Author Archives: Kamilla Karhunmaa

About Kamilla Karhunmaa

Kamilla Karhunmaa is a doctoral student in the Environmental Policy Research Group at the University of Helsinki. Her PhD examines the debates on change and stability in energy policy and transitions in Finland. Kamilla has an MSc in Social and Public Policy from Helsinki University and a BSc in Environmental Policy from London School of Economics and Political Science. Kamilla is interested in knowledge, expertise and future imaginaries in environmental policy. She has previously worked on climate and development issues at Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku.

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.

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

STS tutkimusta maailmalla – Fulbright stipendiaattina Harvard Kennedy Schoolissa

Tieteen- ja teknologian tutkimuksella (STS) on harvassa yliopistossa oma laitoksensa. Sen sijaan STS on tieteenalan alusta lähtien istunut institutionaalisesti hieman oudoissa paikoissa. Nämä järjestelyt heijastavat useasti nuoren tieteenalamme kehityspolkuja. Kun STS-tutkimus sijoitetaan antropologian, sosiologian, historian tai kauppatieteiden laitokselle kertoo se paitsi tutkimusalan menneisyydestä, mutta useasti myös tulevaisuudesta kyseisessä yliopistossa.

Yksi institutionaalisesti epätavallinen paikka, jossa STS tutkimusta tehdään maailmalla, on Harvardin yliopiston Kennedy School. Harvard Kennedy School on tullut tunnetuksi vahvoista siteistään politiikkaan, eikä käytävillä ole tavatonta nähdä entisten hallitusten jäseniä ja heidän lukuisia turvamiehiään. Syksyllä 2017 Kennedy School sai kyseenalaista huomiota Yhdysvaltojen kansallisessa mediassa vierailevien tutkijoiden (Fellows) nimityksillään. Närkästystä herättivät erityisesti Presidentti Trumpin entisen viestintäjohtajan, Sean Spicerin nimittäminen sekä samaan aikaan Wikileaks-vuotaja Chelsea Manningin Fellow-nimityksen kumoaminen.

Suurten ja poleemisten nimitysten lisäksi Kennedy Schoolin mahtuu myös tutkimusta tekeviä vierailijoita. Olen itse tutkijavaihdossa Harvard Programme on Science, Technology and Society – ohjelman Fellows Progamme:ssa. Kyseessä on tietääkseni suurin vierailevien STS-tutkijoiden ohjelma, johon osallistuu joka vuosi yli kymmenen vierailevaa tutkijaa ja jonka kautta on kulkenut jo yli sata STS-tukijaa ympäri maailman. Omaa osallistumistani on tukenut Fulbright Finlandin stipendi.

Ohjelma on rakentunut tieteenalan uranuurtajan, professori Sheila Jasanoffin työn ympärille. Vierailevat tutkijat tulevat laajalti eri maista ja akateemisista taustoista. Tämän vuoden vierailijoiden tutkimusaiheet ylettyvät psykedeelisten aineiden historiasta, äänen ja akustiikan oikeudellisten kysymysten kautta ydinjätteen loppusijoittamisen hallintaan. Oma tutkimukseni suomalaisista energiapoliittisista keskusteluista on otettu mielenkiinnolla vastaan, ja Suomen energiapoliittiset ratkaisut herättävät kysymyksiä täällä. Olisi helppo ajatella, että näin kirjavan joukon on vaikea kommentoida toistensa töitä. Mutta tässä juuri piilee tieteen- ja teknologian tutkimuksen hienous ja ydin – yhteisen lähestymistavan ansiosta meidän on mahdollista käydä mielekkäitä keskusteluja ja edistää toistemme tutkimusideoita.

Harvardin STS-ohjelma pyrkii vahvistamaan tieteenalakoulutusta intensiivisen ohjelman kautta. Ohjelmaan osallistuminen vaatii merkittävää ajallista sitoutumista vierailevalta tutkijalta, mutta samalla antaa laajan katsauksen tieteenalaan. Syyskauden viikoittainen ohjelma koostui maanantaisesta STS Circle kutsuluennosta, tiistaisesta oman ryhmämme seminaarista ja keskiviikkoisesta Science, Power and Politics –kurssista. Sekä tietysti lukuisista kahvitauoista ja after work -hetkistä. Minulle antoisinta ohjelmassa on ollut tiivis vierailevien tutkijoiden ryhmä, jonka kanssa olemme voineet yhdessä pohtia sekä klassikkoteoksia että toistemme töitä.

Osa ohjelman vierailevista tutkijoista on jo palannut omiin kotiyliopistoihinsa, mutta minä jatkan vielä kevätlukukauden ohjelmassa. Blogiamme lukeville STS-tutkijoille heitän kuitenkin vielä viimeisen vahvan suosituksen: ohjelman hakuaika on nyt auki tammikuun 31. päivään saakka!

“Framing energy” at the hopefulNESS conference

The Nordic Environmental Social Sciences (NESS) conference is one of those events where we, researchers studying environmental issues from a social scientific perspective, have the opportunity to meet our peers and have great discussions. The NESS conference series started in 1993 and has since been biennially hosted in one of the Nordic countries, this time in Tampere, Finland. This year’s theme of hopefulness could not have been more apt in a time of increasingly gloomy environmental news. Indeed, the keynotes by Professor James Meadowcroft, Dr. Jo Mylan, Professor Esther Turnhout, Dr. Morgan Meyer and Professor Emeritus Yrjö Haila were critical but remained cautiously hopeful about the future.

Professor Meadowcroft highlighted how we are far from having exhausted the potential of environmental states, stressing how we cannot know their limits prior to testing them. Professor Turnhout, in turn, presented the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) as a test case for the democratization of knowledge through its regional and global assessments. However, she stressed that this is possible only if and when closure is resisted and technologies of humility and accountability fostered.

In addition to inspiring keynotes, one of the unique features of the NESS conferences is structuring working groups around full papers with pre-appointed commentators. This enables more detailed comments and fruitful discussions than the usual, rushed conference presentations. Together with other researchers from the Environmental Policy Research Group at the University of Helsinki, we hosted a working group titled ‘Framing energy: between hope, hype and hopelessness’.

In gathering the working group, we were inspired by the large amount of discourse-oriented studies examining energy politics and transitions in the recent years. These studies often discuss meaning-making processes related to currently occurring changes in energy systems at large, and how these changes are turned into issues and concerns. We wanted to bring some of this research together to ask how the multiple aspects surrounding energy become issues. Are there cases where they do not become issues at all? How do particular framings produce specific outcomes?

What we noticed in the working group were wide-ranging and divergent perspectives on the topic. From a theoretical perspective, contributions ranged from psychological approaches and sociotechnical imaginaries to performative politics. The working group examined energy issues at multiple scales: from the individual through to the local, regional, national and international. Empirically, the studies relied on a variety of materials, including surveys, interviews, news articles, academic articles and participation observation. For an overview of the working group’s papers, please see pages 44-50 of the NESS book of abstracts.

Despite such divergent theoretical, scalar and empirical starting points, we did see similarities in how energy issues were approached. First, energy was viewed as deeply entangled with societal processes and practices. Second, and related, most studies paid attention to issues around energy as material-semiotic, where it is undesirable to separate discursive developments from material processes of change. Finally, most cases were based on empirically rich material, reflecting the wide availability of energy issues to be studied.

With this brief summary we, the organizers, would like to thank all the participants of our working group and wish them well in proceeding with their work! We would also like to thank all the participants and especially the organizers of the hopefulNESS 2017 conference. We look forward to our next meet-up in Luleå in 2019!

Kamilla Karhunmaa & Karoliina Isoaho

Debating energy policy at two levels

What makes good policy? How are current and future policy choices justified in political speech? These are some of the questions I have looked at in the context of debates on energy futures at two distinct levels of policy-making: in the national parliament of Finland and in the city council of Helsinki. I focused on recent debates from the years 2011-2015. What I found is an interesting tension, where the end-goal of a carbon-neutral future is the same for both the city council of Helsinki and the national parliament of Finland. However, the means proposed for achieving that future differ.

Parliamentary debates stress the importance of persistency and predictability in energy policy. For example, as a politician stated in the parliament in 2013: ”Regulation regarding energy production needs to be persistent and unambiguous, so that companies can calculate the profitability of their energy investments long enough into the future”. In contrast, a city councilor from Helsinki found it “very good decision-making that changes in the operational environment can be acted upon”. There is a difference between the two, where parliamentarians focus on creating predictability whereas city councilors highlight the importance of adapting to changing circumstances. How could the differences between the two levels be explained?

I suggest the proposed means are so unalike due to the actors’ conceptions of their own possible spaces of action. While the end-goal of carbon neutrality is the same, actors at distinct governance levels conceive the means they have for achieving that in quite a distinct manner. National level actors debate the general regulatory environment and the role of the state in ensuring regulatory stability. Uncertainty over the future is seen as something that can and should be controlled and minimized. Parliamentarians see the role of the state as facilitating favourable investment conditions in Finland, and decreasing the political risks associated with large-scale investments. To achieve such conditions, politicians demand anticipatory knowledge of the future and stabilizing energy policy based on that knowledge for longer periods.

City level actors, in contrast, make choices within national and regional regulatory environments, taking into consideration the technological, legislative and societal changes they see. Views of good policy stress adaptability, agility and the willingness to revisit past decisions. Uncertainty over the future is taken for granted, as something that both constrains making decisions over the future, but also enables responding to and taking up, for example, technological developments. This suggests that cities may be better equipped to incite changes in acting on climate change, as also others have recently argued. City actors are pursuing change through a variety of means, including international networks, such as C40 or the Covenant of Mayors, and more localized efforts. However, favouring adaptable policy in the short-term requires having a sense of direction in the long-term.

The analysis reveals the importance of looking at questions of scale and agency when debating energy policy. Long-term goals, such as carbon neutrality in 2050, will translate into different means, policies and practices at distinct governance levels.

Miten energiamurroksesta keskustellaan?

Energiamurros mielletään käynnissä olevaksi prosessiksi, joka muuttaa tapoja kuluttaa ja tuottaa energiaa. Esittelen englanninkielisillä blogi-sivuilla väitöstutkimustani, joka tarkastelee muutoksen ja pysyvyyden välistä suhdetta suomalaisissa energiapoliittisissa keskusteluissa. Tutkimus käsittelee energiapoliittisia keskusteluja eduskunnassa, kaupunginvaltuustossa, kansalaisyhteiskunnassa, mediassa ja tutkimuksessa. Lue lisää englanninkielisiltä sivuilta.


Work in progress: a dissertation on debating energy transitions

“I believe that greater co-operation across society is needed for a successful energy transition.” Ben van Beurden, CEO, Shell
“A future renewable energy supply is no longer science fiction, but work in progress” Greenpeace, The Energy [R]evolution 2015

We have come to a point when politicians, business executives and environmental organizations are all saying the same thing: we are facing an energy transition, a dramatic change in the ways in which energy is produced and consumed. This refers to the rapid growth in renewable and distributed energy (IRENA) and ensuing technological and societal changes.

Change can be an inspiring object of inquiry for researchers, as it presents something new and exciting. At the same time, we run the risk of paying less attention to the things that do not change – or even resist change. In addition to analyzing change, it is necessary to look at the politics of upholding current unsustainable practices.

In my doctoral dissertation I study how the relationship between stability and change is debated in energy policy discussions in Finland. The analysis spans energy policy debates in parliament, local government, civil society, media and academia. What energy policy is thought to be, over what time it is governed and how policy changes are thought to happen affect the ways energy policy is engaged with.

As seen in the above quotes, at first glance an energy transition may seem to be indisputable, ongoing, work in progress. This may deflect us from the point that energy transitions are also political, disputed and debated. Developments in renewable and distributed energy are social processes that alter existing relations.

In this blog, my contributions will examine the knowledge and politics of energy, technology and the environment. More to follow!