Political Humor in Power Struggles of Democracy (POHU) is a research project funded by the Kone Foundation in 2022-2023. The project explores how humor is used in power struggles of contemporary hybrid media landscape. Humor can be used to emphasize one’s own political attitudes and to challenge those of competitors, but humor itself may also become a target of political contestations. Essential in these struggles is, who uses humor, the topics it is connected and to what or to whom humor is targeted? The meanings and consequences of political humor are always constructed in societal, cultural and media contexts of the given time.
The main research questions of the project are:
- What kind of humor techniques are used in discursive power struggles of the hybrid media landscape?
- Who uses humor, in what circumstances and to what or to whom humor is targeted?
- How various media platforms and other contextual aspects influence on the use of political humor?
The project consists of three work packages (WP) to answer to the research questions. WP1 investigates how political decision-makers and experts are challenged by memes, WP2 explores political scandals derived from the use of political humor, and WP3 analyses the ways populist politicians exploit political humor in their communication. All work packages are carried out in Finland, Italy and Hungary, and in data collection and management digital and computational methods are applied. The research group members of POHU are Juha Herkman, Anniina Hyttinen, Jani Korhonen, Joonas Koivukoski, Salla-Maaria Laaksonen, Saija Räsänen, Janne Zareff ja Eero Voutilainen.
Juha Herkman (PhD, Adjunct Professor) is University Lecturer of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Helsinki. Herkman has studied, among others, the relationship between populism and media, and he has published extensively on the topic in academic articles. Herkman is an author of a book A Cultural Approach to Populism (2022, Routledge), and he directs the project.
Anniina Hyttinen (MA) is a sociologist and a doctoral scholar at the University of Helsinki. Hyttinen’s dissertation explores the Hungarian far-right, nationalism, and the possibilities of opposition in illiberal democracy, and also the use of political humor in resisting populism and authoritarian power. In POHU Hyttinen works in all Hungarian work packages.
Joonas Koivukoski (MA) is a doctoral candidate at the University of Helsinki. Koivukoski’s dissertation deals with political humor in the current media landscape. Koivukoski works in all of the Finnish work packages.
Jani Korhonen (MA) has passed Master’s degree both at the Central European University and at the University of Helsinki. He is specialized in politics and questions of ethnic identities in Hungary and the Western Balkan. Korhonen works as a free writer and he is a research assistant in Hungarian work packages.
Salla-Maaria Laaksonen (PhD, Adjunct Professor) is a Researcher at the Center for Consumer Society Research, University of Helsinki. She has studied political communication and agenda power in the Internet and she directs the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation -funded project “UnCoCo: Vaihtoehtoiset viestijät koronakriisissä” that is a partner of the first Finnish work package. Laaksonen is specialized in digital methodologies and she coordinates the social media data collection and management in POHU.
Saija Räsänen (MA) is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Milan. Räsänen’s dissertation compares populist communication and media performances in Italy and Finland. In POHU Räsänen works in all Italian work packages.
Janne Zareff (PhD) is a scriptwriter of political television satires at the Finnish public service broadcasting company YLE. His dissertation explored the use of humor in journalism. He is also an author of the history of Finnish political television satires Kuinka vallalle nauretaan (2020, Gaudeamus). Zareff works in Finnish work packages two and three.
Eero Voutilainen (MA) is a linguistic working as a special expert in the bureau of the Finnish parliament. Voutilainen’s dissertation on linguistic norms and interaction regulation of Finnish parliament’s plenary session debates is about to be completed in Doctoral Programme in Language Studies at the University of Helsinki. In POHU Voutilainen works as a linguistic expert in the Finnish work packages one and three.