home / congresses / SIEF2021/ Celebrating 100 Years
sief2021 logo

SIEF2021 15th Congress

Helsinki, Finland
21-24 June 2021

Breaking the rules? Power, participation, transgression

Towards New Forms of Engagement – Celebrating 100 Years of Finnish Ethnology

Roundtable discussion on ethnology's societal engagements, acknowledging the 100th anniversary of ethnology in Finland. Sponsored by the University of Eastern Finland.

Ethnology has come a long way from its early days when the key assignment constituted of assembling comparative cultural data from among the illiterates and semi-illiterates within and selectively beyond the ethnologists' own national borders. In addition to their interest in the material aspects of the retreating peasant culture, individual collectors were searching for tokens of national antiquity as resources for a folk-based collective identity ("ethnos" as "demos") in the modern nation-state.

Today's ethnology is to an increasing extent collaborative and interconnected to a variety of identity environments. In accordance with the "engaged turn" of ethnography, research is geared towards social responsibility and engagements in civil activities both transnationally and within communities. Scholarly activity is characterized by ethical and even political activism, especially regarding humanitarian and environmental concerns, sustainable development, and minority rights, including those of the non-human kinds.

But how does this historical development acknowledge the gentrification of the "folk" into middle-class, reflexively modern consumers whose identities, both online and offline, are designed and narrativized by, for example, media companies and the clothing industry? On the other hand, how collaborative and engagement-oriented are ethnologists when the vox populi rings the sound of populism? Or is ethnological (including folkloristic) research intrinsically populistic, also when conducted by the academic elite?

And what about scientific objectivism? Will scholarly activity and political activity intermingle in ways in which scholarship becomes a handmaiden to explicit or tacit social and political agendas, even when adhering to the scholarly principles of accuracy and evidentiality? Or, on the contrary, does this development mean that ethnology will once and for all be liberated from the ideological and political agendas to which it was tied in its earlier history, when serving nation-state politics, including its coloniality? What about patriotism then? In Finland, the Universities Act states that the mission of the universities is, among other things, to educate/raise students "to serve their country (fatherland) and humanity at large".

These were some of the questions that were addressed at an online roundtable event entitled "Towards New Forms of Engagement - Celebrating 100 Years of Finnish Ethnology". The event was sponsored by the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) and was part of the 15th Congress of SIEF, organized at the University of Helsinki on June 19-24, 2021. The roundtable discussion on ethnology's societal engagements, the social situatedness of ethnological knowledge, and activism in research also celebrateed the centenary of Finnish (Finno-Ugric) ethnology, established as an independent subject field at the University of Helsinki on July 1, 1921.

  • Professor Pertti Anttonen (University of Eastern Finland): Introduction.
  • Professor Emerita Anna-Maria Åström (Åbo Akademi University): Swedish-language Ethnology in Finland as a Form of Activism.
  • Dr.Senior Research Fellow Inkeri Koskinen (University of Tampere): Can Activist Research Be Objective?
  • Professor Tuulikki Kurki (University of Eastern Finland): Cultural Change: Publishing Research-Based Knowledge in Unconventional Forums.
  • Professor Konrad Kuhn (University of Innsbruck): “Societal Responsibility“ and the Search for a Firm Ground in the History of European Ethnology.
  • Professor Valdimar Hafstein (University of Iceland), excerpt from the film "An Ethnologist Tries on a Pair of Jeans”.
  • General discussion with the speakers, together with Professor Nevena Škrbić Alempijević (University of Zagreb) and Professor Bernhard Tschofen (University of Zurich).
  • Concluding remarks by Professor Coppelie Cocq (University of Helsinki), presenting a toast to 100 Years of Ethnology. Bring your own drink!