Year 2017 – New beginnings, challenges and joy of succeeding

The passing year has been remarkable for Know Your Neighbour -project. We started our work at the beginning of this year, and much has happened as the months passed. The year 2017 has brought new acquaintances, joyful cooperation, technical challenges and a lot of learning by doing. Our research team organized several imitation game experiments with Finnish Somalis and student groups, Otavan Opisto developed innovative imitation game applications in the field of pedagogy, and our media team proceeded successfully its’s own, exciting subproject. Moreover, we formed and strengthened wider cooperation during our kick-off seminar and Cardiff visit. The resources gained this past year will surely provide fruitful results and a solid base to build the upcoming work on.

It is now time to face towards new challenges. We would like to warmly thank you all for following and supporting us in our work during the year. After a brief vacation, our work will continue next year with even more enthusiasm.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Know Your Neighbour -team

Know Your Neighbour – The Kick-Off Seminar

Our kick-off seminar took place on October 13 in Kamari, a seminar room of Kone Foundation. The day of the seminar was exceptionally sunny and the atmosphere among the participants was accordingly cheerful.

The seminar started with a speech from Kalle Korhonen, the head of research funding at Kone, followed by a short welcome from Ilkka Arminen, the project leader. Imitation game was then presented with a hands-on simulation game with all seminar participants. The theme was chosen based on a quick survey at the beginning: seems like we had the best expert / non-expert ratio of Helsinki locals versus newbies. Our kick-off team had prepared two questions about Helsinki in advance and the players were invited to  negotiate their answers in groups. This time it was a “victory” for the pretending group, since our judges were not able to guess which answer belonged to which group.  Well played, imitators!

Would you tell which answers are from the Helsinki experts and which ones from the pretenders? (The right answer at the end of the post.)

1. In which area of Helsinki would you not want to live and why?

A) Itäkeskus, it has a bad reputation, it is not safe for kids.

B) Siltamaki

2. Describe one place in Helsinki that is in some way special to you

A) Kasoorinkatu, There is a really nice park. I used to walk there with my uncle’s dog.

B) The waterfront in Helsinki. It is unique in any Capital in Europe.

After the lunch break it was time for our key-note speakers. Professor Rodrigo Ribeiro from Brazil gave us a thought-provoking presentation about his criticism to Harry Collins’ concept of interactional expertise. Based on the discussion that followed one of the biggest theoretical challenges of our project could be drawing a line between increasing knowledge about the other social group and increasing tolerance; one need not lead to the other ‘automagically’. Ribeiro also set clear standards for our research with practical propositions. His suggestions regarding our study will be well considered in our further work. The article from Ribeiro and Lima (The value of practice: A critique of interactional expertise) is available on the internet.

Professor Risto Saarinen from theology department of University of Helsinki then presented his work on the concept of recognition and indicated the ways the neighbourhood relations could be studied from this viewpoint. His presentation provided a well-considered, cross-scientific outlook that we could incorporate in our own research. The most relevant overlapping aspects between the two project  were the dichotomy of acknowledgement and acceptance, framing identity in relation to the other and the questionable value of agreement at all costs. The Reason and Religious Recognition project has its own blog:

Last but not least, Sanna Ryynänen, Sirkku Varjonen ja Pertti Ylikojola presented their Puhekupla project (Eng. speech bubble), which combines performative arts and social scientific research in an innovative way. Puhekupla call their project flipped academics: from action towards systematized knowledge about the sociological processes they have observed. Apparently, this is a fair approach since the results from the events organised in Mopo-pub in Kontula, a suburb in eastern Helsinki, seem very promising for improving neighbourhood relations. Scientific publications related to their work will be coming out in the near future.

Thank you all for putting such great effort in the shape of amazing and well-thought presentations! We hope that this seminar was as inspiring to you as it was to our consortium members.


Wishing you all an energized autumn,

Know Your Neighbour consortium


(A: pretenders, B: real Helsinki-experts)

Know Your Neighbour project’s blog is open: 100 crusaders killed in Manchester

Know Your Neighbour blog is open! First post is written by our project leader, professor of sociology Ilkka Arminen:

“As a sociologist for a long time already, I have been interested in how differently different people or parties can interpret things or events. This is why, on occasion, I follow the debate on terrorism. After all, it is a phenomenon based on contradictory interpretations. Despite my hobby, I was startled in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack on 22 May 2017 when ISIS announced, on their website, that 100 crusaders had been killed or wounded in Manchester.

Once I had recovered from the shock, it occurred to me that, of course, you could call a pop concert for teenagers a crusade. Now, I wouldn’t normally think of a pop concert as a crusade but, apparently, it is possible to see one as a crusade of Western culture and way of life.

Do You Know Your Neighbour? is a project through which we aim to find out whether people really understand their neighbours; whether they have an idea of the kind of social world in which their neighbours live. We do not analyse extreme conflicts like terrorism, but nowadays, even a place like Finland, is the meeting point of sharply divided social worlds.

Lately, the square outside the railway station of Helsinki has reminded me of the term “camp publicity” that historians used to refer to. Even at the risk of Nazi connotations, I seem to recall that historians used to describe the divided political landscape of the 1930s with the term “camp publicity”. The tent camps for and against the deportation of immigrants, pitched for months on end, are the contemporary image of camp publicity.

In Finland, our research is connected to the opinions divided by immigration. The exact subject of our research is still seeking its final form. In Estonia, we are exploring the relationship between Estonians and Estonian Russians.

As our work and research tool, we use the “Imitation Game”. Originally a party game dating back centuries, the game involves a judge-player whose job is to judge, based on written answers, which of two players is genuine and which is a fake, e.g., which one is a woman and which one is pretending to be one.

The Imitation Game was made famous by Alan Turing, who developed it into an AI application. Turing asked whether a human judge, based on a five-minute query, could tell a machine apart from a human player. If the human judge could not tell the artificial intelligence apart from the human, the AI could be deemed a success. In the midst of all the current AI rage, it is almost indecent to point out that of all the AI applications thus far, none has passed the Turing test. Although we are certainly getting pretty close.

After Turing, sociologists and others started to develop the Imitation Game into a research tool to examine mutual understanding between groups of people. At the moment, the game is played using computers. What’s more, the Masquerade application is available to everyone and offers a great way to try out the game.

The idea of the game is very simple. The judge-player’s role is to ask questions to determine which one of two players is a member of the social group they claim to be a member of and which one is a pretender. The game setting can be freely modified. For instance, the players can be individuals or groups. In some cases, the game can also be played face-to-face.

One oft-repeated criticism is that the Imitation Game can reinforce prejudices and binary dichotomy, which are based on stereotypes. In on our experience, however, this is not the case. Answers based on stereotypes are typically interpreted as the pretender’s answers. And so, the players normally end up seeing the diversity of the members of a group of humans instead of the stereotypes. For this part, we believe that the Imitation Game could be used to improve the conditions for interaction between social groups.

Indeed, the goal of our project, in addition to the actual research, is to develop other applications for the Imitation Game. Under the guidance of the Otava Folk High School, we are developing a pedagogic application based on the Imitation Game, with the idea of trying to teach the players to learn more about each other’s social worlds. This pedagogic application could be utilised also in developing multi-professional cooperation within organisations. We are also seeking to build an Imitation Game-based programme format for wider distribution.

At this juncture, we don’t yet know for sure what we can achieve and where we’ll end up. It is our belief, though, that understanding the social world of others is the foundation of all mutual understanding and cooperation.”

Ilkka Arminen

(Text was originally published in Kone Foundation’s Boldness blog 14.6.2017