Photo credits:
Stewen Quigley

SCAS News - 20 July, 2021

A Message from SCAS Principal Christina Garsten

The Principal's Note
20 July, 2021

An Exceptional Year, with Exceptional Fellows: Thinking Backwards and Forwards

In midst of the summer season, we are beginning to be able to look back at an exceptional academic
year, 2020-2021.

As our Fellows arrived in late August last year, we were all hoping for a gradual ease of COVID
restrictions, for seminars on site, for social gatherings and events in social proximity. This however,
soon proved not to be possible. As restrictions tightened we, like other institutes, had to physically
distance ourselves from each other and go digital. Our lecture hall, the Thunberg Hall, was left con-
spicuously empty, and our lunch room, so often crowded, was no longer buzzing with the sound of
conversations. Most Fellows and staff worked from their apartments and homes, whilst a few of our
staff members kept the operations running inside the Linneanum building.

This emptying out of space was indeed a challenge to the very idea of what constitutes an institute for
advanced study. Ideally, we conceive of this type of organization as one where we would get ample
opportunities to gather­; to engage in weekly seminars, to discuss and chat over joint lunches on a daily
basis, to meet up around social dinners, to delve deeper into thematic discussions at workshops and
conferences, and to get to know the immediate surroundings together. Conditions that would be
conducive to new insights, sharpened arguments, novel and serendipitous discoveries, and perhaps
new collaborations.

As the winter months went by, we experienced both frustration, loss, and anxiety. Frustration of not
being able to experience what was expected and hoped for. Sometimes loss of direction and inspiration
due to lack of social engagement. Sadly, loss also of people around us who become victims of COVID
or of other circumstances. There was a continuous sense of anxiety, as we kept abreast of the pandemic
developments and stayed constantly on the alert.

On the brighter side, we have also experienced relief, joy, and new friendships. Relief, since we all
managed to get through this exceptional year without severe consequences in the immediate groups
of Fellows and staff. As we approached springtime, the decline in COVID case numbers and the bright-
er days brought a degree of liberation. During small-scale social get-togethers, we could experience the
vivacious joy of getting together. And now, there is growing hope that we will be able to return to some-
thing like the situation we have strived and hoped for.

This year has, despite challenges, accelerated learning in a number of ways. We have learnt how to deal
creatively with physical distance, maintaining communication across distances and upholding a sense of
dispersed community. We have become accustomed to meeting up virtually and in hybrid fashions. Our
seminars have opened up to larger groups of people, simply by making them more easily accessible in
digital formats. Our new podcast series, SCAS Talks, is now contributing to make SCAS Alumni and Fellow
voices heard irrespective of distance. Most importantly, we have learnt not to take social proximity, good
health, and unlimited mobility for granted, but to value them. The friendships that have formed over this
exceptional year are perhaps equally exceptional.

In the broader perspective, the pandemic has alerted us to the weaknesses in our welfare systems and to
the local and global asymmetries in the distribution of different types of resources and knowledge. In many
ways, it has laid nakedly bare structural inequalities that were already in place, and given way to new forms
of inequality. As scholars, we are committed not only to observe, but to contribute to scientific scrutiny of
these mechanisms.

The pandemic has, however, also proved the significance of solidarity, collaboration, and social ingenuity.
Our Fellows have showed remarkable creativity in finding ways of keeping both work and social life alive
despite the trying circumstances. Our European and international networks of institutes for advanced study
have, as well, proven extremely valuable as sources for collegial support and innovative solutions during these

From our particular vantage point, the pandemic and its implications have underlined the value of scientific
knowledge and academic integrity. In times like these, it is all the more important to provide spaces small
enough for scholars from across the world to retain a sense of community and that allow them to pursue
research that is curiosity-driven and as free from external impositions as possible.

Thanks to all our Fellows, for upholding these values during this past exceptional year! And welcome,
incoming Fellows!