Sampsa Saikkonen: Ability and authority? Studies on the constructedness and expansion of expertise in the contemporary public sphere

Sampsa Saikkonen will defend his doctoral dissertation entitled “Ability and authority? Studies on the constructedness and expansion of expertise in the contemporary public sphere” in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, on 16 November 2019 at 12:00. The public examination will take place at the following address: Porthania, lecture hall P674, Yliopistonkatu 3, Helsinki.

Professor Stephen Turner, University of South Florida, will serve as the opponent, and Professor Esa Väliverronen as the custos.

The dissertation will be published in the series Valtiotieteellisen tiedekunnan julkaisuja – Publications of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

The dissertation is also available in electronic form through the E-thesis service.

Helsinki STS seminar Fri 15th November: Stephen Turner

Welcome to the STS Helsinki Seminar Series session on 15 November, 14.15-15.45!

Venue: 3rd floor seminar room, Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies (HCAS), Fabianinkatu 24

Stephen Turner, Distinguished University Professor, University of South Florida

Expertise and Complex Organizations


Expertise always has a place in social organization. One of the fundamental problems of the employment of expertise derives from the conflict between the fact that experts must be supported and therefore have interests and the need for at least the appearance of disinterestedness that is necessary for their expertise to be persuasive. This requires that experts have a protected status, and that expert systems, which involve the aggregation of expert knowledge for the purposes of decision-making, also be organized in such a way that they are protected from conflicts of interest. This, however, is a problem of organizational design with no standard solution, though there is one common one: redundant structures with different evidence sources. In this chapter examples of the problem are discussed, and the sources of failure are considered. It is shown that the sources of failure are intrinsic to the devices used to protect experts. The example of the failures of the International Monetary Fund in the 2008 and the Greek crises is examined in detail, from an organizational perspective, to show that the flaws that led to expert failure in this case were features that were effective in normal circumstances rather than bugs. This is an important lesson that generalizes to all expert systems. The concluding discussion deals with the implications for reliance on these systems

Stephen Turner is Distinguished University Professor at University of South Florida. He has written extensively in science studies, especially on patronage and the politics and economics of science, and on the concept of practices. His Liberal Democracy 3.0: Civil Society in an Age of Experts, reflects his interest in the problem the political significance of science and more broadly in the problem of knowledge in society. A collection of his essays on this topic, The Politics of Expertise, has recently appeared. Among his other current interests are problems of explaining normativity, especially the conflict between philosophical and social scientific accounts, and issues relating to the implications of cognitive neuroscience for social theory, especially related to the problem of tacit knowledge and mirror neurons. (See full bio and more information at University of South Florida homepage.)

Helsinki STS seminar May 21st: Liina-Maija Quist

Welcome to the spring term’s final session of the STS Helsinki Seminar Series on Tuesday, May 21st 12.15-13.45!

Venue: 3rd floor seminar room, Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies (HCAS), Fabianinkatu 24

Liina-Maija Quist, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki
Undersea uncertainties: Ethnographic engagements with maritime worlds in Mexico (and the US)

Sea(water) becomes known to humans in diverging ways depending on the senses, technologies, and time through which it is engaged. This talk discusses materiality in the study of politics of marine environments through analysis of embodied knowledge that fishers in Tabasco, Mexico employ in making claims about scientifically uncertain and contested consequences of marine oil exploration. I examine STS-inspired ethnography in creating understandings about the non-verbalized aspects of human-non-human relations and related knowledge. Drawing on theoretical ideas from de la Cadena and Ingold, the talk focuses on the fishers’ mobility at sea and related knowledge claims as ‘excess’, or beyond conventional political discourses, interrogating the multiple and contested meanings that fishers attach to their sea environment, fish and fishing in the context of increased oil extraction operations in Mexico. It illustrates the productivity of anthropologies inspired by STS in analyzing these embodied meanings that are difficult to articulate in words and even more so within a political frame that shapes marine spaces in terms of their contribution to economic progress. Lastly, I reflect upon similar approaches in my incipient work examining the ‘worlds’ of marine scientists based at the Scripps institute of Oceanography in California.

Liina Maija Quist is a post-doctoral researcher in Environmental Policy at the University of Helsinki. Her research focuses on the politics and science involved in governing marine environments in the Global South and North. Currently, she studies seafarers’ and marine scientists’ every day engagements with environmental, scientific and technological uncertainties. In her PhD thesis (2018), Quist examined ethnographically a marine-environmental conflict between fishers and oil companies in Tabasco, in the Mexican Gulf of Mexico.

Questionnaire for junior STS scholars in Finnish universities

Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies is looking for ways to support junior scholars working in Finnish universities in the field of STS. With this survey we want to map the current situation and get ideas for new, suitable, and needed activities. You can answer the survey in English, Finnish, or Swedish. The survey will be available until May 31st.
So let us know about your experiences as a junior STS scholar (doctoral researcher/dissertation defense within the last 5 years) and please circulate the survey in your networks!


Results from the survey will be published on the website of Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies.



Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or need more information
Minna Saariketo
minna.saariketo at
Jaakko Taipale
jaakko.taipale at

STS Helsinki Seminar April 26th: Nik Brown

Join us for the third session of the STS Helsinki Seminar Series on:

Friday, April 26th from 12.15-13.45

At: U35, Unioninkatu 35, seminar room 114. Note, we will be in a different location than usually!

Nik Brown, Professor of Sociology, University of York

Materialities of air care: a biopolitics of breath, buildings, bodies and bugs

This paper outlines an ‘aerography’ of respiratory life in the context of lung infection treatment by focussing conceptually and empirically on the embodiment and architectural materialisation of breath, breathing, air and atmosphere. It builds on an in-depth anthropology of three respiratory lung infection clinics treating patients with cystic fibrosis, a disorder characterised by life-long chronic respiratory infections, inflammation of the lungs. For most people with CF, breath and breathing are not to be taken for granted. Instead, respiration becomes an uncommon matter of conscious effort, determined resolve and atmospheric management. Here, the involuntary and implicit nature of breath is made explicit, surfacing above the taken-for-granted. To take an aerographic perspective is to attend more carefully to questions of air and atmosphere by challenging and reversing a sensorial hierarchy that privileges visibility, touch and solidity (Iragaray 1999). Any threat to breath and breathing is an ‘elemental’ source of abject dread and no more so than for the embodied lives of those for whom breath has become perilous (Williams 1989). Instead of an afterthought, an aerography asks ‘why not begin with air’ (Jackson and Fannin 2011), with the immaterially absent presence of the invisibly intangible? The question of air is, as Sloterdijk notes, a matter of sphereology, of being located and positioned ‘in’ some definite atmosphere or aerosphere. It prompts us to think about the nature of life enveloped ‘inside’ or encased in contrasting biospheres of relative exposure and protection, endangerment and safety (buildings, architectures, vehicles, rooms, households, neighbourhoods, air quality zones, worlds, hemispheres). Aerography prompts reflection on air’s movement, its ‘management’ or flow within ‘architectures of air currents’ (Wagenfeld 2008). In the context of infectious contagion, the air has become materially spatialised in physical sites of concern that call into question the biotic and ecological life of building design, layout and geometry (Kelley and Gilbert 2013). The biotic, and its capacity to select for resistance, newly refocuses attention on the mutually implicated microbiomes of buildings entangled with the microbiomes of bodies, respiratory tracts, nasal cavities, mucosal membranes, lungs, guts, hands and skin.

Nik Brown is professor in sociology at the University of York working across Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the Sociology of Health and Illness (SHI). He has several decades of research and scholarship experience working first on the regulation and governance of the biosciences. He has examined the political and moral economies of stem cell biobanks and umbilical cord blood banking. Nik’s most recent areas of interest include the biopolitics of infections and anti-microbial resistance (AMR). He has published widely on the biopolitics of immunity including a forthcoming monograph (‘Immunitary Life: The biopolitics of Immunity’, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018).

STS Helsinki Seminar March 18th

Join us for the second session of the STS Helsinki Seminar Series on:

Monday, March 18th from 12.15-13.45

At: 3rd floor seminar room, Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies (HCAS), Fabianinkatu 24

Andrea Butcher, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki

Tackling antimicrobial resistance in biosocially demanding settings: the challenge for low-income regions

Bioscientific research of antimicrobial resistance is increasingly focusing on the role of environments, specifically anthropogenically-created sites of environmental pollution, in AMR evolution and acceleration. Such emphasis invites examination of the socioeconomic and material agencies driving the creation of such sites. Drawing upon field research of urbanisation and food production dynamics in South Asia and West Africa, the paper will examine how AMR risks relate to the various demands placed upon human and non-human agents in an ecology of development practices that include economic growth, urban infrastructural development, food production techniques and healthcare facilities. It will consider how social science and STS approaches can be applied to AMR knowledge generation, in which antibiotic use is but one determinant.

Andrea Butcher is postdoctoral researcher in Sociology at Helsinki for the sociological component of AMRIWA (Antimicrobials in West Africa), a project producing knowledge of how AMR genes flow between people, animals and environments in West African regions. Andrea’s background is the anthropological study of the nexus of development, environment and religion in the Indian Himalaya. Since 2017, she has been engaged in the social study of microbes, initially examining socioeconomic drivers for potential antibiotic use in Bangladesh’s aquaculture sector.  Her previous research at the University of Exeter examined antibiotic use and AMR flows in Bangladesh’s shrimp and prawn export aquaculture. She is a member of the Helsinki-based research group Cultures of Cultures: Antimicrobial Resistance in Global Contexts.

CFP: Materiality, Science, and Technology – Reflections on Time

Call for papers for a panel at the “On Time: Biennial Conference of the Finnish Anthropological Society 2019”:

Materiality, science, and technology – reflections on time

Temporalities, temporal orientations and time are inseparable, but often underanalysed, part of the study of materiality and matter. During the anthropocene, human impact over time on matter is undeniable, and yet but one example of the ways in which politics, ethics and matter intersect. The panel focuses on materiality, the liveliness of matter, that cannot be understood without the effects of time: how connections, infrastructures, or timescapes are shifting, and being shifted in science and technology. In the study of materiality, the knowledge that is produced about the time/matter nexus, and ‘how we know what we know’ is often the focal point of inquiries, which opens up intriguing possibilities for what we want to address and discuss in this panel. Recent discussions have addressed expectations, anticipations, future imaginaries, potentiality and temporalities; how these notions relate to the materialities encountered and engaged within our fieldworks will be discussed in this panel. We encourage presentations paying attention to materialities and temporalities, cycles as well as futures and pasts, in knowledge making practices, and the time and materiality that present themselves in the knowledge making we ourselves do as ethnographers. We welcome papers that present and discuss either empirical cases of material vitality (for example, but not limited to, changing views of microbes, decaying research infrastructures, politics around stem cells, loops in archeogenetic knowledge, paradigm shifts in knowledge etc) or reflect methodologically or theoretically the topic and scope of this panel.

Panel conveners:
Salla Sariola, University of Helsinki. salla.sariola[a]
Heta Tarkkala, University of Helsinki. heta.tarkkala[a]

The proposals should comprise abstracts of 250–300 words and be submitted directly to the panel convenors. Please include your university affiliation and contact information when submitting the proposal.

Deadline for paper proposals: April 1st, 2019. Acceptance notifications will be sent by April 15th, 2019.

The website for “On Time: Biennial Conference of the Finnish Anthropological Society 2019” can be found at:

And the full call for papers at:

The Finnish Anthropological Society Conference is organised in co-operation with the discipline of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Literature Society. The keynote speaker of the conference is Ghassan Hage, and the 2019 Edvard Westermarck memorial lecture will be given by Laura Bear on the eve of the conference (August 28). General inquiries regarding the conference can be addressed to


Launch of new STS Helsinki Seminar Series

Welcome to the new STS Helsinki Seminar Series!

The STS Helsinki Seminar Series is a newly founded seminar series by the STS Helsinki research collective. Our aim is to create a space for in-depth conversations about current research in Science and Technology Studies (STS). The topics cover a wide range of contemporary issues, such as climate change, the role of experts, medicine, genetics, gender, robotics or organic food. The seminars function as a platform for strengthening the STS community in Finland and bringing STS to new audiences. All scholars, students and audiences interested in the interaction between science, society and technology are welcome!

Seminar programme/Spring 2019

Venue: 4th floor seminar room, Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies (HCAS), Fabianinkatu 24 (except for April 26th)


27 February, 12.15-13.45

Helena Valve, senior researcher, Finnish Environment Institute

Analysing policy processes and power with STS


18 March, 12.15-13.45             

Andrea Butcher, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki

The challenge of tackling antimicrobial resistance in biosocially demanding settings: the case of protein production in South Asia


26 April, 12.15-13.45

Nik Brown, Professor of Sociology, York University



20 May, 12.15-13.45

Liina-Maija Quist, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki

Epistemic practices of marine scientists examining climate change


Abstract for 27 February

Analysing policy processes and power with STS

Scientific experiments and the role of experimentation in the generation of scientific evidence are classic themes within science and technology studies (STS). Research in the field has created understandings of the performative, yet contested role of test designs.  Drawing from studies focusing on Baltic Sea protection, I propose that STS insights have much to offer for the analysis of governance. Power ceases to be just a property that can be used to explain policy outcomes. Moreover, the contested capacities evolve not only within, but also along the material (re)arrangements that indicate what is at issue and for whom.

Dr. Helena Valve works as a Senior Researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute. Her research focuses on the politics and performance of environmental policy and natural resource management. The studies make use of the insights provided by science and technology studies (STS), and aim to contribute to the development of methodologies that acknowledge the role of materialities and material arrangements for the practicing of governance and regulation.


For more information, please contact Kamilla Karhunmaa (kamilla.karhunmaa at or Karoliina Snell (karoliina.snell at

Call for papers: “Science, technology and society” – working group at the Annual conference of the Westermarck Society, 2019

Our yearly working group at the Annual conference of the Westermarck Society (AKA Sosiologipäivät) is back. In 2019, the conference will be held under the theme “Various Faces of Inequalities” at the University of Turku, on 15-16.3.2018. The keynote speakers are: Göran Therborn (University of Cambridge), Melinda Mills (University of Oxford & Nuffield College), Giselinde Kuipers (University of Amsterdam), and Minna van Gerven (University of Twente). Find the abstract and the contact of the coordinators below. Abstract proposals should be sent to the coordinators by the 31st of January, 2019.

9. Science, technology and society

Science and Technology Studies (STS) is an interdisciplinary field of study that examines the interaction between society, science, and technology. STS pays attention to how different fields, such as law, politics, and everyday life, become intertwined with science and technology. This is relevant when thinking about heatedly debated topics as diverse as climate change, the role of experts, medicine, genetics, gender, robotics or organic food. The field calls for a deeper understanding of the development, processes, practices and outcomes of such social phenomena. STS explores the mechanisms behind knowledge claims and ontological assumptions that guide our everyday. Or, how a prominent STS scholar, Steve Woolgar, has said: look at how the world defined by science and technology “could be otherwise”.

STS-Helsinki calls for theoretical, methodological and empirical papers on current research in social studies of science. Papers both in Finnish and English are welcome. The aim of this working group is to offer a forum to discuss the practices that contribute to the shaping of technoscientific objects and subjects. How is scientific knowledge established and negotiated, and how historical processes contribute to the development of certain technologies? We also welcome papers discussing the specific topic of circulations. This working group is defined as a meeting point for both Finnish and international scholars to share and discuss their work with others studying science, technology and society.


Aaro Tupasela, University of Helsinki. Email: aaro.tupasela (at)

Mikko Jauho, University of Helsinki. Email: mikko.jauho (at)

Tracing affect in vaccine debates

by Venla Oikkonen, Academy Research Fellow (University of Tampere)

In the decades following World War II, vaccines were widely considered a routine method of preventing illness. Childhood vaccinations appeared to have eradicated infectious diseases that had killed and harmed children during the previous decades. However, since the late 1990s, arguments challenging vaccines have gained considerable media presence in many wealthy and technologically advanced societies. While vaccine skeptics and critics have always existed, British doctor Andrew Wakefield’s claims about a connection between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism placed the safety and rationale of childhood immunization programs in the public spotlight with a new intensity. Although Wakefield’s claims have been discredited, the idea of the MMR vaccine – and by association other childhood vaccines – as potentially harmful lives on in cultural debates. Recent epidemics of presumably defeated diseases such as measles, mumps and pertussis (whooping cough) in Europe and North America attest to the critically low vaccination rates in many places in the global north.

A number of social scientists have addressed vaccine hesitancy and refusal. For example, Samantha D. Gottlieb (2016) and Jennifer A. Reich (2016) have recently published nuanced ethnographic analyses of the complexities and ambiguities involved in how parents make decisions about vaccines. In Finland, Johanna Nurmi and Pia Vuolanto are currently leading a project titled Health, Knowledge and Expertise which examines the rationales of vaccine skepticism and complementary and alternative medicine. These projects shed important new light on how individuals make decisions about vaccinations within the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they live.

I have just begun a five-year Academy Research Fellow’s project that approaches recent and ongoing vaccine debates from the viewpoint of cultural studies of science. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland and located in Gender Studies at the University of Tampere. Titled Affect and Biotechnological Change: Three Vaccine Debates in Europe, the project positions vaccine skepticism and acceptance within the larger patterns of biotechnological change. It asks how cultural emotions (“affect” in the project title) structure how biotechnologies such as vaccines become contested, rejected or accepted. Instead of focusing on individuals’ experiences or decisions, the project traces how public debates about vaccines invoke and move emotions in culture and society.

The project approaches vaccines as an intersectional phenomenon, that is, as a phenomenon that takes shape through mutually entangled categories of difference such as gender, sexuality, class, age, and ethnicity. For example, immunization programs often assume that some demographic groups (based, for example, on gender, sexuality, age, or immigration history) are in a particularly high risk of contracting or spreading an infectious disease. The project traces the affective underpinnings of this logic across cultural texts. It approaches vaccines as technologies through which boundaries between nations, continents and communities, or between “risky” and “healthy” groups, are drawn and negotiated. Inspired by feminist science and technology studies, the project conceptualizes vaccines as bodily technologies that involve material processes such as the manipulation of inactivated or attenuated viruses, immunological responses triggered by the vaccine, as well as points of contact and possible contagion between bodies perceived as gendered or racialized.

The project centers on three case studies, which each sheds light on different aspects of affect, intersecting differences and biotechnological change. The case studies approach vaccines through analysis of public and popular texts, ranging from bioscientific articles, institutional reports and vaccination policies to media coverage of vaccines, popular blogs and online discussion forums.

I am currently working on the first case study, which focuses on the link between the 2009 H1N1 (“swine flu”) vaccine Pandemrix and the appearance of narcolepsy among vaccinated children and adolescents in several European countries. I place the case within the larger phenomenon of pandemic preparedness, as well as view it as an event that has shaped public attitudes towards national childhood immunization programs. I explore how cultural emotions surrounding a specific vaccine may change quite dramatically within a few months, and, at the same time, how the 2009 H1N1 virus strain became nevertheless routinized as part of the seasonal influenza vaccine during the following influenza seasons. I ask how culturally circulating emotions around the 2009 H1N1 vaccine emerged through discourses of childhood, disability, and ethnic difference – especially the assumed Mexican origins of the pandemic, and the initial framing of vaccine-associated narcolepsy as a “Nordic” condition.

The second case study focuses on the debates about the potential inclusion of boys into national HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination programs in Europe – currently most European HPV immunization programs cover only girls. The study asks why HPV has been slow to emerge as a vaccine for boys in Europe despite the current licensing of HPV vaccines for use in all genders to protect against a range of conditions including cervical cancer, anal cancer and genital warts. I trace how the debated inclusion of boys in vaccination programs emerges in relation to assumptions of masculinities, queer sexualities, and gendered sexual practices. This focus sheds new light on the role of gendered and heteronormative assumptions about agency and “risky” behavior in cultural responses to a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection.

My third case study approaches debates about mandatory MMR vaccinations following a number of local measles epidemics across Europe. The study focuses on how ongoing debates about MMR mobilize discourses of immigration and travel within and into Europe. I am particularly interested in how the MMR vaccine has re-emerged as an object of political debate in relation to the movement of people within the EU, on the one hand, and the rise of right-wing anti-immigration populism, on the other. Focusing on debates about measles, travel and migration, I ask how an already affectively charged technology becomes entangled with new cultural emotions that may contradict the earlier ones, and how responsibility and risk become reconfigured as racialized and nationalist issues.

I hope the project may help us understand why vaccines raise particular emotional responses on a collective cultural level. By focusing on issues such as embodiment, agency and diversity, the project provides a useful addition to the public health and economic framework within which vaccination programs are usually envisioned and designed. By theorizing ideas of “risk” and “responsibility” as intersectional issues, the project also highlights the importance of developing nuanced and ethically accountable vaccination campaigns and communication.

You can read more about Venla’s research here:



Samantha D. Gottlieb (2016) Vaccine resistances reconsidered: Vaccine skeptics and the Jenny McCarthy effect. Biosocieties 11(2): 152–174.

Jennifer A. Reich (2016) Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines. NYU Press.