Anthropologists are not bound by national borders

Social and cultural anthropologists see the world a little differently than other people. At least that is the impression one gets when talking to an expert in the field. University of Helsinki Professor Sarah Green peppers her speech with terms such as place, borders, people and location.

“I’m particularly interested in the importance of location for people. Research can help analyse how people classify the world as well as their own and others’ location in it,” Green explains.  

She is interested in the political, social, economic, epistemological and historical ways that define and establish what is here and what is elsewhere.

“These different approaches are incredibly potent if they include hidden power structures, as is usually the case. I try to understand the effects of these factors and their interrelationships.”  

Green’s aim is to establish how factors such as language and religion affect the way people think about a certain place.

“We strive to piece together the story behind them. History plays a crucial role in our research.” 

“I may fall flat on my face, but I always try to create a new understanding or way of interpreting the world,” she says.

The changed relationship between place and border

Conceptually, Green is interested in “knots”, or understanding the complex relationships between what is here and what is elsewhere.

“The relationship between place and border has changed. We now have better tools to understand this change.”

Green hopes that her team’s research can slowly influence politicians’ thinking.

“We can’t predict what will happen, but we can provide politicians with tools, or more information to make better decisions.”

Emphasis on the role of the Mediterranean as a crossing point

In the next few years, Green and her research team will focus on a major project funded by the European Research Council entitled Crosslocations – Rethinking relative location in the Mediterranean. The project aims to establish how various changes influence what people in the Mediterranean think of specific places.

The project focuses on the Mediterranean countries because the Mediterranean has become a crossing point for people. The project explores, for example, political networks in the Mediterranean region as well as national, EU, maritime and military borders.

“This allows us to discover changes to border control and their effect on the current refugee situation and immigration,” Green notes.

The multidisciplinary research project is based on an ethnographic approach and involves not only researchers, but also a professional photographer who provides the project with photos from the Mediterranean countries and North Africa. 

Surprised by exams

Green has lived in Finland for four years and can already read Finnish-language texts. Having a Finnish partner has probably helped her pick up the language.

Green moved to Finland from Manchester, where she worked at the local university, which has a large anthropology department. However, the University of Helsinki has nothing to be ashamed of, despite the small size of its anthropology discipline.  

Green concludes, “The quality of students here is very high. But it took me a long time to understand that they actually see book examinations as the only method of completing studies in Finland.”     

Text: Pasi Komulainen