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Solidarity with UK student protests

24 November 2010 saw the second uprise of UK student rebellion in a fortnight, with reports of this being the largest student political mobilisation since 1968. And for good reason.

Witnessing the cuts in the social sciences and the arts (up to 70-100% in cases), as well as listening to the ConDem coalition governments plans for multiplication of tuition fees, reveals that the contemporary zeitgeist views universities no more as institutions devoted to the search for knowledge and truth, but as pistons for the wider economy.

I wish to applaud all those students involved in direct action yesterday in the UK in London, Kent, Birmingham, Loughborough, Strathclude, Edinburg, Essex, Hastings, Winchester, Dursley, Leominster, Bradford, Warwick, Newcastle, Durham, Bristol, Leeds, Cardiff, Glasgow, Plymouth, Sheffield, Brighton, Oxford, Nottingham, Manchester, and elsewhere.

I especially want to express my words of encouragement to the students in Roehampton occupying Grove House in protest to the proposed cutting of their popular BA program in Human Rights.

In today’s HS: commentary on my ‘gay’-piece

It’s nice to see that my editorial on the position of sexual minorities has indeed generated some debate. Today’s HS portrays a piece in the ‘opinion’-section where the author explicitly answers to my text.

I have NEVER received this much response on the basis of an academic text. I sincerely hope it’s due to my (still…) marginal academic status, not a reflection of the academic world all together!

Today’s commentary examines UN policies, finds unambiguous support for the equal position of sexual minorities (which there undoubtedly is particularly on the level of rhetorics), and conclude that human rights are absolute and cannot be divided.

I agree with this utopia, but repeat again: it’s my DATA, not my mere sceptical nature that leads me to the conclusion: in reality they are always contested and compr0mised.

And now it’s the time for the weekend! I hope it’s a good one!

‘When the Music’s over’: revisiting the ‘gay-debate’

Some weeks back I wrote an editorial piece for Helsingin Sanomat relating to the heated ongoing Finnish debate on the rights of sexual minorities.

The debate has since waned, and feels as surreal as only a Finnish debate can. To summarize.

On day 1 there was a tv-debate in which conservative Christian politicians declared homosexuality a sin. Day 2-5 MASSIVE public response: newspaper commentaries, tv commentaries, an avalance of resignations from the membership of the Lutheran church. Day 10: the number of resignations had grown to 35-45 000 depending on the estimate. Based on a SINGLE TV SHOW!

I mean really – this stuff can only happen in Finland! No where else could one envision such a homogenous population and homogenous reaction (I mean in terms of everyone knowing the debate, its different sides, and often having a view on it  – obviously not that everyone agreed on the issues). Just recall the swine-flue-vaccination-hype last year! (And the more modest narcolepsia-hype this year).

I wrote a piece to HS, our leading newspaper, to comment on how the current norms of international law view the position of human rights: to summarize again, the situation is ambiguous. The Finnish text is here: http://www.hs.fi/paakirjoitus/artikkeli/Homojen+oikeudet+eivät+ole+yksiselitteisiä/HS20101025SI1MA012vk

It’s interesting to follow the reactions the text generated. I commented on some of those already earlier, so now I’ll move on to more recent comments.

An elaborate commentary is available at another blog, http://sohilvo.blogspot.com/2010/10/perkele.html. The author concurs with much of what I wrote, but violently disagrees with the statement ‘the definition of human right is dependent on the times and their meaning can also be disagreed on’.

And another forum – a debate forum on a religious fundamentalist sect Vanhoillislestadiolaiset – finally reveals what I had actually anticipated: the Nazi card! Meaning that my writing – perhaps it does not make me a Nazi, but I definitely promote intolerance. Which I don’t.

The debate is here http://p2.foorumi.info/keskusteluavanhoillislestadiolaisuudesta/viewtopic.php?t=2999&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=32&sid=49a2f505cf5d0ede270c1c2ffc346939

Another casual mention summarizing also the debate at the ‘bat cave-net’ at http://lepakkolaakso.net/teema/raamattu-pienella-alkukirjaimella?srt=2&cid=2&aid=4723, and discussion also on http://keskustelu.suomi24.fi/node/9419794.

Just goes to that my work with ‘public enlightenment’ is not yet finished…

Another one bites the dust: Jälleen yksi kirjoitus jätetty!

Post-docin tai tohtoritutkijan tärkein olemassolon syy on julkaista, julkaista ja taas julkaista. Publish or perish – niin yksinkertaista se on!

Tämä realiteetti koskee siis myös minua, ja erityisesti maanantaisten huonojen uutisten jälkeen näppäimistö on taas sauhunnut tämän viikon uudella innolla (mitä nyt sairaan miehen ja lapsen hoitamisen ohella tutkija on ehtinyt paukuttaa).

Tuloksena ‘ikkuna-teksti’ uuteen aluevaltaukseen: Naistutkimus-lehteen! Tekstini käsittelee väikkärissäni, ei KIRJASSANI käsittelemääni havaintoa, jonka mukaan ihmisoikeusasiantuntijat olivat Pohjoismaisessa verkostossa miehiä, opiskelijat naisia.

On kiinnostavaa kuulla, minkälaista palautetta tekstistä saan! Raportoin siitä aikanaan. Alla ensi nälkään tekstin abstrakti!

ABSTRAKTI: Kohti tasa-arvoisempaa maailmaa? Ihmisoikeusasiantuntijuuden sukupuoli Pohjoismaisessa asiantuntijaverkostossa

Ihmisoikeuksien ympärille on toisen maailmansodan jälkeen muodostunut maailmanlaajuinen ilmiö, jonka ydin on yksilöiden vapauden ja keskinäisen tasa-arvon korostus. Suomessa ihmisoikeuskysymykset ovat siirtyneet periferiasta politiikan ja päätöksenteon keskiöön erityisesti 1990-luvulla. Ihmisoikeuksien ympärille rakentuneita kansainvälisiä verkostoja pidetään tehokkaana keinona haastaa epäoikeudenmukaisia paikallisia yhteiskunnallisia rakenteita. Yksi keskeisimpiä ihmisoikeustoiminnan tavoitteita on naisten aseman parantaminen, joka mainitaan poikkeuksetta niin poliitikkojen juhlapuheissa kuin eri ministeriöiden kehitysyhteistyöhankkeissa.

Verrattain vähän tutkimusta on kuitenkin tehty tavasta, jolla ihmisoikeuskielen ihanteet näkyvät konkreettisessa ihmisoikeustoiminnassa. Tämä artikkeli lähestyy tätä kysymyksiä tarkastelemalla johtavista pohjoismaisista ihmisoikeusasiantuntijoista ja väitöskirjatutkijoista koostuvan verkoston koulutustapahtumia vuosina 2002-2005. Artikkeli keskittyy erityisesti asiantuntijuuden sukupuolittumiseen kysymällä, ketkä verkostossa toimivat merkittävää valtaa käyttävinä opettajina, ketkä puolestaan ovat verkoston ’opiskelijat’.

Koulutuksen merkitys on ihmisoikeusilmiön kohdalla erityisen suuri, sillä sitä pidetään yleisesti parhaana välineenä toteuttamaan ihmisoikeuskielen lupaukset käytännössä.  Ihmisoikeusilmiön kasvamisen myötä ihmisoikeusasiantuntijoiden yhteiskunnallinen vaikutusvalta on lisääntynyt. Ihmisoikeuksien sisältö on kuitenkin epämääräinen. Ne ovat toisaalta osa lainsäädäntöä, toisaalta osa moraalista puhetta, joka tarjoaa perusteluja uusille laeille. Kun asiantuntijat kouluttavat maallikoita ihmisoikeuksien todellisesta sisällöstä, he toimivat sekä faktisen tiedon välittäjinä että huomattavaa poliittista valtaa käyttävinä aktivisteina.

Artikkelin keskeinen löydös on, että verkoston tapahtumissa asiantuntijan rooli on ennalta määrätty ja oppimisessa korostuu tiedon siirto asiantuntijalta oppilaalle. Tämän seurauksena verkoston luoma ihmisoikeustoiminta ei muodostu dialogiksi, vaan korostaa asiantuntijoiden valtaa suhteessa oppilaisiin. Empiirinen materiaali osoittaa, että verkoston asiantuntijat ovat pääosin pohjoismaisia miehiä, opiskelijat enemmistöltä pohjoismaisia naisia sekä itä-euroopasta ja kehitysmaista tulleita miehiä.

Maailmanlaajuisesta perspektiivistä ongelman muodostaa asiantuntijaposition voimakas painottuminen pohjoiselle pallonpuoliskolle. Pohjoismaisessa kontekstissa korostuu asiantuntijuuden selkeä sukupuolittuminen, joka erityisesti Suomessa toistaa – vastoin maan nauttimaa kansainvälistä imagoa tasa-arvon mallimaana – epätasa-arvoista todellisuutta. Pohjoismaisen verkoston kannalta ongelmalliseksi nousee erityisesti sen akateeminen luonne, minkä seurauksena se toisentaa yliopistomaailmassa vallitsevia ja ongelmalliseksi koettuja sukupuoli- ja valtarakenteita.

Tutkimuksen löydökset herättävät lukuisia kysymyksiä: Miksi asiantuntijuuden sukupuolisuus on määrittynyt näin selkeästi? Kuinka vallitsevaa olotilaa voitaisiin muuttaa? Mitä löydökset kertovat ihmisoikeuksien kyvystä luoda tasa-arvoisempaa maailmaa?

My Book is Out – introducing ‘Human Rights in Action: learning expert knowledge’!

My book came out today!  I’m excited!

It’s been a long journey: the book is based on my PhD which I defended in March, 2008. After that I spent a year on maternity leave, and only was able to revise the text after I returned to research last fall. I submitted the revised text to the publisher in mid-February, and received the proofs in July (just in time to disrupt my summer holiday…)

In July and August I went through some four sets of proofs, received the acknowledgements written by Martti Koskenniemi, and then the manuscript was finally sent to the printers.

The work behind the book began a long time ago: I commenced my PhD in 2002, and spent the following years both gathering empirical data as well as doing all the required reading. I finally submitted the thesis to preliminary examination in June 2007, and then spent the fall revising the manuscript on the basis of the comments I received.

The book’s themes were actually dawning already in the summer of 2000 when I spent 3 months as an NGO trainee in India. The complexity of that experience made me doubt such absolute-seeming concepts as the ‘best interest of the child’ – and wanted me to seek shelter in the academia.

And voilà: a mere decade later this shelter has resulted in this book. Thus in many respects this book represents my first decade of the new millennium.

I realize that publishing a book doesn’t mean that much in this day and age; after all, as all of us are increasingly pushed to follow the realities of natural sciences, it’s sad to note that in many academic evaluations an entire book carries the same weight than a peer-reviewed article (or two, if you’re lucky).

However, for me it means more as I, like many academics, suffer/enjoy a distinct book fetish. Thus from no-one I can find myself under ‘H’ in my own bookself – and even more importantly, I can find myself in Amazon!

Bad News: don’t all of us researchers get them sometimes?

I received some bad – or let’s say unfortunate – news today: I didn’t get the grant I applied for to spend a year at NYU. I applied for the funds from a new ‘Post-Doc Pool’ created by different Finnish funding agencies to offer recent doctorates the possibility to continue their research abroad, something that the entire Finnish academia supports in its goals to internationalize Finnish scholarship.

Admitted, the sum I applied for was a lot, but there’s not much I could have done: NYU and its Law and Society program offers a great context to continue with the research I am working on – trying to study the role of documents as sources of knowledge within the contemporary human rights phenomenon – and we all know that New York’s not the most affordable place to live in.

I did my application as well as I could, as I am sure did the other candidates with whom I competed for the funds. In all fairness, the odds weren’t particularly bad by Finnish standards – 1 in 6 applicants got money – but I have no reason to doubt that all of them were excellent or at least very good.

It is of course never fun not to succeed in something you set yourself to achieve, but fortunately (or unfortunately) being a part of the Finnish academic ‘lottery’ helps one get accustomed to the continual process of applying for funds, and often being rejected even if assessed to be ‘excellent’.

Usually the odds are much worse than the ones I faced this time: a few years back over 220 applications were submitted for the 12 3-year postdoctorate positions funded by the University of Helsinki, and out of those, 90 were assessed as being ‘excellent’. How else can you choose between 10 ‘excellent’ candidates than by setting up an academic draw?

It’s both awful and reassuring to be facing such odds: you can never take rejection too personally, for you can always think that the draw could have landed just as well on you. Of course there are a few frustrating individuals who seem to succeed with every application they submit, introducing the nagging suspicion that perhaps the decisions, despite of it all, still have some correlation to merit.

Or perhaps those people just never inform you of a failed applications. I’d like to think that.

In any event it seems that with academic funding at least in Finland the ‘three strikes and you’re out’-rule works quite well: submit more or less the same application at least to three different funding domains, and see what you get. If you don’t succeed by the third time, it may be useful to do some careful redrafting of your proposal.

For me my next strategic move is clear: the same funding agency has a new round open already in a months time, and I have until mid-January to publish as much of everything as I can. I don’t know if these blog entries count, but it can’t hurt to try…

To be continued.

Surfing the Blog-wave

Apparently we’re not alone in seizing the moment in regards to new social media: I just discovered the blog for the Netherlands Human Rights Research School. The blog has been founded in February, 2010, and can be accessed at: http://www.schoolofhumanrights.org/

Professori Tuomas Ojanen: Uskonnon vapaus ei suojaa kaikkea sellaista toimintaa, jonka taustalla on henkilön uskonto tai usko.

Projektin johtaja Tuomas Ojanen kommentoi Korkeimman Oikeuden tapausta KKO:2010:74.

KKO punnitsi uskonnon vapautta.

In the media: Sexual minorities and Utopian Human Rights

One of the most fun parts of a researcher’s life (at least in the life of this researcher) is the opportunity to make contributions to ongoing discussions outside narrow academic circles. This week featured two such instances. The first an excellent article in Yliopisto-Lehti (University-magazine) published by the University of Helsinki.

The article was written on the basis of the Erik Castrén -institute summer seminar ‘Human Rights: past, present, future’, and the journalist Mikko Puttonen listened to some of the lectures and interviewed Samuel Moyn and myself. The article is one of the best journalistic accounts I have ever read on human rights!

Link to the Finnish text at http://www-hotel1.it.helsinki.fi/yliopistolehti/?article=6213

The other instance was my Vieraskynä published on the editorial pages of Helsingin Sanomat titled ‘Homojen oikeudet eivät ole yksiselitteisiä’. The text related to the heated ongoing discussions on the position of sexual minorities in the Lutheran Church, primarily whether the church would adopt a gender-neutral marriage.

The discussion was commenced two weeks ago by a tv-debate in which known Christian politicians called homosexuality a sin, among other things. The result was an avalanche of resignations from chuch membership (the Lutheran church is continually Finland’s national church with around 80-85% of the population as its members). In the ten days following the tv-broadcast over 32 000 people had resigned from the church.

These figures continue the more general patterns of recent church resignations as a consequence of which church membership might seize to apply to the majority of the Finnish population already in the near future. This, in turn, would jeapardize the very position of the state church.

The debate on the rights of sexual minorities has been intense, and the human rights discourse has been utilized in the familiar sense of providing trumps. In my editorial I placed the concept of human rights in the perspective of international law, discussing how the position of sexual minorities remains contested for example at the UN.

I also discussed how this contested position concretizes how the concept of human rights is the result of value judgements and international politics.

It’s been interesting to follow the feedback on my piece. The discussion forum on the website of Helsingin Sanomat features 25 comments for my text. Of these a few argue that the opposition of Islamic and African states on the issue at the UN does not mean that the right of sexual minorities are not human rights per se.

There are also a few commentaries which – very nicely – highlight my main point, namely that human rights are about value choices and politics.

And then there are a fair amount discussing genetic inheritance, the general position of marriage and the position of children adopted from China. None of these issues were covered explicitly in my text, but it is of course nice to see that people engaged in these debates saw some relevance also in my text toward these discussions.

Full text of my Vieraskynä and the subsequent discussion available at http://www-hotel1.it.helsinki.fi/yliopistolehti/?article=6213

A Research and His Tools: Post 1

A researcher’s daily routine is something, which is often shrouded in mystery. In fact, I’m pretty certain that at least a few of my colleagues would argue that the phrase ‘a researcher’s dialy routine’ is outright oxymoronic. However, having settled back into Finland this summer, living 100 kilometres north of Helsinki and thus my office, and having become involved in a number of other academic ventures beyond my own research (a book project, editorial duties, some teaching responsibilties) made me realise two distinctive things not too long ago:

1.) There definitely is method in this madness.

2.) It relies fully on a schedule.

Before this summer, I had never gotten into the routine of using a schedule. Sure, I had made notes all along, and from the start of the year I had even started to use my computer’s calendar to keep track of what I’ve been up to (this I’ve found to be exceedingly useful for making sense of periods, which otherwise feel like a great number of days morphed into each other to form one timeless, yet frantic, period of writing/scribbling/frustration followed by either success or having to start again from a blank piece of paper).

Yet, I hadn’t gotten into the habit of marking everything down, not to even talk about allocating time for specific tasks. All of that had to change. And it had to be done in a way that no matter where I would be or I would be going to I would always have all the necessary information with me.

Solution:  a smartphone.

This device is fantastic. The ability to access all the data concerning my schedule that I have entered on my computer on this small device, and vice versa, is proving to be a revolutionising experience for me. Being able to do an hour of e.mailing in the morning on the train gives me an hour more research and collaborative time at the office – time which I’m starting to really enjoy and make use of. Having the internet at my finger tips, an endless array of maps, and so on, is simply put brilliant and useful.

I cannot but recommend this. Having a system that works invisibly in the background, that doesn’t require you to think of it, but that you simply look at, point, push, and access exactly what you want, in the form in which you intuitively imagine it, is what I call modern technology.