The Faculty’s young researchers take on new challenges – Exploring the role of high-tech and entrepreneurship in the global conflict over Jerusalem

The Faculty of Social Sciences conducts advanced social scientific research that explores phenomena and problems in our changing world from global, European, national and local perspectives. Antti Tarvainen received a salaried doctoral candidate position in the Doctoral Programme in Political, Societal and Regional Change. He started as a doctoral trainee in the discipline of Development studies in January.

I joined the academia in a strange moment. While there is a growing need for research that challenges the current unsustainable models for creating value and imagining our futures, the space for making such a critical research is globally shrinking. Most worryingly, such a space is disappearing also under the well-meaning banners of “impact” and “co-creation”.

However, under my University of Helsinki skies everything has been perfect. Being lucky enough to receive the four year funding for my research, and the best possible supervisors, I have had the luxury to really focus on reading, thinking and engaging with other scholars during these first months of my PhD project.

The research I’m now starting takes place between two urban areas, Jerusalem and Silicon Valley. I approach these places as the key symbolic centres of the current processes of “globalization”.

For me, Silicon Valley is something of a postmodern Paris, the site from which all that is fashionable, desirable and innovative is imagined to be emerging from. Jerusalem - in turn - has been produced as the symbol of the “clash of civilisations”. In a general level, my research seeks to understand how the things we regard as “progressive” and “hopeful”, such as technologies and entrepreneurial cultures expanding from Silicon Valley may, take part in the production of ongoing conflicts – in my case the conflict over the city of Jerusalem. 

For my part, I like to think that I am carving out a bit more space for a research that is slightly weird, radical and anything but instantly applicable. This is not to say that I hope to make useless research - far from it. If the PhD project is successful, we can perhaps better understand how ethno-national conflicts are being challenged and remade through the processes of globalization. Such an understanding may eventually help us to imagine social systems that are better than the ones we seem to be stuck with. Such a possibility of transformation, however, is always unlikely, remarkably slow and anything but linear.It is these characteristics of social change, that should make us humble instead of grandiose, that I hope won't be forgotten as the thirst for "impact" grows.

Ps. this Autumn I will be doing research both in Silicon Valley and in Jerusalem – if you are around, let me know!