International symposium at Helsinki Collegium challenges "participation" as self-evidently good

The international symposium "Politics of participation: Anthropological reflections on power and interaction" takes place at Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies on October 18-19, 2018

In recent years, "participation" has been trumpeted as a remedy that levels hierarchies dividing the governing and the governed. "Participation" is a buzzword across areas as varied as budget-making, citizenship, and even surveillance. The widespread interest in participation across fields can be explained by its association with democracy.

However, participation is not a self-evident good. It promotes new forms of openness and involvement, but it also implies forms of social ordering and regulation. The symposium will delve into what counts as participation in specific contexts and how participation emerges through norms of practice, their institutionalization and discourses on them.  What forms of sociality are displaced or blocked by demands for participation? The presenters will draw attention to how efforts to expand participation with the goal of (re)organizing power relations often bring about new and also unintended power relations.

The event brings together linguists and anthropologists as well as varying subfields of anthropology such as linguistic and media anthropology

The symposium examines the concept of participation, as articulated in contemporary political, economic and organizational forms, from a language-oriented perspective. To this end, the symposium gathers scholars from across the social sciences whose work takes a language-focused perspective on 'participation' in democratic politics and governance, finance and commerce, education, and media and communications. The two days of the symposium include four panels punctuated by two key note lectures offered by Professor Asif Agha (University of Pennsylvania, Anthropology) and Celia Lury (University of Warwick, Center for Interdisciplinary Methodologies).

Keynote speaker Asif Agha: “Pecuniary media and participation frameworks from Cowries to Bitcoin”

Asif Agha's keynote interrogates the roles that forms of money play in social life. What variety of things do people do with varieties of money in societies around the world? How are activities involving money differentiated into registers of money-conduct in specific times and places? How do sociocentric regularities of money-conduct get linked to participation frameworks of social interaction, and to attendant logics of participation or exclusion?

The lecture shows that if we understand the role of discursive semiosis in the social life of money, we are able to ethnographically answer these questions. Doing so reveals that most of the participatory logics that define money-conduct are highly non-salient to those who engage in such conduct. Characterizing them enables us to study the relationship between facts of participation and beliefs about participation in large-scale social practices of many kinds, including ones whose salient self-descriptions formulate them as unrelated to money.

Keynote speaker Celia Lury: “People Like You: shifters as figures of speech”

With the dual aim of exploring how digital culture provides a new distribution environment for shifters and showing how shifters distribute speech in digital culture, in her keynote address Celia Lury considers slogans such as ‘Not in our name’, ‘Je suis Charlie’, ‘MeToo’ and ‘People Like You’. In all cases, the shifter is a pronoun – ‘our’, ‘je’, ‘me’ and ‘you’, and in all cases the analysis focuses on how conceptual personae emerge in cultures of participation, paying special attention to the kinds of speech such figures can occasion.

Symposium organizers

Elina I. Hartikainen, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies 

Andrew Graan, Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki

Irina Piippo, Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki

Timo Kaartinen, Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki

Johanna Sumiala, Media and Communication Studies, University of Helsinki

Symposium website

Link to event information in the University of Helsinki events calendar

Further information: Project Planner Kaisa Kaakinen,, 0294122493

Making Participatory Democracy in Brazilian Politics

Dr. Elina Hartikainen is one of the symposium organizers and a Core Fel­low at Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

Hartikainen completed her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. She is a socio-cultural and linguistic anthropologist who studies the intersection of religion, politics, and race in Brazil. Hartikainen has examined Afro-Brazilian religious activists’ engagements with Brazilian state projects of participatory democracy, multiculturalism, and violence prevention. In addition, she has written on the adjudication of religious intolerance in Brazil. Most recently, her research has appeared in American Ethnologist and Signs and Society.

Hartikainen will give a presentation with the title “Making Participatory Democracy: The discursive and interactional construction of Afro-Brazilian religious participation in Brazilian politics” on Thursday October 18th as part of the panel on institutions and the regimentation of participation starting at 2 pm. See full programme here.