The research project ‘Vulnerable Lives’ is led by Professor Marja-Liisa Honkasalo. The project takes place at the Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki. The two post-doctoral researchers are Anna Leppo and Leila Jylhänkangas. Kaisa Ketokivi worked in the project between 2012-2014. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland (2013-2017).

The ‘Vulnerable Lives’ project focuses on different forms of vulnerability (e.g. disruptive life events, grief, illness and death) in contemporary Finnish society. We are equally interested in the ‘contemporary cures’ that people rely on when they need support.  All human beings lead vulnerable lives and every society comes up with ‘cures’ that are supposed to help people deal with the inescapable fragility of life. Theoretically, our starting point is to take distance from sociological theory of action, which  emphasizes individual autonomy and goal-oriented, intentional action. We approach agency as non-individual and ’embedded’ in social and material relations (e.g. neighborhood characteristics, medical technologies, pharmaseuticals) in the context of the so called ‘post-welfare state’.  Our approach is ethnographic.  The empirical sub-studies focus on:

1) illness experience and high-tech heart technologies –> what kind of experience and agency results when new heart technology  incorporates a machine inside the human body? (Honkasalo),

2) agency and social bonds in local urban communities in Finland and the US –> the community is currently hyped as the magic bullet that can solves various problems but how do people actually come together (or not) and can the community cure everything? (Ketokivi)

3) social exclusion and addiction treatment (methadone clinics) –> what does pharmaseuticalization of addiction treatment mean for patients and workers and what kind of agencies does pharmaseuticalization create in the context of the so called post-welfare state?  (Leppo).

4) agency in the context of the end of life. 1) The experiences of care amongst dying patients and their close ones , 2) The experiences of aging people with dementia and their carers (Jylhänkangas)

Highlights of the academic year 2014 included an international symposium organised by our research group: Ambiguous Agency. Ethnographic and Theoretical Perspectives, 10-.11.6.2014, University of Helsinki.

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