Finnish Anthropology Conference 2010
Ideas of Value: Inquiries in Anthropology

Helsinki 11-12th May, 2010

2nd call for papersProgramSessionsInformationRegistration Movies

Round-table discussion and session abstracts

• Updated: paper abstracts (pdf)

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Round-Table Discussion: Towards an Anthropological Innovation Agenda
Connecting Ideas of Value
Kinship and Community
Communities and Individual Aspirations
Words that Matter: Evaluating contradicting stories
Material Culture, the Material Body and Ideas of Value
Values as Agents in the Construction of Ethnic Social Categories
Remembering and the Present
Political Ecology and Land Rights
New Technologies, New Values?
Visual Art and Expression Meet Anthropology
Vernacularization of International Law on Indigenous peoples

Round-Table Discussion:
Towards an Anthropological Innovation Agenda

Co-ordinators: Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki), Sakari Tamminen (Gemic Oy)

Anthropological approaches have started to feature more prominently in innovation discourses in recent years. Design anthropology, for instance, has been identified as central for ‘adding value’ to innovative practices. The inclusion of anthropological approaches and methods in the political and economic imaginaries of innovation raises concerns; it appears to be an attempt to harness anthropological knowledge to economic/political purposes. Yet there is also something very intriguing in the ‘cultural turn’ of innovation discourses and it might be seen as an opportunity to redirect innovation agendas towards a more anthropological understanding of what value creation entails.

The aim of this round table discussion is to bring together scholars and practitioners focusing on innovation and value creation from an anthropological perspective. We will offer our own definitions of innovation and processes of value creation and expect to hear others: What kind of value is innovation said to produce and for whom? How are different kinds of values (economic, sociological, linguistic, ethical, political etc.) connected to innovation practices/prominent innovation discourses? We hope to discuss approaches which contribute to an emerging politics of innovation and which redirect attention from innovation as merely an agent in technological progress and production of economic surplus to more realistic, contextual and human-centric approaches.

Ideally contributions and presentations to this round-table discussion should be kept brief in order to enable the maximum amount of productive input. Let us know how you would like to participate.


Connecting Ideas of Value

Co-ordinators: Matti Eräsaari (University of Helsinki) , Timo Kallinen (University of Helsinki)

The idea of value is based on the human inclination to make comparisons between phenomena and it could be argued that measuring of value starts from finding common denominators in difference. The emergence of differentiated spheres of value is often perceived as a characteristic of so-called modern societies. In such societies each sphere (e.g. economy, politics, religion) is considered to have its own purpose (e.g. profit, power, salvation) and mode(s) of action for fulfilling it. Due to their different goals and activities, these spheres are deemed incommensurable and sometimes in conflict with each other. For instance, a clash between economic and social values is a source of many contemporary public debates. Accordingly, the modern human sciences are divided into different disciplines each studying and theorizing their “own” spheres. By pointing to the cultural specificity and historicity of these divisions anthropologists have concluded that as such they cannot form the basis for understanding the value systems of non-Western, so-called tribal societies. However, meaningful anthropological questions arise from contradictions between the categories of the researcher and the culture he/she studies and in the same way comparing the seemingly incomparable is a fruitful starting point for all social research.

We invite papers that seek to connect and compare different ideas or contexts of value and consequently bring forth new perspectives and questions. We are especially interested in exchanges of value that fall outside the sphere of “economics”, in temporal changes of value systems, and generally in any analogies or parallels between systems of value as manifested in religion, politics, ideas of personhood, food, work, health, time, place or economics – to name but the most obvious.

Temporal Dimensions of Kinship and Community

Co-ordinator: Heidi Härkönen (University of Helsinki)

Kinship is a symbolic, conceptual system in terms of which people are aware of their social world and their place in it. Kinship is also an idiom for representing certain types of social relations as the essential features of a more lasting community. As a culturally specific, symbolic perspective on human existence, kinship ideology refers to substances and qualities which people either share from birth or acquire through nurturing, confirming and transforming actions by others.

The purpose of the panel is to illuminate the importance of kinship for present-day anthropology. We are interested in ethnographic materials and arguments which address such issues as:
– the moral and political interpretation of kinship categories
– ritual and other practices which coincide with the reproduction and transformation of personal or collective relationships
– kinship as the figurative construction of sameness and difference

Communities and Individual Aspirations

Co-ordinator: Mari Korpela (University of Tampere)

In the current (postmodern) era, the ethos is that individuals are responsible for their own well-being and quality of life. However, collectivities have not lost their significance and frequently individuals turn to the idea of linking up with similar-minded people and even collective commitments. Moreover, globalization and modern communication technology offer new opportunities to search for new communities or to maintain old ones. Michel Maffesoli, for example, has written about temporary postmodern neo-tribes but many contemporary empirical examples show that communities can be more ‘solid’ than this.

This workshop investigates what sociality means in terms of communal values and practices in an increasingly individualistic world. The aim is to examine the contradictions of people’s individualistic aspirations on the one hand and collective longing on the other, and discusses how people negotiate their communal commitments and individual aspirations. Papers dealing with empirical data from various cultures (not merely ‘Western’), innovative community formations or countercultures as well as papers dealing with theoretical discussions on the theme are welcome.

Words that Matter: Evaluating contradicting stories

Co-ordinators: Anitta Kynsilehto (University of Tampere), Eeva Puumala (University of Tampere)

This workshop focuses on the evaluation of the results of anthropological fieldwork. How are different viewpoints and perspectives to be fitted together and what are the difficulties when evaluating (the truthfulness of) narratives from the field? Are some experiences or stories more valuable than others? How are such evaluations made during the research process and what are the ethical considerations involved? Furthermore, we ask how collisions between different value systems and norms affect people’s potentialities for adopting a voice, acting and being acted upon.

These questions are especially relevant in studies that seek to engage with both ‘official’ and ‘personal narratives which may concurrently arise in, for example, migration, mental health, disability and development studies where the official storyline fits poorly with researchers’ personal experience in the field. In this workshop the concept of value, therefore, is related to people’s cultural and political conceptions of what is important. Should the researcher engage with these estimations at all, and if so, what are the challenges this perspective poses to him/her?

Moreover, it is equally important to consider the value of research results from the point of view of participants. This is especially crucial when research is conducted with subjects in situations of distress and marginality. Is valuable research to have an emancipatory, empowering function? And what is the role of ethics in anthropological research? Hence, the purpose of the workshop is to explore ethical, practical and political questions related to the collection and evaluation of field material and, in cases of marginal groups, issues related to publication of the research and its results.

Material Culture, the Material Body and Ideas of Value

Co-ordinator: Tereza Kuldova (University of Oslo)

Material culture ties us, via our material bodies, to others in our society and provides a means of sharing values and lifestyles in a very concrete manner. The purpose of this session is thus to explore various connections between material culture studies and studies of the material body in relation to ideas of value. This field of inquiry opens up a wide range of questions and topics, from the issue of how we express values through the use of manifold material objects and through the cultivation and discipline of our bodies to how these material objects act back on us and in a sense create the very value systems by which we live.

The session thus welcomes papers dealing with the various ways in which the material extends human action and also mediates meanings and values between humans, as well as papers dealing with the ways in which the material is inscribed in our bodies and minds. The aim of the session is thus to explore the changing value of material objects in everyday life and in various social contexts as well as the ways in which objects and bodies are used to express particular values and are fitted into particular ways of living and being.

Values as Agents in the Construction of Ethnic Social Categories

Co-ordinator: Laura Huttunen (University of Tampere)

The notion that social categories such as ethnicity are natural, immutable facts – whether such belief is based on assumptions drawn from biology, theology or morality – has long been discredited in the social sciences. Almost a tautology, social categories like that of the ‘ethnic group’ are now understood to be socially constructed, and a number of alternate suggestions have been offered as to the agents in such work. The literature connected with scholars such as Deutsch, Gellner and Benedict Anderson argue for the agentive role played by macro social and economic processes, particularly with regards national group formation. Another approach is to ascribe agency to supra-individual discourses, such as Western discursive frameworks of race and ethnicity – thereby positioning the people involved as passive pawns in some larger ‘culture’-determined game. A third option is indeed to return agency to individuals, but only to select individuals: political elites who latch onto and essentialise quotidian, casually circulating talk and belief in order to consolidate their claims to power.

All three approaches have merit in different contexts, but this workshop aims to examine ethnic group construction at a grass-roots level, as it manifests itself in the everyday talk and practices of people whose primary identity is intertwined with a ‘we-group’ largely shaped by allegiance to a particular (emic) ethnic designation. In particular we suggest the ethnographic examination of concrete social practices (work and domestic routines, ritual performance etc.) and actual talk in interaction in order to explore the values and value hierarchies which are mobilized in the construction of a distinctive ethnic ‘we’ – in any place or time. While we expect a wide range of empirical material to operate as primary data, it is hoped that the workshop will cast light on universal processes of value selection and their mobilization which are an inevitable part of any quest for group distinction.

Remembering and the Present

Co-ordinators: Marie-Louise Karttunen (University of Helsinki), Katja Uusihakala (University of Helsinki)

In recent years, numerous scholars have reflected on a ‘memory boom’ in the humanities and social sciences which, it is said, has produced a plethora of different, often conflicting approaches to the subject – along with a ‘semantic overload’ in terminologies. We would, therefore, like to limit the subject matter of this session to discussion of empirical research (with theoretical underpinnings of course) into ways in which autobiographical and group memories are affected by their re-presentation in specific ‘presents’. Diasporic and marginal groups, or members of no-longer-fashionable social movements, for example, might be especially prone to such selective remembering/forgetting. We are particularly interested in the ways in which individual and group rememberings appear to be shaped and even transformed by the politics and values that are hegemonic in the sites of memory narration – especially when these are, in any respect, in conflict with those current at the time of the lived experience or ‘stuff’ of memory. Reports on research which casts light on the process of transformation of the framings of rememberings over time are particularly welcome.

To support such inquiries, we also invite papers which address issues such as how memories are shared and transmitted in embodied rituals; how memories are circulated in signs, practices and narratives; how memories are related to questions of heritage and claims of authenticity; and how and under what circumstances rememberings may be voiced, heard and shared, and when they are silenced.

Political Ecology and Land Rights

Co-ordinators: Tuomas Tammisto (University of Helsinki), Heikki Wilenius (University of Helsinki)

Nature and the environment have, for a long time, been topics of great anthropological interest. On the one hand, the relationship between Nature and Culture has been a source of heated debate within the structuralist camp and outside it. On the other, many have seen culture as the adaptive mechanism of societies for adjusting to their natural environment. Today, however, these debates seem outdated at best. Recently, scholars and researchers of various disciplines have sought to develop a more discursive view of the environment and society as interacting systems, which produce and reproduce one another. According to this view, culture or cultural development is not determined by its environment. Neither do societies merely adapt to their physical surroundings but actively work on it and with it. This production of the environment is not just physical but conceptual and symbolical as well. The reproduction of the environment is also connected to power relations and political interests, as in cases of distribution of environmental problems and the control of natural resources.

The ownership of land, land rights and the legislation regulating them are therefore key points in discussions about intertwined social and environmental issues. In many places, local ways of understanding and managing the land differ greatly from state legislation, while transnational agents also affect the use of land in a given locality. Questions of natural resources, their extraction and exploitation, are also closely tied to the issues of land rights, ethnic and indigenous identities and state power (or powerlessness). Thus, exploration of land rights and land legislation offers fascinating subject matter which brings together a wide variety of global and local interactions of different scales, a range of various kinds of actors, and also poses interesting questions about global economies and environmental conservation to anthropologists and other social scientists.
In this session we welcome papers about social-environmental relationships, especially on questions of land use and natural resource extraction.

New Technologies, New Values?

Co-ordinators: Taina Kinnunen (University of Oulu), Tiina Suopajärvi (University of Oulu)

Our everyday life is full of communication technology like mobile phones, computers, and wireless networks, producing a ubiquitous space or intelligent environment in which one’s surroundings, the devices carried by users, and different kinds of data systems merge physical, virtual and social space into a seamless entity. Technology and culture are molded in a reciprocal relationship: technology sets up possibilities and boundaries for human adaptations to it, and some of its presupposed logic and symbolism is already constructed into its plans and forms. Technology also creates new, diverse forms of communality and communication which raise new meanings (and values) for “being present”, or “being with somebody”.

The technologized environment has had a fundamental effect in human being’s corporeality by molding our understanding of time, distances and privacy. People moving in space constitute social strata with diverse historical and social backgrounds, interests, needs and abilities. Thus, the readiness to adopt new technologies varies; and simultaneously certain prevailing social hierarchies and norms connected to them might restrict or encourage utilizing technology and social interaction linked with it. What kind of interactions are encouraged by new communication technologies and how have they reorganized embodied and other practices in space and time? We invite researchers interested in different kinds of connections between technology and culture, individuals, and social systems to participate the discussions in our workgroup.

Visual Art and Expression Meet Anthropology

Co-ordinator: Jari Kupiainen (North Karelia University of Applied Sciences)

The session seeks to explore the complex and dynamic relationships between artistic and other visual expression and anthropological theory in the contexts of present research. For anthropologists of art, “art” is about engaging in the world and influencing social reality as well as describing its aspects symbolically. Furthermore, anthropological and ethnographic visual materials have been loaded with cultural, political and economic interests and agendas by varying actors around them. Visual ethnography projects enter the wilderness of the international media industry and its repository of cultural imageries, when projects become published.

Presentations will cover topics ranging from anthropological analyses of artistic and visual traditions to documenting and reflecting visual practices and the embedded cultural agencies and meanings in contemporary ethnographic and visual media contexts.

Vernacularization of International Law on Indigenous peoples: ILO 169 and the struggle for ingidenous authenticity

Co-ordinator: Reetta Toivanen (University of Helsinki)

When the United Nations established a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues in 2002, Kofi Annan, the General Secretary of the UN at the time, welcomed the indigenous people to the “United Nations family”. Being part of the UN family has strengthened the status position of indigenous leadership in the international arena and in 2007 the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly. In spite of the increasing attention on indigenous rights during the recent years and the higher level of legal protection of indigenous persons, the human rights situation of most of the groups remains worrisome. The amount of rights, laws, treaties and jurisprudence has had a side-effect that invites for closer examination: how does the legal language influence the ways in which indigenous leaders and members of indigenous groups strive for autonomy and emancipation? The laws developed in the international arena, travel to the remotes places on the globe and on their way, dozens, hundreds or thousands of professionals translate (Merry) by transposing and implementing the laws the legal concepts into the local settings. The question is what happens during these “travels”; how are the legal meanings vernacularized to local contexts? As Richard A. Wilson points out, much more research on the process called practice of human rights is necessary because law does not work the same way everywhere and there is a great need for research on why translation between international law, state laws and local cultural norms are partial and unpredictable process.

This workshop aims at investigating recent developments in the field of anthropology of law by focusing on both local and global dimensions of “travelling legal concepts” and translation and vernacularization processes of human rights vocabulary into local rhetoric and back. Special attention will be paid to the evolving international indigenous rights regime and the impact of regional and global instruments on minority rights on domestic legal systems.