FOCUS-MODEL-ENGAGE: An Intern’s Experience of Complexity (in) Research

By Benedetta Veneroni

Reflections from @benniVeneroni on her “multi-fold learning journey towards understanding complexity, from the personal to the systemic level” while interning at @sthlmresilience in the #OctoPINTS research project.

My two-months internship within SRC’s OctoPINTS research project led to a short-term, intensive journey characterised by exploring theories to study systems, engaging and inserting myself in a new cultural and academic space and diving into the muddy waters of agent-based modelling. The variety of the above experiences could be merged in the three words- FOCUS, MODEL & ENGAGE- each of which will be briefly covered below.


Being allowed to build my learning experience as I wished has been mostly thrilling, at times disorienting. Many were the topics that could be further explored within OctoPINTS and I remember experiencing some initial doubt when choosing a focus of study. After a week of testing out topics, one in particular caught my attention while being met with excitement by the team. The adoption of short-term protected areas (defined as octopus closures) for the conservation of octopus in Zanzibar have been experienced differently by different social groups. In particular, young male divers were recognised by members of numerous communities to be more prone to poaching during closures compared to other individuals. What caused that? And could the study of such social groups bring insights into better management and acceptance of closures?

These questions kickstarted a journey of research into masculinity studies and gender studies in Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF), which constituted the theoretical base for my scoping review on Zanzibari masculinities. Being fond of the concept of intersectionality, I discovered the term ‘watery masculinities’- describing masculinities in the fishery sector as contextualised, watery, and fluid. I therefore decided to apply such a lens in my work, that is, to view the illegal fishing of the young Zanzibari males not as a problematic act but rather the result of relational, geographically and historically situated, global-to-local intersections of power and oppression. By adopting a view from nowhere, one could go as far as to criticise the use of the word “poacher” due to its negative connotation, resulting in the problematisation of all the individuals who conducted illegal fishing. Exploring masculine subjectivities in a non-European context led me to realise the relevance of accounting for my situated knowledge, that is, a personal view of the world constantly influencing my perception of the subjects of my study. I learnt that being conscious and critical of my biases constituted an important step to advance in research.


OctoPINTS has based its research process in the adoption of multiple methods for understanding complex social-ecological systems. One of them is the empirical fieldwork conducted by Liz Drury O’Neill which then informed the development of an agent-based model (ABM). Having found my focus in Zanzibari masculinities and compliance, I was then met with the thrilling opportunity to learn about ABM and work with the agent-based software tool, Netlogo, by inserting my code and thinking into the present OctoPINTS model. Nonetheless, my previous knowledge of the R software made me underestimate the time it would take for me to learn the basics of Netlogo, as well as chosing the most important variables to model, coding and analysing the model results. What I found difficult was to insert such a changeable, watery and interdependent variable like masculinity into the structure of the ABM. I also found the ‘exploratory’ and self-made approach of ABM disorienting at times. Having said that, despite recognising that the journey towards a confident use of ABM would definitely surpass the time of my internship at SRC, I still regard the time spent in understanding Netlogo as an important and necessary step to engage with complex systems. Furthermore, the feeling of not having completed my previously set objectives made clear to me the naturalness of constantly re-setting your goals, a process I have seen unfolding both within the OctoPINTS team and across the SRC.


My experience in SRC could not have been as fruitful and thought-through without the feeling of recognition and support that the OctoPINTS team offered me (Shout out to Emilie for being always available and positive and amazing! #BestMentor). Looking back at my experience I am reminded of a positive environment where I have felt welcomed since the beginning. This has made me immediately reconsider the expectations I had of the SRC, from being an untouchable place of research to a creative and humane space of humble and passionate individuals. Space was given to vulnerabilities and insecurities to be expressed, as happened during a presentation I gave to the SES-LINK group. This, I learnt, is the key to more resilient interactions in research, historically favouring independent and publications-driven work. Within OctoPINTS, the large space I was given to insert my personality and ideas in, instilled in me self esteem and a desire to gain bigger responsibility. Giving presentations- an experience that has always been frightening to me- became a much more natural process thanks to the feeling of equality and openness I was met with. Furthermore, the extensive and continuous reflection on my privileges as a European researcher and my vulnerabilities as a young woman intern sparked interesting conversations with my colleagues and are to be listed among my learning experiences here at SRC.

Interning with OctoPINTS represented a multi-fold learning journey towards understanding complexity, from the personal to the systemic level. The privilege to learn in such a cherishing space has provided me with more advanced tools to understand social-ecological systems while exploring the complexities of the research world.

Read more about the Research Themes I engaged with at SRC; Interacting Complexities and Stewardship and Transformative Futures, and keep an eye out for my upcoming blog post on Zanzibari masculinities!

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