You may find here the list of our Current HCAS Fellows O-Z and short descriptions of their research projects. On the page Current HCAS Fellows A-N you can find information about the rest of the fellows.
Current HCAS Fellows, O-Z
- Causal Explanation
- Agency and Free Will
- Philosophy of Mind
- Philosophy of Science
- Philosophy of Physics
- Philosophy of Biology
- Philosophy of Medicine
- Philosophy of Neuroscience
- Philosophy of Psychology
Agency and Free Will in a Physical World
The ideas of human agency and free will seem to be in conflict with our physicalistic intuitions: if everything happens in accordance with the fundamental laws of physics, and if those laws are out of the reach of our influence, then our decisions and actions are equally out of the reach of our influence. In this study this issue is addressed in the context of a precisely defined notion of causation; the main research question can be formulated thus: supposing that physicalism holds, and causation is understood as counterfactual difference-making, what sort of view on agency and free will should we be committed to? More specifically, this research aims to clarify the roles of determinism and indeterminism in physical explanation, to analyse the relationship of fundamental physical symmetries and free will, and to show how the intuitions concerning the incompatibility of free will and physical determinism arise from interpreting causation in terms that go against the idea of causation as difference-making. Further, this research aims to show that, contrary to what is often assumed, the physical and agential levels of description are de facto linked, with the former constraining the latter: physical (e.g. neural) evidence affects the assessment of agential states. The issue of free will and nonreductive physicalism is therefore not of a mere abstract philosophical interest; it has tangible consequences to our moral judgements and jurisprudence.
Dr Pernu completed his PhD on the topic of causal explanation in naturalistic philosophy of mind, jointly representing the department of biosciences (neuroscience and physiology) and the department of philosophy (theoretical philosophy), at the University of Helsinki in 2013. He has since held research fellowships at the molecular and integrative biosciences research programme, University of Helsinki, and department of philosophy, Kings College London. Dr Pernu has research expertise in philosophy of mind, and philosophy of the natural sciences, physics, biology, and medicine, in particular.
- Communication context
- Consumer society
- Foucauldian discourse analysis
Racism without others: Everyday mediations in Poland
In my postdoctoral project I cross-fertilise communication studies with disciplines such as sociology, history and social geography to understand racism in Poland where the racialised others are physically absent but continuously present in everyday communication. Decentring a recent racist turn in political and public discourses, I turn to the mundane communication avenues as sites where globally circulated racist discourses are articulated through the local socio-cultural and/or politico-historical repositories. In Foucauldian spirit, I examine how these discourses construct the racialised others as objects of knowledge and, in doing so, contribute to the augmentation of racist subjectivities in the Polish society. I theorise that in Poland racism is discursively instrumentalised to uphold the self-congratulatory national self-definition. The project pursues this proposition in three case studies. The first study probes how orientalist discourses prefigure representations of the racialised people and destinations that circulate in the blogosphere. The second study looks at how the discourse of threat, spuriously associated with multiculturalism, plays out in the national legacy media. The third study scrutinises how the discourse of un/worthiness of the racialised others intersects with the marginalisation of ethnic minorities in the built urban environment.
Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius is a media and communication researcher interested in the role of communication and its contexts in addressing, or not, ethical challenges that face an increasingly globalised world. To study this issue, she promiscuously branches out into various adjacent disciplines, such as sociology, social and cultural anthropology, social geography, and literary studies. She defended her doctoral dissertation, titled Ethical trade communication as moral education, at the University of Helsinki in 2018. Her articles have been published in academic journals such as 'Globalizations', 'International Journal of Cultural Studies', and 'Media and Communication'.
- 16th Century Bookbindings (schools, binders)
- Material cultural heritage
- European book and art history
- Idea history
- Institutional history
- Micro history
16th Century Bookbindings of the National Library of Finland
The research focuses on the collection of Foreign Literature of the sixteenth century in the National Library of Finland. I examine the collection to find out the origin of the bindings, the so-called schools, the binders, datings and the places where these books have been bound. Book research has mainly dealt with books as mediators of intellectual culture, less research has been done into their external appearance, such as form or decoration. The study of bookbinding has been treated as a narrow and separate support science for book history. As a result, information on bookbinding is rare or missing altogether in library databases. However, information about an old book is not complete without information about the bookbindery or bookbinder. Books in this collection are borderless and transnational in the very meaning of the terms; they are from many different countries and are likewise made in workshops in many places in Europe; they have travelled from collection to collection. Books have itineraries, and by understanding their whole journey it is possible to bring much new knowledge it is to enlarge the concept of provenance which treats the objects as objects, not underlining their subjectivity, or at least their central role in the interaction between people.
Dr Liia Rebane has studied library science, book and art history in the universities of Tallinn and Helsinki. Her research is connected to material cultural heritage focusing on the 16th century bookbinding. Her PhD thesis (2018, University of Helsinki) gives an overview of the movements and production of the 16th century Northern-European binders. The research shows how bindings that were allocated to locals had in fact been made in the bookbinderies of Belgium and Germany and by their masters. The research also studies the iconography of the bookbindings decoration. The editions of Cesare Ripas work Iconologia will be one of the key instruments for understanding and unravelling them. Liia Rebane has received many scholarships to research bookbindings in the archives, libraries and private collections of Estonia, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Finland. She has been many times to Wolfenbüttels HAB in Germany for research. Liia Rebane has also given lectures of the history of bindings at the Estonian Academy of Arts for many years. Workwise she has been mainly active in museum sphere, establishing the museum of technology at Tallinn University of Technology and belonging to the council of the University among other things. She has also been a long-standing member of the exhibition commission in Estonian Cultural ministry.
- International political economy
- Political economy of transatlantic relations
- European monetary integration
- Critical political economy & heterodox economics
Lost Decades: Germany, the United States and the Political Economy of Transatlantic Relations after Bretton Woods
Prevailing approaches to understanding globalisation and European integration suffer from a basic problem: they do not account for why these phenomena are associated with socio-economic stagnation in Europe (and the United States). This project seeks to redress this problem by drawing on post-Keynesian and regulation-theoretical traditions. In particular, the project addresses the problem of American and especially German leadership ('hegemony') after the 1971 collapse of Bretton Woods. It asks whether the path of stagnation was structurally inevitable, or if leading agents might have acted differently...and might act differently in the future.
Magnus Ryner is Professor of International Political Economy and former Head of the Department of European and International Studies at King's College London. He has written extensively on the problem of welfare capitalism in the era of global neoliberalism, including on the so-called 'Nordic Model', the German social market, and European integration. Related to this, he has made several critical theoretical interventions on th
e limitations of prevailing approaches to the study of European and world order and the social context that explain their dominance. He is currently interested in dialogues between international political economy and heterodox economics.
- Fertility behaviour
- Intergenerational transmission
- Early family environment (parent-child relationship, socioeconomic status, and psychosocial environment)
- Psychosocial determinants of physical and mental health
- Heterogeneity of depression
Psychosocial Factors Driving Fertility Decline in Finland and Other Nordic Countries
In my project, I focus on the role of fertility intentions in the recent fertility decline in the Nordic countries and explore them from psychological and demographic perspectives. In the last ten years, there has been a steep decline in the total fertility rates in the Nordic countries, with Finland exhibiting a particularly pronounced decline. The explanations for this decline are hotly debated but poorly understood. By using survey data from the Nordic countries, I investigate whether the actual fertility trends in the Nordic countries are anticipated by changes in fertility intentions. I also study how different psychosocial factors (such as values and attitudes; subjective well-being; early family environment; social networks) influence fertility intentions, and especially why people hesitate about having a first child. To understand why Finland exhibits the strongest fertility fall among the Nordic countries, I will compare psychosocial factors and fertility intentions in these countries.
I am a research psychologist working in the fields of health psychology, family psychology, public health, mental health, and fertility. My PhD in Psychology (Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, 2017) was devoted to the transmission of psychosocial factors such as parent-child relationship and socioeconomic position across generations and their relation to offspring health. As a postdoc, I investigated the role of psychosocial factors in pupils’ symptoms in Finnish schools with indoor air problems (2018-2019) and heterogeneity of depression (since 2020). Currently, I am interested in the role of psychosocial factors in fertility behaviour in Finland and Europe.
- Modern British social history
- Gender history
- History of emotions
- History of crime
Unruly Emotions: Changing Emotional Cultures of Married Life in Britain, 1945-2000
This project maps how the state, medical profession and media influenced the marriage advice given to couples in Britain between 1945 and 2000 and how the emotional rules differed according to time period, class, gender and local socio-economic conditions. The research examines the impact of these attempts to regulate how emotions should be felt, shown, or supressed; the justifications for these interventions; and the extent to which expert knowledge about emotions shaped this advice, thus influencing how psychiatric knowledge was disseminated in society. The research uses a mixture of archival and oral history methods to examine how the marriage advice given by various voluntary and state-run organisations and the problem pages of newspapers reflected and shaped the everyday emotional cultures of married life. Rather than just examining the most obvious emotions related to marriage, love and romance, the research also explores how different sources of marital advice instructed couples to express or repress more mundane emotions, such as boredom, sympathy and annoyance. Current research on the role of the state and civil society in regulating emotions primarily focuses on children. This project examines the ways in which such emotional training continued into adulthood and explores the wider implications of these intimate interventions for the relationship between the individual and society.
Louise Settle completed a PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 2013 and has since held two postdoctoral fellowships, at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (Edinburgh, 2013-2014) and the Institute for Advanced Social Research (Tampere, 2016-2018). She has also undertaken research on the history of child sexual abuse as part of a collaborative project between Cambridge, Edinburgh and Sheffield universities. Louise researches twentieth century British social history, with a particular focus on histories of crime, probation, prostitution, gender and emotions. Her publications include Sex For Sale In Scotland: Prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow, 1900-1939 (Edinburgh UP, 2016).
- Cognitive neuroscience
- Mind wandering
- Cognitive flexibility
When attention wanders: Neurocognitive basis of fluctuations in attention
No matter how hard individuals try to concentrate on a task, their internal state of attention fluctuates between task-related and task-unrelated focus. The dynamic nature of conscious experience is illustrated by mind wandering, in which attention switches from an external task to self-generated thoughts and feelings. Mind wandering involves a balance of costs and benefits: It can lead to errors on external tasks such as reading a book or driving a car, but it also associated with creativity and well-being. Although, mind wandering comprises approximately half of the waking state, theories of attention typically assume that attention is mainly driven by external stimuli. Different lines of research indicate that attentional fluctuations are ubiquitous in mental life, yet the mechanisms that cause attention to fluctuate are poorly understood. This project examines the neural and cognitive basis as well as the behavioral significance of attentional fluctuations.
Jaana Simola's research concerns performance and brain dynamics during different attention tasks.She is interested in cognitive flexibility and how attentional fluctuations can inform us about the episodes when attention decouples from external environment to self-generated states such as mind wandering. She also has a strong interest in fluctuations in spontaneous brain dynamics, pupil size and blinking. Her research also concerns active vision, i.e., how we sample our environment with eye movements and how we process emotional stimuli and task-irrelevant information. Jaana uses a wide range of methods including MEG, EEG, eye tracking and psychophysics.
- Medieval history
- Collective memory
- History of book
How to speak with Russians? A language of diplomatic gift-exchange between Livonians, Hanseatics and Muscovites during the late 15th and 16th centuries
The New Cold War at the beginning of the 21st century shows that it is difficult for European politicians to find a common language with leaders of contemporary Russia. Can we trust Russians? Do they Russians, keep their promises? How different they are from us? Do we follow different cultural codes and practices? Can we and Russians find a common language? These are the questions that may seem relevant to the contemporary Western diplomats and must have preoccupied the representatives of Livonian and Hanseatic institutions during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries when the Russians (Muscovy and other Russian principalities) emerged as main adversary, but at the meantime remained important trading partners. My project will attempt to reveal what role diplomatic gifts had in relationship between Livonians and Russians during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
Gustavs Strenga is a senior researcher at the National Library of Latvia, where he also previously curated several exhibitions. He has received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Latvia (2004), Master’s degree from the Central European University (2006) and defended his PhD Thesis in the Queen Mary University of London (2014). Gustavs Strenga has been a post-doc research fellow at the Tallinn University (2018-2020). The history of medieval Livonia, memory studies, gift giving as a historical phenomenon and book history are his main academic interests.
- Ethics of AI
- concept of trust
- risks and benefits of new technologies
- moral emotions, value conflicts, disagreements
- values education
- research integrity, ethics codes
- empathy and imagination
- Adam Smith's moral philosophy
Trust in artificial intelligence. A philosophical analysis
Trust is believed to be a foundational cornerstone for artificial intelligence (AI). In April 2019 the European Commission adopted the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI, stressing that human beings will only be able to confidently and fully reap the benefits of AI if they can trust the technology. Trustworthy AI is defined as ethical, lawful and robust AI. Although building trust in AI seems to be a shared aim, there is no overall agreement on what trust is, and what it depends on. But how we understand the nature of trust and the mental attitude, required by trust, will make a difference to what we say about the conditions under which trust is rational and what needs to be done in order to build it. Firstly, I will approach trust in various forms of AI: narrow AI artificial general intelligence (AGI) and superintelligence (SAI) from a philosophical perspective. Secondly, I will study the value-alignment problem and show that the current approaches to ethically aligned AI ignore the real disagreements we have about ethical values. Thirdly, I will define the questions that need to be answered by philosophers, in order to make it possible to incorporate ethics into AI.
Margit Sutrop is Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Tartu. She is also the founding Director of the interdisciplinary Centre for Ethics at the University of Tartu. She has studied and worked in the universities of Tartu, Oxford, Oslo and Konstanz. She got her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Konstanz in 1997 with the thesis "Fiction and Imagination. The Anthropological Function of Literature". Since 2004 she has worked as an ethics expert for the European Commission and European Research Council. She is a member of the Section Committee of Academia of Europaea, as well as a member of the international advisory boards of the University of Konstanz and the Ethics Centre of the University of Tübingen. From 2013-2019 she was the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Tartu. Her current research interests comprise ethics of AI, the concept of trust, moral emotions, value conflicts, disagreements, values education, ethics codes, research integrity, Adam Smith's moral philosophy. She is an author or editor of 15 books, guest editor of 3 special issues and an author of more than 100 articles. She has been the grant holder of more than 50 international and local research grants.
- History of philosophy
- Moral psychology
Descartes’ Ethical Perfectionism
My work at the Collegium will focus on the ethical thought of René Descartes (1596-1650). On my interpretation, Descartes’ ethics constitutes an interesting kind of ethical perfectionism. It offers an ideal for how to live in terms of a life of virtue, something which Descartes identifies as a life of showing a firm and constant resolution [in the will] to carry out to the letter all the things which one judges to be best, and to employ all the powers of ones mind in finding out what these are. This ideal, however, is grounded in a more basic account of the human good, according to which that good consists in the perfection of human nature. By living virtuously, according to Descartes, each person is guaranteed the highest degree of perfection that is possible for them.
After graduating with a PhD in philosophy from Uppsala University in 2006, I have held positions at the universities of Witwatersrand, Arizona (post doc), Stockholm, and Umeå. I am currently senior lecturer in philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, Linguistics, and Theory of Science at the University of Gothenburg. My main interests are ethics and the history of practical philosophy.
- Old Norse Language & Literature
- Old English Language & Literature
- Comparative & Historical Linguistics
- Germanic Philology
The Birth of Poetic Language. Syntax & Meter through the Ages and between Cultures in Medieval Scandinavia and England: a New Digital Humanities Research Tool
Dr Sverdlov studies the survival of a key corpus of Old Norse texts, skaldic poetry, flourishing in Medieval North ca.900-1400, from linguistic, social, and poetic points of view. Skaldic poetry is a unique oral tradition that revels in linguistic acrobatics; more surprisingly, it survives as quotes in prose texts: family and kings' sagas. Dr Sverdlov's research is in the contrast of speech registers and syntaxes between skaldic poetry and saga prose. The former is seen as so complex, only professional poets, skalds, had the skills to compose and understand it. If so, it should have become garbled after centuries of transmission by untrained native speakers inside simple saga prose; yet skaldic texts remain uncorrupted.
This means that Old Norse speech registers were transparent and that non-skalds could parse skaldic syntax. Dr Sverdlov aims to uncover the nature of these parsing skills, and then to apply the Old Norse results to Old & Middle English alliterative poetries, skaldic poetry's contemporaries that feature lines that uncannily resemble those of skaldic metre dróttkvætt in order to determine the comparative history of these literary traditions and further contribute to typological & historical syntax of languages of Baltic/North Sea region.
Dr Sverdlov studied theoretical and applied linguistics, as well as classical Germanic philology at Philological Faculty, Moscow State Lomonosov University, Russia. His PhD thesis (2003) addresses the issues of morphology and semantics of the so-called skaldic kennings, multi-stem compound nouns prolifically coined ad hoc for use in Old Norse skaldic poetry (9th – 15th century A.D.). His research broadens, on one hand, into studies of metre in Old Germanic poetic traditions (in Old English, Old Norse, Old Saxon etc.), and, on the other, into typological/comparative studies of morpho-syntax of multi-stem compound nouns flourishing in several languages of Germanic family and others, including Finnish. His research and teaching interests cover everything related to languages, literatures and history of Viking Age and reception thereof. A father of three, he speaks/reads/writes in 18 languages and has straddled two careers, that of academic researcher and of professional translator, for the best part of last 27 years. He lived in Russia, Israel, Iceland, France, Canada, and Finland.