#5 Power and Politics of Engagement 2
Parallel sessions on Friday 25.11. at 15.00-16.15
Location: Room 10, Metsätalo

Janne Lehtonen (University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences) – Corona Crisis as Tools for Politics and (de)Politicizations: Covid Discussions and Polarization in Finnish Parliament 

My doctoral research examines crisis of democracy and democracy facing crises. Starting point of my research interest lies in academic and public discussions concerning crisis of democracy: particularly polarization is depicted as contemporary threat to democratic societies. I study critically, in which ways globally circulating concepts displaying era of divisions could (not) be adapted to Finnish context. I follow pragmatist understanding of democracy and politics in my work: democracy is continuously (re)constructed in multilevel political practices, and crises are points of realization that something is wrong. Thus, crises work as tools or driving force for political processes.

I argue that to understand what is happening to democracy, it is fruitful to examine political practices during times of crises. Corona pandemic has been unexpected and dramatic period which has demanded several changes in how citizens and politicians act. My empirical case study examines what kind of implications covid has had in Finnish politics: whether pandemic has advanced polarization or been rather politically unifying. I study conversations in Finnish parliament regarding face masks and covid passes as novel political topics during the corona pandemic. I hypothesize that in severely polarized society emerging political topics would tend to become quickly politicized and polarized following already existing divides.

I propose that polarization consists of political, moral, epistemic, and affective dimensions. Methodologically I rely on political discourse analysis and follow understanding that political discourses are practical reasoning: making claims for action to reach certain goals, while representations of circumstances and values are premises of these claims. I suggest that taking closer look into practical reasoning can be valuable tool to examine domains of polarization taking place in different premises of argumentation and thus to generate rich qualitative understanding of polarization.

Georg Boldt (University of Helsinki) – Democratising the church? How politization and approaches to secularism shape contentious debates in a Finnish religious community

One of the biggest member-based organisations in Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, regulates the life of its members from the cradle to the grave. Situated in the borderland between the civil and the public sphere, decisions regarding the Church’s teachings and principles are made in democratic order by elected representatives at the General Synod.

Based on ethnographic participant observation during two week-long meetings of the synod, this study focuses on contentious debates at the synod. Far from a morally bonded community, this paper depicts a divided institution that quarrels over issues such as same-sex marriage, equal opportunities, non-discrimination, and female ordnance. Although the synod remains outside the politico-ideological divisions of parliamentary politics, contradictory collective representations split the Synod into two antagonistic groups.

The study reveals that the politicization of issues at the synod splits the bishops, clergy and laymen into two opposed groups. These groups, one liberal, the other social-conservative consistently engage about 60% of the synod representatives, the remaining representatives being moving voters. Although the liberals often gather more than half of the vote, the type of questions that become politicized require a supermajority. Hence, the social-conservatives control enough of the vote to successfully oppose any issue. An analysis of the styles of interaction  employed by these groups during debates on contentious issues reveals how they approach questions of differentiation and internal secularisation. Two distinct group styles guide interaction of the representatives at the Synod. These competing styles of relating the church to society at large are descriptive of a deep division within an institution held together by political necessity rather than religious conviction.

Roman Kyrychenko (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv) – Dynamics of aggressive discourse on Ukraine and the West in the Russian pro-government media in 2000-2022

My paper "Dynamics of aggressive discourse on Ukraine and the West in the Russian pro-government media in 2000-2022" aims to build a system that allows us to analyse huge amounts of media content (more than 1 million news pieces) without reading it. This article presents the way for the automated content analysis of media through sentence embeddings (in other words, I build latent representations of the main statements in the texts). I use that to detect changes in aggressive Russian discourse against Ukraine and the West.

In order to do that, I created a new approach to building time-aware sentence embeddings using the logic of the word2vec word embeddings model (I use co-occurrences of statements in one text as the sign of the similarity of meaning). The model is based on SentenceBert transformer neural network architecture. My modification of this model is able to encode text statements to 768-dimensional numeric vectors (latent representation), estimate the similarity of different statements, and the propriety of the statement for a specific time point. I use latent representation also to make cluster analysis to detect the main narratives in Russian-state media. In general, it allows us to speed up the content analysis of news and conduct such a significant comparative study.

The main conclusions are that in the dynamics of aggressive discourse towards the West and Ukraine, the key year is 2014 - the year of the beginning of the aggression against Ukraine. But at the same time, Russian propaganda positions it as a struggle for influence with the West, and this perfectly demonstrates the synchronicity of anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian propaganda.