as well as their own habits and tendencies. While these activists in the mid-and late- 20th century were focused on helping people develop consciousness to resist corporate or capitalist structures related to workplace and educational settings, their concepts remain foundational in thinking about how we recognize and resist structures and practices that might work against our best interests.

Critical pedagogy–a phrase that might encompass Freire’s ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’, Boale’s ‘theatre of the oppressed‘, or the main principles of feminist pedagogy–might be characterized as:
The process in which [humans], not as recipients, but as knowing subjects, achieve a deepening awareness both of the socio-cultural reality which shapes their lives and of their capacity to transform that reality.   –attributed to Paolo Freire and cited in many places, including this 1987 book by Peter Jarvis
The Skagen Conference builds from this premise. It was designed to give researchers space and encouragement to think about why ‘transgressiveness’ is important. The goal? Enable scholars to recognize the boundaries imposed by their own particular situations, institutions, disciplines, and engrained habits. Once these boundaries are identified they can be transgressed to see new possibilities. Here, we might test methods outside these boundaries, incorporate ideas from other likewise-bounded models, and build resilient approaches that are better positioned to grapple with the complex ecologies we find increasingly relevant in the 2000s.

Target group

This conference is targeted toward PhD students and professional scholars who are interested in exploring the limits of their current practices, which might be too familiar and blocking their ability to think otherwise. For junior scholars, it’s an opportunity to learn about how research methods develop in larger infrastructures and how these might be reimagined in ways that enable creative innovation without sacrificing quality, rigor, or credibility as measured by external stakeholders and evaluators.

Not a conference

To call the Skagen Conference a “Conference” is perhaps misleading. It implies presentation of prepared ideas. This reifies the notion that knowledge is something developed in advance of meetings. Such formats discourage open trajectories and unforeseen outcomes. But it’s also not simply a course or class, which implies content. The Skagen Conference is more likely a series of open-ended workshops, designed carefully to provoke self reflection and critical (self) analysis about the epistemological processes of knowing and the more methodological or practical matters of producing scholarship that matters.

Learn more about the Skagen Institute and the annual conference here

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