Spotlight on... | 07/02/2024

"Spotlight on..." DP Graduates

Two of our doctoral researchers recently defended their dissertation! Jorge Rincón Barajas completed his dissertation on the topic “Current Issues on Rural Development: Land Tenure, Land Use Change and Climate Change” at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, and Anna Fünfgeld defended her dissertation titled “No Power to Change?Energy Hegemony and Trasformismo in Indonesia” at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. Learn more about Jorge’s and Anna’s PhD journey in the graduate interviews below.

  • Jorge Rincón Barajas

    What was your initial motivation to address the topic of your dissertation?

    Back in 2013, an investigation by Oxfam and some congresspeople in Colombia revealed that domestic and international investors were acquiring agricultural land that was originally transferred to landless peasants within a land reform program. Due to life threats, they had to sell those lands. At the end, those companies kept those lands and the transfers were “legal”. The government of Colombia argued that land transfers to such companies in those territories reduce poverty and increase agricultural productivity. That motivated me to examine the government narrative. In my analysis, I wanted to investigate whether such transfers indeed benefit smallholders in a conflict prone country, as the government claimed.

    What was the biggest challenge during your research process and how did you cope with it?

    The individual work was challenging, especially during the hardest months of the pandemic and when you feel that your research is leading nowhere. Writing down your results helps, even when they are not final. That helps you “modify/adapt” something that is already there, and your supervisor and colleagues can give you feedback on something concrete. I joined the SCRUM group organized by some colleagues, too. Daily discussions and setting targets helped me “deliver”.

    To whom would you like to present the result of your research, if possible? (e.g. politicians, researchers)

    I would like to present my research to the directors of the Agencia Nacional de Tierras in Colombia, as well as peasant organizations, land beneficiaries and applicants to benefits of land reforms.

    Looking back: what advice would you now give to your younger self at the starting point of your doctoral studies?

    Try to include yourself in a project, look for co-authorships, benefit from the knowledge that more experienced researchers have (post-docs, professors). Look within the institute and beyond. Show that interest to your supervisor. He or she will help you.

    Anna Fünfgeld

    How would you explain your research topic to your grandmother in three sentences?

    From a broader picture, in my research, I wanted to understand the conditions for societal change. Concretely, I looked at how an energy transformation in Indonesia is inhibited. I found that political-economic (power) structures constitute the main obstacle to a transformation from the current fossil-fuel and large-scale infrastructures-based energy system to a more decentralized, renewable-based one. Moreover, I analyzed the concrete discursive strategies and practices through which such a transformation is inhibited.

    What was the biggest challenge during your research process and how did you cope with it?

    Beyond common challenges such as structuring, writing up, and finding the right point to finish the dissertation, I guess a major difficulty was the specific circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Writing a PhD can generally be quite a lonesome endeavor, but it was even more so under pandemic conditions. The ScrumAdemia group we built up during this time with several other GIGA PhD researchers was of incredible help to cope with these challenges as it provided a very supportive environment especially regarding structuring our work and providing each other feedback, but also concerning emotional support and motivation in difficult times.

    Which moment of your working process would you like to relive / experience again?

    I don't think I can name one particular moment. What I really enjoyed were the interesting encounters during the fieldwork and every time I was able to present and discuss some of my findings. I also really enjoyed writing the conclusion, feeling that the many pieces of my research somehow came together in a meaningful way.

    What was the most valuable piece of advice that you received during your doctoral studies?

    I guess that was "better done than perfect" or, similarly, "only a finished dissertation is a good dissertation". After all, with such a long and extensive research project, there are always many aspects that would be worth working on further or rethinking, but the real challenge is to be able to cope with that.

    GIGA Doctoral Programme

    The GIGA has a long tradition of integrating young researchers into its research structure. This tradition culminated in the establishment of the GIGA Doctoral Programme. This programme seeks to provide a platform for young, international, and German academics, from which they can pursue their research and professional development, particularly in the field of comparative area studies (CAS).

    Doctoral Programme


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