Theoretical input into political debate

Professor of Urban Geography Mari Vaattovaara, the recipient of this year’s J.V. Snellman Award, aims to conduct socially relevant research.

Mari Vaattovaara

The J.V. Snellman Award will be presented in conjunction with the University’s anniversary celebration on 26 March for outstanding efforts to disseminate scholarly knowledge. This year’s award demonstrates that the dissemination of information need not be limited to non-fiction books or communication on research results.

“Social ideas and interaction are an integral part of my research team’s work. We aim to identify and explore current phenomena,” says Professor Mari Vaattovaara of the Department of Geosciences and Geography.

Networking during studies

In her research, Professor Vaattovaara has analysed the differentiation and competitiveness of cities, immigration, and land use and zoning. The results of her projects have provided new knowledge for regional, urban, suburban and neighbourhood planning. Of key importance are close relationships with such interest groups as public administration, the leadership of cities and provinces, and business.

“My colleagues in the United States and Europe look in wonder at the way in which Finnish scholars are invited to participate in public debate. We Finns have a long tradition of collaboration between the academic community, public decision makers and the private sector,” Vaattovaara points out.

Vaattovaara has also adopted a social approach to her teaching. Students receive empirical assignments based on ongoing research projects. The outcome of the group work may be an entirely new study.

“Students find it exciting to present the results of their coursework to leading city officials or council members. I find it important that students can build networks with the wider community as part of their studies,” Vaattovaara notes.

Applying theories to urban planning

Vaattovaara challenges the distinction between theoretical research and practice.

“I do not see a conflict between the classical academic tradition and the social applicability of research results: nothing is as useful as a good theory to explain a phenomenon,” Vaattovaara stresses.

Theories can be used to deconstruct and analyse a practical problem, which can provide new perspectives for political discussion as well.

“A good example is the concept of metropolisation, on which international research is extensive. The results and theories can also explain developments in the Helsinki region and challenge the interpretations presented in local discussion,” Vaattovaara says.

When challenging dominant ways of thinking, the relationship with interest groups may become tense.

“But we should not be afraid of such tensions; instead we should recognise and work on them by continuing the discussion. Good networks and trusting relationships also take us through conflicts,” Vaattovaara notes.

At the anniversary celebration the University will also present three awards for outstanding doctoral dissertations approved in 2012. The recipients are Enni Harjunmaa, Anu Mikkonen and Heta Tuominen-Soini.

Mari Vaattovaara in the TUHAT research database »»

Faculty of Science »»

Enni Harjunmaa: Tinkering with cusp patterning : Developmental Genetic Mechanisms in Mouse Molar Development »»

Anu Mikkonen: The potential of microbial ecological indicators to guide ecosophisticated management of hydrocarbon-contaminated soils »»

Heta Tuominen-Soini: Student motivation and well-being : Achievement goal orientation profiles, temporal stability, and academic and socio-emotional outcomes »»

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Text: Katja Bargum
Photo: Linda Tammisto
26.3.2013
Translation: Language services/Language centre, University of Helsinki
University of Helsinki, digital communications


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