Migration research

Image by flicr.com/Arsenie Coseac

Image by flicr.com/Arsenie Coseac

Saija Niemi, migration researcher in geography, is carrying out research in the Department of Geoscience and Geography in the University of Helsinki.

Niemi’s current research is related to Sudanese conflict-induced forced migration. She is creating a new migration theory based on primary data, which she collected in Sudan, Uganda, Egypt and Finland. In her research, Niemi uses the classic grounded theory method, which was developed by doctors Glaser and Strauss in the 1960s. In the new theory, the main concern of people involved in migration is control.

Image by flicr.com/ United to End Genocide-I became interested in Sudanese migration when I conducted a pilot cultural orientation project in the International Organization for Migration in Cairo in 2001. The project was targeted at Sudanese quota refugees accepted for resettlement in Finland. At that time there was not much knowledge about Sudan or Sudanese migration in Finland, tells Niemi.

Niemi studied her master’s degree in human geography and her interests can also be linked to development geography. She wrote her master’s thesis about Mexican migration and her thesis ”Mexicans on the move: migration perspectives on micro and macro levels, and identities” (2000) was based on primary data she collected in Mexico and the United States. As a student, she was also active in associations.

-When I was a student, I was active in the Association of Development Geography (now known as Kehmy ry) and Lawra development cooperation project. Later, I have also acted in different organizations like for example the Red Cross and the Society for the Study of Ethnic Relations and International Migration (ETMU).

After graduating Niemi worked in the International Oraganization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Afterwards she returned to the University of Helsinki to work in the discipline of development studies and to carry out her doctoral research in geography.

Forced migration has been a current topic in the media this year and Niemi thinks that also research can contribute to the discussion.

-Research creates new information that can support for instance political and practical decision-making.

Niemi sees the topic of migration interesting and considers it to offer various possibilities for research. Some current issues include climate or environmental change related migration, human smuggling and aspects of migration to Europe. She gives an advice to students who are interested in researching migration.

-Study what you are interested in and be open-minded. There are various issues, which can be researched in relation to migration.

Students, do participate in conferences!

Marija Launonen

Etmu Days 2015 conference, Rovaniemi

A two-day conference called “Mobile Roots – Rethinking Indigenous and Transnational ties” took place in Rovaniemi and I participated as a listener. The overnight travel by train was a must (as a student, I got 50% discount for the tickets – yay!) and that was the main reason why I chose the train trip over flying.

Rovaniemi greeted me with grey weather.

Rovaniemi welcomed me with cloudy, misty, grey weather with bare trees – you might think that it was the same weather as in Helsinki, but in reality in Helsinki at that time still was golden autumn. Rovaniemi just looked like Helsinki might look after few weeks.

The main building of the University of Lapland, is at least 2 km’s away from the railway station and city center. I just walked there with my backpack.

The conference itself was about two main topics – indigenous people and mobility. 4 keynote speakers and the programme are described in the conference webpage: http://etmudays.etmu.fi/

My favorite keynote speech was that of Florian Stammler, “Mobility and rootedness as values, opportunities and threats in the Russian North”. It was not only interesting and informative, but also provoking and somehow innovative. Stammler explored mobility from indigenous perspective and questioned what “mobility” really means. He was taking as an example Nenets nomadic lifestyle and questioned, are the reindeer-herding Nenets rooted or rootless since they are very mobile in their lifestyle? And then he was comparing them to Russian workers, who live in stationary oil and gas towns – are these people rooted or rootless because they lead stationary way of life? In fact, as he explored, Nenets are the rooted people, despite them being nomadic, because they stay on their land by circular mobility, while Russian oil and gas workers are rootless, because they don’t stay long in Northern towns – usually just half-year. Stammler questioned the image of “mobility” in relation to “rootedness”.

I also participated in two workshops, one combining two topics: “Indigenous peoples’ self-determination over their culture and cultural heritage including sacred sites: challenges and best practices” and “Uprooted by Neoliberal Development: Forced Migration and Displacement in the Global South/North”. It was really interesting, and I was surprised by noticeable presence of researchers from Southern Asia! One researcher originally from Bangladesh, Afroja Khanam (University of Lapland), in her speech about “The cost of Neoliberal Development: The case of Padma bridge in Bangladesh”, spoke about forced migration in Bangladesh due bridge building. Another Bangladesh researcher, Shahnaj Begum (University of Lapland), spoke about “Challenges to the Human Security of Elderly Sámi in Finnish and Swedish Lapland”. She was an example of a researcher from South who is researching the North. Shahnaj Begum very kindly allowed to share her presentation in this blog. So here you are:


Tiina Seppälä’s collage related to her speech “Uprooted by Neoliberal Development: Social Movements Contesting Development-induced Displacement in Kolkata and Kathmandu”.

Another speaker, Tiina Seppälä (University of Lapland), was a more classical example of a researcher from North working on issues in South Asia (although she also works on global research) and spoke about “Uprooted by Neoliberal Development: Social Movements Contesting Development-induced Displacement in Kolkata and Kathmandu”. She also touched on similar issue as Afroja Khanam did, on forced migration of thousands of people in South Asia due to new construction projects. However, as they also recognised, Tiina Seppälä’s approach was more theoretical, while Afroja Khanam was more empirical. Unfortunately I don’t have presentations of neither speech, but Tiina Seppälä sent me this collage related to her topic:

Ajeet Narain Mathur, from the Indian institute of management in Ahmedabad, gave a presentation about “Diasporic Indigeneity around ties and ruptures in alien meta-cultures“. His speech was very theoretical, and not easy to understand.

Another speaker was touching on more practical issues,  Stefan Kirchner (University of Lapland). He spoke about “Indigenous sacred sites as Tourist Magnets” and kindly allowed me to share his presentation in this blog, so you can look at it:


In the second day, a workshop about “Moving memories: Oral histories about people’s movements across social, temporal, spatial and ideological borders” hosted different presentations, mostly related to Anthropology, but one was related to Geography. It was a presentation by two young Russian researchers, Svetlana Utsenyuk and Ilya Abramov (both from the Institute of History and Archaeology, Russia), on “Storied mobility”. Biographies of technologies and practices of movement among Russian reindeer nomads”. They talked about their ongoing research project, employing mixed research methods – both qualitative and quantitative. They researched mobility of reindeer-herders using oral histories, GPS technologies, and other. So far they made a field trip in Kola peninsula, but in the next years they are planning to go to Yamal peninsula and Chukotka.

The conference trip was a great success to me. I met many nice people, including the researchers.

Some researchers and a student. Top row (from left to right): Ilya Abramov (Institute of History and Archaeology, Russia), Svetlana Utsenyuk (Institute of History and Archaeology, Russia), Dudeck Stephan (one of conference's organisators) and Marija Launonen (a Development Geography student from University of Helsinki). Bottom row: Roza Laptander (University of Groeningen. She represents indigenous people Nenets), Tatiana Vagramenko (National University of Ireland Maynooth) with her little daughter.

Some researchers and a student. Top row (from left to right): Ilya Abramov (Institute of History and Archaeology, Russia), Svetlana Utsenyuk (Institute of History and Archaeology, Russia), Dudeck Stephan (one of conference’s organisators) and Marija Launonen (a Development Geography student from University of Helsinki). Bottom row: Roza Laptander (University of Groeningen. She represents indigenous people Nenets), Tatiana Vagramenko (National University of Ireland Maynooth) with her little daughter.



From UK to Finland and now into “life quality” issues

Sara Haapanen

I’m going to give my age away here being the wrong side of 35, but along with the grey hair, wrinkles and lack of sleep kids bring I’ve learned a few things along the way. I graduated from a great university back in 2000 and loved it. Much like studying here, the department staff were very informative, helpful and very approachable. I was happy, learning and having fun.

For the second year, we were offered an exchange to Joensuu, Finland. This was the one and only chance to do an exchange as they weren’t very popular back then.  I had never flown before, never been outside of the UK and just decided I would do it. I was the only one out of the whole year to join up – I can sum my feelings up in one word – NERVOUS! I knew so little about Finland mostly that fish was popular and it was cold in the winter.

I think everyone was a bit shocked when I announced I was off for half a year, one friend’s stunned comeback was “but what about reindeer walking down the street?” But I got lots of support from friends and family, useful presents like hats and scarfs, lots of ‘good luck’ cards to decorate my new room with. Preparation wise, I worked over the summer to save some money, applied for all the loans and grants that were possible and made my budget. Bought a return ticket so that I knew even if I found it a struggle it would be time limited. Properly checked the weather and bought and packed suitable wear and then it was time to be off.

SCAN0241   And it turned out to be the best thing I ever did! The biggest shock was the white empty studio room I had, quickly corrected with blu-tac, a pile of photos and all my cards. But I made lots of friends, had lots of fun and some very new experiences.

My degree is in geography but because of arts/sciences definition I needed to study in the forestry department. It was a completely new topic to me, do you know the joke about taking a road trip in Finland? It goes like this “tree, tree, ABC, tree, tree ABC, tree, tree, ABC”. That was pretty much my tree knowledge summed up. Thankfully I can say I managed to improve on that.

I learned a lot about trees and Finnish nature and it was fascinating.  I learned about Finnish forestry processes and the livelihoods that were dependent on it. I learnt about wood biomass (the energy gained from wood), peat bogs, paper production and berries. The forests had gone from being somewhere peaceful and scenic to walk in to being a huge provider that so many people were dependent on.

I managed to learn about Finns outside of this course too. Through making Finnish friends and taking some trips. I learned about things they loved ice-hockey, sauna and Nordic walking to state the obvious things. But knowing the people and the important of the forest environment made me understand why nature is treasured so much in Finland. It means life. The provision of food, wood for heating, the resources generate income, the peace and tranquility to be in the middle of a scenic forest like no one else is around. Peace, relaxation and mindfulness.

Development geography was not something I had studied before I started at Helsinki (I did a combination of human and physical for my BSc Honours) but on reflection I can comment on it. Development geography is of course studying to look at the standard of living or quality of life. Comparing it to the UK I could see it was what we may call a “no brainer”.  Finns had and still do in my opinion have a very high standard of living. The economy has it ups and downs but in general thrives and I felt was doing well when I visited. The population was well looked after by a welfare state, which meant no one should really have to go without those things I consider to be a basic human right.  Work life was much more limited to those work hours and meant free time could actually be enjoyed with friends and family and I feel most importantly in the nature. Growing up I lived in a busy seaside resort and trips to the real countryside were cherished. Where I lived in Joensuu, I had a beautiful forest and lake five minutes’ walk from my apartment. To me it seemed Finland had it all, and it was not hard to see why it was such a beautiful country.

I’ve lived in Finland a while now (and yes I’m sorry my Finnish is terrible but I keep trying!). I’ve worked for more years than I care to count teaching daycare and having my own children in the middle. I wanted and needed a change and really felt that I wanted to study again. At university I had really developed a passion for human geography and wanted to follow that up. I applied to study geography here, never thought I would get in and still vividly remember getting the acceptance email and bursting into tears in the middle of serving lunch to my class. It was only when I went to talk to the study advisor that I found my area would be development geography. I had to go home and read up on it. And well, I was delighted. It was completely “me”. I couldn’t be happier to say I’m completely loving it. I think it’s fair to say we all like a little moan about the work load from time to time or some essay/topic we are struggling with, but I couldn’t be happier. I completely made the right choice.


When we study somewhere new and especially in a new country the whole process is learning. It’s adapting your lifestyle, manners and changing your comfort zones to fit in with other’s view’s and values. It’s changing yourself. I think it makes you value other people’s beliefs, cultures and living much more.

That exchange trip changed me as person for the better and I got some valuable experiences both personal and academically.  On an exchange you will learn so much, see things in a new light and develop new ways of thinking. If you are thinking about taking an exchange somewhere, just do it.

Opportunities in University of Helsinki

Amica Dristig

There are more study possibilities for development geographers at our University than many could think of. At our third meeting we had the opportunity to get more familiar with them.

We met Heini Vihemäki from the Global South Network, a multidisciplinary network for research and education on development and international cooperation. She spoke about the possibility to choose Global South Studies as a minor. So what do you learn from having it as a minor? Well, you get diverse approaches to development coming from a variety of disciplines and themes, and this will improve professional capacities to work in different international environments. Check out more here: HUGS

Image by quotesgram.com/exchange-student-year-quotes

Development geographers tend to travel a lot and usually enjoy different cultures and new adventures, so what better way than to visit a new country? Raisa Asikainen came to tell more about student exchange opportunities outside the Erasmus programme, based on bilateral programmes that can be used by all students of the University of Helsinki. There aren’t many requirements for students wanting to apply. First, you need to have 60 ECTS credits, and then to show you have the language skills used in host country, e.g. Portuguese in Brazil and French in Madagascar. I have never heard of anyone regretting an exchange year and I hope I will get to go before I graduate. So, choose a continent and a country then look up the universities with exchange agreements and apply in time. More information here: Flamma

Image by blogs.helsinki.fi/kehy-valiokunta

We also heard of cooperation programmes where students can be involved. Marketta Vuola, who recently graduated in development geography, came to tell us about the Development Cooperation Committee of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY).  One of the development cooperation committees task is to raise awareness and discussion on global development issues among university students and any HYY member is welcome to join. They also have funded projects in Zambia and Bangladesh, which focus on improving reproductive health and quality of life for women and girls in Zambia. The new Bangladesh project is a people-led climate change resiliency program with focus on indigenous knowledge. They also have other activities you can check them here: Kehy


Image by kehmy.fi

Image by kehmy.fi

Another graduate development geographer, Matias Andersson, introduced KEHMY RY, an association for development geographers. It’s basically our community! It’s quite small community but aims to support research in development geography and generate awareness on global development issues. The association organizes study trips, excursions and events. It also has its own magazine, Maapallo. Anyone can join by just paying a small fee. If this all sounds perfect then check them out at here

Apply Now To The MSc!


Development geography offers studies seeking to provide you with the knowledge and skills to engage with many defining social and environmental issues of our time – from global issues such as climate change, migration, and population increase to the local challenges of regional conflicts, forest degradation, and exclusion within Finnish cities.
Development geography makes good use of the problem-oriented, interdisciplinary and multicultural fields of science, with its regional approach. Globalization can be perceived as the mutual interplay of global and local approaches within the methodology of Participatory Learning Approach and Geographic Information System GIS.


A Look at the Uses

Rebecca Jones

“What kind of professional skills can you get from studying Development Geography?” is a question I am often asked when I try and explain to people what courses I study as a Geographer. Well as it turns out there are numerous things that this area of study can be used for once you graduate and this week’s lecture summed up some of the opportunities perfectly. Various thematic focuses and methods – such as qualitative, quantitative and GIS methods – can be learnt and applied to different professions. For instance, GIS and remote sensing are examples of ways in which you can get involved in work revolving around Development Geography.


If anyone reading this doesn’t know what GIS is, it is an acronym for ‘Geographical Information System’ and is basically a system in which you can map spatial data. For instance, we can map land use and land cover changes, urban growth, and forest cover change which can all be combined to explore water management. Cool right? Remote sensing on the other hand is a way of scanning the earth via satellite or aircraft to gather information about it as in the adjacent image.

Geography is suddenly sounding pretty useful, right?


This lecture was such an eye opener for me, with guest speaker Mika Siljander shining a bright light onto this occupational path I hadn’t even considered. There’s so much environment and development work going on in Africa, like the TAITAWATER project in East Africa which utilises land use mapping in the form of Satellite images, airborne images and vector GIS in order to protect the environment



But you’re not restricted to this kind of imaging. Something I didn’t even know existed was laser scanner data that could make tree models to assess above ground biomass and carbon assessment. Just look how cool that is! Basically, laser scanning creates a 3D image of the environment and can be used to gather data that can aid in analysis and planning of projects.

Of course, these are only a couple of things that you can do with Geography. In truth there are numerous professions you can go into. So if you’re a Geographer don’t sit there worrying about what you can do once you graduate. Even if you aren’t all that interested in the GIS and imaging option don’t be disheartened because there are a lot of other opportunities out there for you!

Images: 1.Petri Pellikka, 2. Mika Siljander, 3. Vuokko Heikinheimo

Beginning of the meetings

Nina Miettinen

It would bepicture_1_devegeo nice to know who else studies development in this department…”

My friends keep asking me what I will do as a job. Well how do I know?”

I am worried about the current situation, I wonder will I even get a job.”

Does someone probably have similar interest as I do?”

These are some of the reasons that people mentioned for attending the course Studying Development Geography. This is exactly why it is time to start the blog of the development geographers (picture 1). It is about the time we strengthen our cooperation, as we don’t really know much about each other. We are actually surprisingly many in the campus but tend to get lost – we are quickly moving geographers after all.

The course will provide us a working space for the questions in our minds. The rest will depend on ourselves. Now it is the time for sharing thoughts and ideas, no matter how crazy they are! The first meeting was just a little dive to the world of development geography. During the rest of the meetings we have the chance to meet also some people who have already graduated from our department. Hopefully their stories will inspire us and give us motivation. Moreover, we will familiarize with different journals of development geography (can you believe that there is actually plenty of them), and discuss about the current topics of our field.


Sounds like a good plan, right? In the comments of this post, you can see who we are! There are various backgrounds and various interests but also a lot of things that we have in common! If you would like to, please introduce yourself even if you are not participating in the course. We would also like to invite everyone to join the meetings even though you are not participating in the course. Especially the meeting on November 25th about careers might interest many.

So here we go. Picture 2 shows what to do!