How much trust is too much? The Vastaamo data breach and the relations between the state and the private sector from the perspective of political economy" Vastaamo was a private company offering mental health counselling and therapy to in Finland since 2008. Since 2011, Kela, social security institution, accordingly to Finnish law responsible for providing mental health care to citizens, outsourced the psychotherapy services to Vastaamo. On 21.10.2020 it was revealed that the data breach which occurred app. 1,5 year before allowed unknown perpetrators to steal personal data of more than 33.000 of patients. Some of the data was leaked via TOR network revealing the most sensitive information about the victims.
The Vastaamo scandal was broadly discussed in an international media, as it has occurred on a unprecedented scale globally, the criminal investigation that follows is the largest in the history of Finland. In the expert interviews conducted shortly after the news about the scandal hit the headlines top Finnish experts in the field of mental health described outsourcing of the psychotherapy from public healthcare sector to the private company as an inevitable solution in the face of objective scarcity of supply of mental health services available in Finland. These narratives resembled: “There Is No Alternative” slogan accompanying state retrenchment from its obligations in many countries where neoliberal reforms were implemented. Nonetheless, both internally and internationally, the Vastaamo case was mainly discussed in relation to the inadequate security standards and potentially negative consequences for the trust in mental health services.
The proposed paper offers different approach. From the perspective of political economy, it discusses the inherent contradiction between the market logic of for-profit company. the specificity of mental healthcare services and the high trust Nordic welfare state. The reforms leading to neoliberalization of certain public policies in Finland were usually discussed as necessary, if not indispensable solutions to increase competitiveness of the economy in the era of technological revolution. Tertiary education and science policy, financial sector or a growing domestication of startup culture in Finland were among the fields analyzed. Outsourcing of the mental health services to the private company was hardly discussed in the public or scientific discourse within this frame. The proposed paper attempts to fill this gap.
When elites portray themselves as ordinary, sociologists interpret those portrayals through theories like cultural/moral repertoires of openness and egalitarianism. Repertoires―typically connected to nations―are often used indiscriminately to explain general modesty, public appearance, and face-to-face (cross-class) interaction. With Erving Goffman’s theories, I recalibrate our understanding of elite ordinariness. For social encounters, I suggest we treat the downplaying of hierarchies as an interaction order phenomenon, existing, with Goffman, «sui generis»: reducible neither to structures nor to dispositions. Downplaying status differences in social encounters has clear but neglected affinities with interaction rituals. It is inherent in facework; mutual efforts to safeguard selves in interaction.
I show this by reviewing empirical studies that highlight the downplaying of hierarchies in social encounters. I then reinterpret these findings through Goffman’s theories. Keeping the interaction order analytically apart from other forms of egalitarianism/ordinariness holds undiscovered promise for the study of class and inequality, comparative analysis not the least.