Martti Vainio is the professor of phonetics and the head of department of the Department of Digital Humanities at the University of Helsinki.
The Evolution of Human Communication as a Co-Operative Tool
Natural language emerged through our ability to speak as a symbolic means for co-operation between individuals. It is based on truthfulness and transparency and it forms the foundation for modern human societies and culture. What speech is and how it relates to the construction of meaning, as well as our shared environment, is not well known. What we know is that speaking links abstract meanings with signifying physical action.
Speech science, thus potentially presents a possibility to link the study of individual and social behaviour with theories arising from natural science. The epistemic links revealed by our communicative behaviour form an epistemic chain from physics and biology to aesthetics and ethics. As such it provides a principled framework for studying how language is related to many societal problems we are currently facing.
In my talk I will present the main events in the natural history of language and discuss how they relate to our speaking as modern humans.
Ted Hsuan Yun Chen is a Postdoctoral Researcher jointly appointed in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki and the Department of Computer Science, Aalto University. His primary research agenda focuses on the social and political consequences of climate change, and efforts to stem these negative and often unequal outcomes. He also has a methodological focus in developing computational and network approaches for studying complexity in political phenomena.
Activism and Contestations over Climate Politics in Online Space
As social and political behaviour increasingly moves online, social science and humanities researchers are presented with new opportunities to understand the drivers and consequences of behaviour, whatever their topic of interest. At the same time, online platforms present a new set of challenges for research, both in terms of how we conceptualize online behaviour (either in relation to offline behaviour or by itself) and the methodological choices that we must make given the rich but messy data.
Drawing on three studies that look at contestations over climate politics in Twitter space – one of which was recently published in Global Environmental Change, and the others in progress – I demonstrate these opportunities and challenges.
How the research culture of social sciences and humanities should be reformed?
To ensure interdisciplinarity in research, we need concrete incentives that reward interdisciplinary work, especially in terms of hiring and promotion practices. As is, early career researchers are dissuaded from pursuing cross-disciplinary collaboration because on the most critical matters they are still evaluated within disciplinary bounds.
Matti Pohjonen works as a University Researcher at the Helsinki Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities, at the University of Helsinki. He works at the intersection of digital anthropology, philosophy, and data science.
Seeing things, the other way around? Researching global conspiracies during the COVID-19 infodemic
Global concerns around the COVID-19 “infodemic” have resulted in remarkable progress in especially research methods that use large-scale data to map the spread of mis/disinformation, hate speech and conspiracy theories online. This presentation discusses research recently published in Social Media + Society that explored how popular conspiracy theories – the 5G conspiracy and the Bill Gates conspiracy – intersected with long-term discourses and political projects in two important sub-Saharan Africa countries: Nigeria and South Africa. Our research suggests that such popular data-driven research approaches, in fact, may have limited explanatory potential once we move to “the rest of the world.” The presentation thus raises theoretical and methodological questions relevant to understanding the COVID-19 “infodemic.” Can research produced primarily in one part of the world sufficiently explain what happens in another part of the world? If not, can we talk about theory in the first place without first trying to situate it somewhere – geographically, culturally, and historically?
How should the research culture of social sciences and humanities be reformed?Anthropologist David Graeber once remarked that anthropologists have historically played the nagging role of gadflies. This is because, he noted, every time “some ambitious European and American theorist appears to make some grandiose generalizations about how human beings go about organizing political, economic, or family life, it’s always the anthropologist who shows up to point out that there are people in Samoa or Tierra del Fuego or Burundi who do things exactly the other way around.” Decolonial philosophy rebels against the idea that knowledge derived from regional examples in usually the US or Europe can be applied to other parts of the world without at least some critical negotiation involved. While in no way advocating anthropology as the preferred method for social sciences and humanities, I would like to nonetheless suggest that social sciences and humanities research culture could also benefit from the philosophical/decolonial debates dealing with this relationship between theory, methods and research in a global context.
Kirsi Pyhältö is professor of higher education at the Center for University Teaching and Learning, and director of Humanities and Social Sciences Doctoral School, at University of Helsinki. She is also an extraordinary professor at the University of Stellenbosch, South-Africa.
The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on University of Helsinki’s PhD candidates’ study progress and study wellbeing
Research and researchers have played a key role in defeating the crises posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. They also provide a core resource for societal recovery after the pandemic and building the means to face such threats in the future. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had its impact on research and researchers, and hence potentially on the future of academia. A few position papers and reflections on the impact of COVID-19 on researchers have been published, but empirical research on the topic is still scarce. Based on the very limited empirical evidence it seems that the futures of particularly early career researchers might be at stake due to the pandemic. This presentation explores the influences of the COVID-19 pandemic on UH’s PhD candidates’ progress and wellbeing. Such understanding is key in providing well-fitted support for the PhD candidates to cope with and overcome challenges set by the pandemic.