The fields of research in contemporary societies at the University of Helsinki include Global Development Studies, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Social and Public Policy, Social Data Science, Social Psychology and Sociology.
Research fo­cus

The advanced thematic studies in the research-based Master's programme in Contemporary Societies (COS) highlight the strengths of research at the University of Helsinki and its methodological expertise:

  • Data and Society
  • Ethnic Relations and Migration
  • Mind and Society
  • Socio-Cultural Shifts
  • Sources of Inequalities

As a student, you can include courses from all themes in your studies. The international teaching staff are research leaders in their fields.

Fields of research in contemporary societies

The fields of research in contemporary societies at the University of Helsinki include Global Development Studies, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Social and Public Policy, Social Data Science, Social Psychology and Sociology.

The discipline of development studies examines development, poverty and inequality as well as social, political, environmental and cultural changes and continuities in the Global South from a multidisciplinary perspective. At the University of Helsinki, research in development studies concentrates on global political economics, globalisation and development, institutions and development policy, environmental management, natural resources policy, urban issues, justice and cultural diversity, religion and development, and alternative forms of development in the Global South.

Development studies have expanded at the University of Helsinki from being strictly centred on developing countries to include diverse South-North relations in our globalising world.

Social and Cultural Anthropology involves the study of human relations and differences, with a particular focus on comparison: understanding peoples around the world by understanding how they are similar to, or different from, others. Every aspect of human life, thought and activity is studied by anthropologists, ranging from the most obscure and small scale to the most newsworthy and topical: if it involves people and their interactions with each other and the world, anthropologists study it.

Anthropology is particularly known for the meticulous, slow and in-depth research methodology it developed: ethnographic research. This involves long-term periods of participant observation and rigorous attention to detail. Ethnographic methodologies generate quite different kinds of social and cultural data and knowledge than more quantitative research methods.

Currently, anthropologists at Helsinki are studying a variety of topics in the following regions: Indonesia, Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, Greece, Madagascar, Cuba, the UK, Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, the USA, Chile, Cameroon, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Finland, India, China, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.

Social policy is an applied social science that explores the structure and functioning of welfare states from the perspective of social risks, such as unemployment, illness, disability, the birth of children or old age. Social policy delves into issues of welfare distribution and social inequality. Research in social policy focuses, among other things, on poverty, sustainable welfare, unemployment and obstacles to employment, health inequalities, and ageing.

Social Data Science supports evidence-based decision making for the government, organizations and private companies. Applications range from pensions and health care to finance and social media. Statistical analysis is used to explore various topics, such as questions of inequality between and within genders, regions or generations. Dynamic probabilistic modelling is a primary tool in analyses involving forecasting and risk management. Machine learning methods can be used quantitative data, but also on textual, audio and visual materials. We examine various data sources: surveys, interviews, register data, open governmental and business data, big data and digital trace data. However, the essential focus in Social Data Science is to ground the data analysis in social science through its theories and concepts.

Social psychology investigates human relations, inter- and intra-group relations, and the impact individuals have on their environment and vice versa. The discipline of social psychology at the University of Helsinki carries out research that has a strong international profile.

The research concentrates on relations between ethnic minorities and the majority population as well as multicultural societies,  the shared everyday theories of groups and the processes leading to the formation of such theories, the psychological issues associated with entrepreneurship, social relations and interaction, occupational wellbeing and justice, and the social-psychological reasons for health inequalities as well as health interventions.

Sociology is a fundamental social science discipline that studies social structures and their changes as well as social activities, values and attitudes. The focus points range from globalisation and entire societies to intimate social relationships. The topics considered in sociology depend on the societies studied: current research topics include migration, urban life, the use of media and technologies, financial inequality and the emergence of financial crises. Other important topics include social movements and participation; inequality in health care and other sectors; dependencies; childhood and adolescence; institutions, organisations and communities such as families, cities and the welfare state; as well as social interaction, speech patterns and social networks.

Research-based education

Teaching at the University of Helsinki is based on research and provided by researchers well-versed in their discipline, teaching the topics of their research.

In addition to relevant research-based knowledge, university education utilises diverse teaching and assessment methods promoting students’ learning, the development of scholarly thinking and the establishment of expertise.

From the beginning of their studies, students are part of the academic community. They get to familiarise themselves with the latest research. In many fields, students have the opportunity to complete their thesis in collaboration with research groups.

More about the programme