The CEREN research team met for its planning day.
Many events coming up this autumn! Stay tuned!
Read Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher Mari Toivanen’s article on Kurdish diaspora on The Society for the Study of Ethnic Relations and International Migration ETMU blog:
Erna Bodström, doctoral researcher in media and communication at the university of Helsinki and affiliated to CEREN, discusses the results of a study recently published by University of Turku and Åbo Akademi about the changes in evaluating asylum decisions on Raster blog:
Niko Pyrhönen, postdoctoral researcher at CEREN, discusses “Fact-checking in opinion journalism and opinion-checking in fact journalism” in Helsingin Sanomat “Post-truth Era” blog in connection with his research project Mobilizing ‘the Disenfranchised’ in Finland, France and the United States. Post-Truth Public Stories in the Transnational Hybrid Media Space:
Editor: Aminkeng A. Alemanji
eBook ISBN: 978-3-319-56315-2
Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-319-56314-5
This book explores how antiracism theories can be translated into practice within formal education, as well as in other educational programs outside schools, as very often racism occurs outside the school environment. Combating racism both in and out of school therefore increases the chances of overcoming issues of racism. As racism continues to plague the world, efforts to combat it deserve more attention and diversification across all walks of life. In education, such efforts benefit from being modeled within the framework of antiracism education, rather than simpler multicultural and intercultural theorization and understanding which have proved popular. As such, this book critiques integration and multicultural programs, and instead highlights the advantages of grounding such programs within an antiracist framework. The book demonstrates why and how antiracism education is key to challenging issues of racial injustice at a time when multiculturalism and interculturalism have being proclaimed “dead”. This book engages with the state of antiracism education with specific case studies from Finland and Canada and proposes different strategies of antiracism education in and out of school. The book approaches antiracism education as a practical and pragmatic approach to combat issues of power and social hierarchies that produce diverse forms of racism. It is highly relevant to researchers and students working in the areas of Education, Sociology and Ethnic relation particularly those with an interest in antiracism methodologies. The book is made up of the following chapters summarized below.
Pigga Keskitalo, Erika Sarivaara, Inker-Anni Linkola, and Merja Paksuniemi open the book with the case of the Sámi, one of the minority groups in Finland. In this chapter, they problematize the legacy of the Sámi’s assimilation and colonisation and try to solve the resulting problems through mediating Sámi education. This is done through uncovering how mediating education can remedy the legacy of assimilation and racism. They argue that the word “mediate” means to arbitrate, make peace, resolve, and negotiate. The authors argue that assimilation of the Sámi people into the homogenous Finnish identity, without paying attention to their rich cultural heritage, has affected the situation of Sámi people and has caused, for example, poverty, mortality, limited access to education, abuse, a lack of self-respect, language shift, loss of culture, and neocolonialism. To some extent, these processes have also weakened their cultural identity. They call for a Sámi education aimed at addressing specific issues pertinent in the Sámi society and one that aims at addressing the power structures that reproduces inequalities that hurt the Sámi every day.
Tobias Pötzsch explores how an anti-oppressive practice perspective can inform contested understandings of social inclusion within the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada integration program at NorQuest College in Edmonton, Canada. The case of Canada is important here because it is often considered as an “ideal” multicultural country that a lot of other countries (Finland included) looks to on multicultural issues. The chapter explores the theme of inclusion vs. assimilation emerging from wider fieldwork data chronicling the experiences of program participants. It critiques the challenges involved in both concepts from the point of view that although assimilating the other into the mainstream is not ideal, inclusion does not entail subsuming the Other within a pre-existing societal order but rather within a fluid structural process where this order is interrogated and changed collectively. Pötzsch argues that social inclusion programs should be based on an antiracist and anti-oppressive policies and practices that foster collaborative learning built on the principles of self-reflexivity, egalitarian partnership, and social transformation.
Helena Oikarinen-Jabai examines the use of performative, art-based, and participatory research approaches in producing material and productions where the perspectives of young Finns with immigrant backgrounds are shared with larger audiences as part of research reporting. Many young people with immigrant backgrounds have the kind of mental and emotional resources, based on their embodied and personal experiences, to participate actively in deconstructing and restructuring the surrounding culture, its esthetic values and the existing binary relations between “others” and “us.” Oikarinen-Jabai argues that their know-how and visions should be valued in antiracist discourse. Together with researchers, educators, artists, and cultural workers, they can play a great role and participate in transversal dialogue, they are able to create cultural productions that open a horizon for hybrid spaces where rigid conceptual borders and national images can be approached with curiosity and not-knowingness. As a result, this chapter argues against ignoring their voices and for the potential they bring to antiracism.
Mélodine Sommier and Anssi Roiha‘s chapter critiques how culture is employed in educational discourses in Finland. Drawing on critical approaches to culture, this chapter (1) looks at limitations of the way culture is conceptualized within educational discourses, (2) proposes new ways of using the concept, (3) and provides practical examples while considering limitations and challenges such as hidden curriculum and teachers’ personal values. Sommier and Roiha discuss the issues of intercultural communication competence and raise the importance of looking for similarities while positively addressing differences. They also highlight the tensions embedded in language use and language teaching, related to homogenous examples of language use and the figure of the native speaker. Furthermore, Sommier and Roiha raise issues related to the overlapping between nation and culture and emphasized the importance of going beyond the nation as the main and normalized unit to address practices and identities. Antiracism, they argue, should be acknowledged across subjects through a series of small steps.
Päivi Armila, Anni Rannikko and Tiina Sotkasiira in their chapter ponder over the possibility of combining an antiracist research agenda with antiracist campaigning to intervene in certain fields of formal education, namely in kindergartens, elementary schools, and universities. They employ critical autoethnography to analyze their experiences of antiracist interventions within fields of formal education, namely those of kindergartens and elementary schools. They argue that the reluctance to acknowledge racism and handle it within the framework of formal education is derived not only from unwillingness to deal with racial inequality but also from reluctance of those with power and privilege to understand educational institutions as spaces of and for political struggle.
Pia Mikander and Ida Hummelstedt-Djedou follow from the previous chapter by critiquing an educational intervention at a Finnish primary school. The chapter looks at the benefits and drawbacks of an antiracist event in school by questioning in what way such events challenge, or change discriminating racist structures, and in what way it reinforced the division between the norm and the Other. They recommend a shift of focus away from structures and hierarchies that produce racist consequences. Mikander and Hummelstedt-Djedou critique such antiracism interventions for not turning the focus on the student’s own positions and for not incorporating into the discussion how the students could participate in changing the structures.
In the last chapter, Aminkeng A. Alemanji and Minna Seikkula explore the complexities of teaching issues of race and racism from the point of view of two researchers. Alemanji and Seikkula, through interactive dialogues, outline their experiences of teaching about issues of racism in two different Finnish universities. They discuss the issues of race and racism in Finland. Departing from an understanding of race as an important sociopolitical construct that shapes people’s daily lives irrespective of a person’s racial group. The authors argue against those who try to deny the existence of racism in the complexities of racism today. They call for diverse approaches to antiracism education in the struggle to uproot racism from everyday life.
The diverse discussions in the book justify claims that diverse antiracism practices are needed to combat the ever-changing nature of racism.
Aminkeng A. Alemanji holds a Ph.D. from the University of Helsinki where he conducts research on issues of racism and antiracism strategies in and out of schools. He has also researched ethnic profiling in Finland. He is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism (CEREN), which is based at the University of Helsinki’s Swedish School of Social Science.
Sarah Ní Mháirtín
2nd year ERI student majoring in Social Psychology:
As a student of the Ethnic Relations, Cultural Integration and Diversity (ERI) master’s program, my academic interest has typically been focused on migration; its history, its many forms and of course, its effects and consequences on sending countries, but more importantly, on receiving nations. This has typically been viewed through a social psychological lens on my part, with an emphasis on intergroup relations, integration and attitudes. Until enrolling in on particular class ‘Asylum mobility in the Mediterranean’, I had yet to conduct any in depth study of asylum seekers or refugees – although most people assume this is the sole focus of my degree. Those who don’t jump to the image of migrant smugglers and illegal entry imagine that I spend my time examining the flight pattern of birds when I mention that the focus of my master’s is migration studies! Mills (2016) also highlights this reaction (“migration studies – you mean like birds and stuff?”) and offers the explanation that in the eyes of the general public, the interchange of humans from one location to another evidently has yet to establish itself as a serious academic study.
The author of this International Migration Institute blog post suggests that these responses provide a lesser explored insight into public opinion of migration. Once the confusion over this field of study has been clarified, individuals typically assume that we focus on the macro figures and statistics; the number of people who have made the journey, how many have been separated from family along the way, injured or even been killed. As Mills so accurately states “not birds, but maybe still the bird’s-eye view”. This attention to the largescale highlights the degree to which “population” is entrenched in the public’s current mind set as a tangible phenomenon that can be observed, calculated and understood on a purely factual, quantitative basis. What is often forgotten is the individual behind the figures plastered on the headlines and the statistics that litter public discourse; a point also made by Vigani (2016) in her CEREN-ERI blog post. Beneath the numbers and macro data is individual human experience although they are often treated as an object of knowledge. I have noticed that each theme of this course contains an underlying message; that there is a need for a social scientific enquiry that examines areas outside of the usual security institutions, that provides a context without fear and creates a narrative of migrants’ entire experiences (and not just the part that immediately concerns Europe) to provide a more balanced understanding of current issues in migration.
Within this area of public opinion also arises the issue, who is a ‘refugee’? As discussed in class, during the Cold War a defector or refugee was seen as token in a war between hegemonies and used as a part of propaganda campaigns; proving that yours was the superior nation, because their enemy was considered to be your friend and by providing them with asylum you thus achieve a small victory over your opponent. Nowadays we typically view asylum seekers as those coming from conflict zones, forced from their homes because of war and the constant threat of immediate physical harm. According to the UNHCR (1951) a refugee is an individual who has a justifiable fear of being victimised because of their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group/political opinion. But how do we view those fleeing from chaos, poverty or environmental crises?
Contemporary asylum seekers can fall into both categories; an escapee of a war zone and an economic migrant choosing to settle in more prosperous countries (typically further from the external borders of Europe) where they know they have a greater chance of finding work and getting some assistance from the state. Naturally, applying for residency solely on the basis of economic migration is problematic because Western, developed, industrialised countries are typically looking for highly skilled workers who will benefit their economy; if you’re economically marginal you will almost certainly not be permitted to migrate.
Thus, the refugee system fosters a system of cat and mouse between (in this context) European nations and those attempting to leave behind a life filled with extreme hardship. Although some have suggested a solution in the form of amending the terms of the UNHCR (1951) refugee treat, this is largely seen to be counterproductive as most nations will seize the opportunity to lessen their responsibilities toward asylum-seekers (Champion, 2015).
The public is becoming increasingly suspicious of asylum seekers following recent terrorist attacks in Europe (e.g. Paris, Brussels,). It is deemed difficult to determine whether migrants are really deserving of asylum or are in fact criminals or terrorists who plan to escape into the unregistered economy (Champion, 2015). This distrust and judgement over who is a ‘worthy’ asylum seeker can clearly be seen in the recent wave of migrants coming from the Calais ‘Jungle’ to the UK. Many have expressed serious objections to this movement on the grounds that most appear too old to be classified as ‘children’. Fear that migrants are in fact threatening ‘others’ with no respect or moral values also grows due to an exaggerated media focus on violence and crime. One extremely recent example is the rape of an interpreter in Calais, whose attackers have been portrayed as ‘alleged’ Afghan asylum seekers (e.g. RT, 2016), although this is just one of many similar reports. Although these claims are in fact valid, unfortunately all members of the ‘migrant’ or ‘asylum seeking’ group are then seen in the same light, adding fuel to extreme right wing protests against open borders and the granting of refugee status. As reported in the Telegraph (Dominiczak, 2016) David Davies, a UK Conservative MP states “I’m all for helping the genuine children but the well of goodwill is rapidly being exhausted here. There is no way of knowing if someone is a child. We could end up causing even more misery if we are not careful. We should invite anyone who wants to come to the UK to take dental tests.”
In my opinion, Davies’ statement perfectly sums up the concerns of anti-migrant groups and unfortunately, wider public opinion. A hierarchy of ‘deserving’ migrants is being created, meaning for example, that some who are not as knowledgeable of the necessary ‘criteria’ for asylum may be rejected, despite being just as ‘eligible’. Before long (as is happening at present) the fear spreads to nearly all asylum seekers who become categorised as terrorists, Islamic extremists or criminals. Who is considered a genuine asylum seeker and worthy of refugee status is becoming increasingly blurred and public opinion is becoming progressively more conservative and narrow minded. I fear that this attitude may define this period in time, one that future generations will look back on in disgust, unless we work towards positive, constructive change now.
Cover of book by Cambridge student Kate Milner which encourages young children to think about what it is like to flee home and journey into the unknown.
Photos provided by www.stock.adobe.com
Champion, M. (2015). Who counts as a refugee? Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-06-26/who-counts-as-a-refugee-
Dominicak, P. (2016) “These don’t look like children to me”: concerns raised over ages of child refugees arriving in Britain. Retreived from
Mills, B. (2016). Common responses to the notion of Migration Studies. Retrieved from
R.T. (2016). Interpreter raped by alleged Afghan migrants near Calais ‘Jungle’ camp. Retrieved from https://www.rt.com/news/363179-calais-interpreter-raped-migrants/
UNHCR (1951), Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189.
Vigani, A. (2016). Stuck in Athens: Staying human in the midst of the refugee crisis. A volunteer’s report. Retrieved from https://blogs.helsinki.fi/ceren-eri/2016/09/
2nd year ERI student, majoring in Social Psychology:
60 000. That is the number of asylum seekers stranded in Greece, according to recent estimates. Greece has been, together with Italy, the main country of first arrival in Europe since the start of the so-called refugee crisis. It has been a transit country, where only few decided to stop, but when the Balkan borders closed earlier this year, the flow of people leaving the country dropped while new arrivals did not stop. At the same time, the Relocation Program from one member state to another did not reflect initial expectations: the application process is extremely long, with people waiting several months just to get their first interview, and while accommodation in reception centers, hotels or apartments should be provided during the waiting period, this declaration on paper rarely turned into practice. Moreover, the possibility to apply is limited to people of certain nationalities, excluding for example Iraqis (since July 2016) and Afghans. Over all, a very small percentage of people have seen their application go through successfully until now.
The result? Thousands find themselves stuck for months in official and unofficial camps, as well as detention centres or even on the street, both on the islands and in the mainland.
This summer I spent two months in Athens to see the situation for myself. I have been an independent volunteer, that means that I was not affiliated with any group or NGO. This choice proved difficult at times, as in comparison with previous volunteering experiences I lacked the social support and directions deriving from working with a group. On the other hand, it has provided me the chance to visit a number of centers and camps characterized by very different living conditions and organisation: from day centers providing services such as food, clothing, legal and psychological support to hundreds a day like the Caritas Hellas day center in Omonia, to official and unofficial camps like the now dismantled informal one at the harbour of Pireus, the naval base of Skaramangas and Elliniko (on the premises of the old airport of the city as well as the baseball and hockey stadiums for the 2004 olympic games). Organisations and the government struggle to manage the existing structures and accommodation areas: camps filled well over their capacity, often lacking basic services and decent living conditions, put another toll on residents who feel trapped in a grim present and filled with uncertainty about the future.
Therefore, some local collectives and refugees took action to find alternative models of collaboration and coexistence. One example is the ex Hotel City Plaza, once three star hotel close to Victoria Square, now home to 400 refugees, of which almost half are minors. Hotel City Plaza is only one of the many squats present in the city. There, people have found a place where they can live with dignity while actively contributing to shape the project: all duties, as well as decisions, are shared among the residents, with the support of volunteers, activists and donations from all over the world. Day to day, turns to cook and clean are organised, along with a variety of activities including language courses, legal advice, kids’ educational and recreational activities. I took part in the latter, and I couldn’t help but feel proud hearing that most of the children and adolescents I met excitedly started attending local schools this September, thanks to the support of their families and volunteers.
Looking back at my summer in Athens, I feel lucky and enriched by this experience. The tools and knowledge acquired through the ERI master programme helped me countless times to approach difficult situations, but now I can also see how much these two months have given me in return.
Even if I already considered myself an open-minded person, it took me some time to work on my own assumptions and preconceptions. Only when I stopped seeing “refugees” in front of me and started seeing individuals instead I was really able to bring my own, small contribution. I also had to put aside my own expectations concerning what was needed and how to act. While food, accommodation and health remain imprescindible concerns, the people I met needed and wanted much more: to know their relatives are safe, to be listened, to put to use their competences, to learn. I felt embarrassed to find myself surprised when some refugees decided to organise a support group for LGBT people.
Meeting people who contradicted the sterile narratives of refugees as victims to be pitied or as heroes to be admired is what did the trick for me. The 20-year-old girl graduating in mechanical engineers, the woman fighting for gender equality while making carpets in her tent, the 4-year-old and his family who never told me a word but made me understand the value of a hug, the passionate man who never stops working to help others only to go back to sleep in his container at the end of the day. But also the violent, loud bully who steals from those who can’t defend themselves, the petulant woman who gossiped about others over and over, the ones who manifested their frustration through violence putting at risk the ones around them. Some I liked, others I did not, as it happens with anyone, and that did not take away anything from my understanding and solidarity to the refugee cause, only strengthened it: being in the position to listen to each story as unique and personal allowed me to get a better grasp of the bigger picture while trying to escape generalisations, always too easy to fall into.
I have learned a lot also from other volunteers and activists. I have seen inspirational people dedicate all of their knowledge, time and energy, but also too many “voluntourists”, attracted by the media attention on the topic and stopping by for a few days without respecting the work of others. I have had the luck to work side by side for a few days with two wonderful women from the States who, years ago, were themselves in the same position of the ones that they were helping. I have seen a young volunteer instruct them for half an hour concerning Muslim women, while they politely smiled from behind their hijabs. I have seen volunteers and activists putting their own political or religious agenda before the well-being of the people they were claiming to help: from collectives too focused on advancing within the anarchist scene in Athens to guarantee proper conditions in their squats, to bibles being distributed to Muslims during Ramadan.
I have met people who helped me give a new meaning to solidarity, like the man who, after a long day at work, spends hours everyday bringing food, water and some company to people in the streets, finding shelter to many. But I have also seen solidarity in simple day-to-day acts, from the bakery-owner saving a few croissants every day for the Syrian family who visit him from the camp nearby, to the stranger buying metro tickets to a mum and her child. For most of my stay, I did not see striking episodes of racism or discrimination, but towards the end of the summer the situation became more tense, with more and more demonstrations organised by nationalist groups, arriving to the point of an arson attack to Notara squat, where tens of refugees, including families, were sleeping. Luckily the fire did not provoke fatalities, but a lot of damages to the property, quickly repaired by residents and volunteers come together from all over the city.
I have learned as a social scientist too, because whenever I will fill my mouth and my mind with issues and fancy terms, they will hold a richer meaning as I won’t be able to detach them from the face of every single person I met. Finally, I have grown as a person, because all that I have seen – the bad and the good and all the shades in between – let me catch a glimpse of humanity, in the midst of a situation that I can only define as inhumane.
The last work life visit this academic year was organized at the City of Helsinki Urban Facts. It is the expert organization responsible for statistics, research, information and open data as well as records management at the City of Helsinki. The organization consists of four units: the Unit for Statistics and Information Services, the Urban Research Unit, the City Archives and the Administration Unit.
The Urban Research Unit, where the ERI work life visit was organized, conducts applied research for the administration of the City of Helsinki, for the citizens and for enterprises located in Helsinki. Our hosts were Pasi Saukkonen and Anu Yijälä who are specifically researching matters related to migration and integration. They shared information on what kind of research is being done at their unit and in general some facts about the organization. The unit publishes various statistical reports, also in English, accessible on the website. Anu Yijälä presented her most recent research, where she analyses the need for social assistance benefit among immigrants residing in Helsinki (also available online). The students were inspired by the interesting research and the discussion continued about options for internships.
The researchers encouraged the students to contact them to ask about internship opportunities, which depend largely on what kind of projects are being carried out at the time. Skills in the Finnish language are not a pre-requisite. In addition, both Pasi and Anu were interested in the ERI students thesis topics, specifically those with a Helsinki connection. In fact, Pasi is familiar with the MA programme as he taught a course for the ERI students some years ago, about integration processes. A CEREN researcher also joined the ERI students on the visit to the City of Helsinki Urban Facts.
Coordinator of the ERI programme
Asteria Brylka was awarded her M. Soc. Sc.degree in Social Psychology from the ERI- programme in 2012. On 29th April 2016 she defended her doctoral dissertation entitled “Identity- and contact-related determinants of reciprocal intergroup relations in ethno-culturally diverse societies” at the Faculty of Social Sciences at University of Helsinki.
The cross-sectional study investigates the reciprocity of ethnic relations in Finland and the role this reciprocity plays in the development of an inclusive integration context characterised by positive intergroup attitudes, and support for multiculturalism and for the minority groups collective action. The theoretical framework builds on the social identity theory, the theory of acculturation and contact hypothesis. Identity- and contact-related predictors of the inclusive integration context are examined among Finns and among Russian and Estonian immigrants. The study shows that the inclusive integration context does not develop in a social vacuum and provides strong evidence on the importance of the reciprocity of multidimensional intergroup relations in diverse societies.
The dissertation is available in electronic form through the e-thesis service.
The CEREN Research Seminar, held on the 16th of February, addressed the Hungarian minority language in Slovakia. Petteri Laihonen, who is a Postdoctoral researcher and adjunct professor at the Centre of Applied Language Studies at the University of Jyväskylä, gave a presentation on his research with the topic “Hungarian in Slovakia: language rights, language(s) in public space and language ideologies.”
Slovakia was part of the Hungarian Kingdom until 1920. In the late 19th century, a Hungarization took place in the Slovak region and, for example, many subjects in schools had to be taught in Hungarian during that time. When Czechoslovakia was established after World War I, the region of Slovakia became a part of that newly established state. After World War II, when Slovakia was still part of Czechoslovakia, the public use of Hungarian was forbidden and Hungarian schools were closed. During the communist time, between 1948-1989, Hungarian was allowed again and the Hungarian schools were re-opened. Since the Slovak Republic was established in 1993, a fast integration to Western alliances, such as Nato and EU, occurred.
Today, there are about 450 000 ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, making up about 8,5 % of the whole population. The Hungarians and Slovaks are ethnically very similar, basically the only difference between Hungarians and Slovaks is the language. The Hungarians live mostly in the southern areas of Slovakia, by the border of Hungary. In that area, the Hungarian population is very large, even up to 95 %.
The Hungarian language is seen by some as a threat in present Slovakia, especially for those Slovaks living in areas where Hungarian is the majority language. According to Laihonen’s research this feared threat is somewhat overrated. For example, public signs are mostly provided in Slovak. Many of Laihonen’s local informants gave as a reason for the modest use of the Hungarian language that they wanted to “avoid problems” and did not want to “provoke” by requesting the use of the Hungarian language. The Hungarians did not want to display any type of Hungarian nationalism that would repeat the occurred incidents in the past. Therefore, even though the Hungarians represent the clear majority in parts of the southern area of Slovakia, the Hungarian language is not used to the extent that the language laws would allow.
Petteri Laihonen’s doctoral dissertation in 2009 dealt with language ideologies and multilingualism in the Romanian Banat. In 2011–2013 Laihonen held an Academy of Finland postdoctoral grant to study language ideologies among the Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine from a comparative perspective. Laihonen has developed qualitative methodologies to study research interviews and private linguistic landscapes as manifestations of language ideologies and language policy. Currently he studies the visual and material dimensions of education and learning. His publications deal with sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language ideologies, linguistic landscapes, language education and language policy in Eastern Central Europe.
Written by Heidi Aaltonen