Alumni of the Month, January 2023

The January 2023 edition of the HCAS Alumni Gallery features Thomas Wallgren and Elina Hartikainen
Thomas Wallgren

I am a professor of philosophy at my home university, the University of Helsinki, where I also serve as the director of the von Wright and Wittgenstein Archives:

All through my career my research, and my social activism (which continues), has taken off from a concern about the "grandeur et misére" (Charles Taylor) of our times. How is that we can "put man on the moon" and yet we fail to feed the hungry and stop mass-extinction and war?

That question took me, in the 1980s, from studies at Helsinki with Georg Henrik von Wright, Jaakko Hintikka, Ilkka Niiniluoto and others to Frankfurt and to Jürgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel and Axel Honneth at the time of the modernists vs postmodernists debate. The said debate resulted in a dead-end and confusion on both sides. This experience brought me back from the question of the dialectics of enlightenment as posed in critical theory to analytical philosophy and Wittgenstein.

My fellowship at HCAS (1.8.2011 – 31.7.2013) gave me inspiration through new colleagues. A concrete consequence is my present partnership with HCAS alumni Leszek Koczanowicz in a project on Wittgenstein and Democratic Politics funded by the National Science Centre of Poland. But above all HCAS gave me an open mandate to follow my own path. I now seek ways to overcome the impasse in the debates about relativism, irony and deconstruction vs transcendentalism and foundationalism, that has shaped so much of the self-understanding of reason in our culture during the past decades. The hope that drives me is that a Pyrrhonian reading of Socrates and the later Wittgenstein will be helpful to this end.

Elina Hartikainen

Currently, I work as an Academy Research Fellow in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki. In August 2023, I will take up a position as Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Oslo. My research examines the co-constitution of religion and race as political categories in Brazil. My current research approaches this area of study through the analysis of the legal treatment of religious violence against African origin religions in Brazil. My earlier research, in turn, has examined how practitioners of these religions have engaged government initiatives to expand racial equality via ethnoracial policy.

I was a Core Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies from 2016 to 2019. In addition to providing me with time to focus on my research and writing, I especially appreciated the ways in which the fellowship offered a space to think in dialogue with others. One of the moments that I remember particularly fondly was a brownbag seminar that brought a group of fellows together to discuss their relationships to liberalism as their “best fiend.” For me, the conversation that ensued captured the spirit of the Collegium. In bringing a group of fellows whose research spanned a broad range of disciplinary frameworks and methodological approaches together to playfully think about how liberalism operated as an intellectually productive enemy in their research, it exemplified how the cross-disciplinary conversations that organized our everyday at the Collegium were not only consistently intellectually provocative and inspiring but also often very fun.