Two European Research Council Advanced Grants to the University of Helsinki

Jan von Plato, a professor of philosophy, and Judith Pallot, a professor at Oxford University, have received European Research Council Advanced Grants.

The University of Helsinki received two European Research Council Advanced Grants.

Judith Pallot is bringing her research project to the University of Helsinki. She is a professor at the University of Oxford specialized in Russian studies.

“In the ERC project, my aim is to examine the specific features of the Russian system of punishment inherited from the Soviet period, which shapes how prisoners are managed in the correctional facilities of the Russian Federation at the present time and how this affects the experiences of the imprisonment of different ethnic minorities,” Pallot says.

Prisons are widely thought to be sites of Islamic radicalization.  However, little research has been done on the processes that shape and reshape the ethnic self-identification of individuals in the closed environment of a prison.

“My argument is that we need to first understand the general processes involved in prisoners’ identity construction before we take the next step to understanding political radicalization,” Pallot explains.

The research will use case studies to analyse the experiences of ethnic minority prisoners over time and through space. These provisionally will be Chechens, Tartars, Ukrainians, Estonians, migrant Tadjik workers and Roma, and the country case studies are the Russian Federation, Georgia and Romania.

A strong team of on-shore researchers

“As I know from my past research on the Russian prison system, undertaking the sort of research I plan is challenging, to say the least! I was once ejected from a correctional colony where I was doing interviews with prisoners and suffered a visa ban for a couple of years. This taught me the importance of having a strong team of on-shore researchers to help me with this project.”

Pallot’s team will consist of researchers in Russia with whom she has worked in the past and new post-doctoral scholars who will be based in the Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki.

Together, the team members will interview prisoners, ex-prisoners, their relatives and prison personnel, and they will search for all the archival, library, legal and social media sources that will be needed to answer the historical and legal questions raised in the research process.  The project will involve members of the team travelling to different regions of Russia and to Estonia, Georgia, Central Asia and Romania.

“I am especially excited that my project will be based at the Aleksanteri Institute, which is ideally suited for undertaking work on Russia and the other post-Soviet states. It is well placed geographically for joint workshops with Russian colleagues, and more importantly, it is in a dominant position in Europe in the field of Russian and East European studies,” Pallot says.

Philosophers hope to find a deeper understanding of Gödel’s central discoveries

Jan von Plato’s project belongs to logic and its development. Its aim is to study the shorthand notes the Princeton logician Kurt Gödel, who was of Viennese origin, left behind. These notes, which consist of thousands of pages, were written in an archaic German shorthand.

In his work, Gödel introduced concepts such as formal syntax and algorithmic computability, which were crucial in the invention of computers and the birth of the information society.

Von Plato hopes that the project will lead to a deeper understanding of Gödel's central discoveries such as the famous incompleteness theorem of formal systems of mathematics. 

“Gödel's works belong to logic, mathematics, philosophy and physics, but he published very little. Most of his notebooks seem to consist of unpublished results. Whatever surprises his notebooks contain will be revealed in the project,” von Plato explains.

Thanks to the funding, Jan von Plato will have a small research group with Annika Kanckos and Maria Hämeen-Anttila as well as international co-operation. 

Altogether four ERC projects are currently active in the field of philosophy at the University of Helsinki. Previous ERC Grants have been received by José Filipe Silva (Starting Grant 2014), Maria Lasonen-Aarnio (Starting Grant 2017) and Tuomas Tahko (Consolidator Grant 2017). 

“This is really unique: half of our researchers have an ERC project,” van Plato says.

In addition, ERC Starting Grants at the Faculty of Arts have been received by Samu Niskanen (2016), Josephine Hoegaerts (2017) and Marja Vierros (2017), and a Consolidator Grant has been received by Jörg Tiedemann (2017).

The University of Helsinki has been successful in its applications for grants from the European Research Council (ERC). It gained its 60th grant-winner last autumn. Over the past ten years, University of Helsinki projects have accumulated more than €100 million in ERC funding.

See also: University of Helsinki researchers funded by the European Research Council

An ERC grant requires a groundbreaking research idea

Established by the European Union, the European Research Council (ERC) promotes high-quality research by awarding long-term research grants to promising researchers, accomplished researchers with 7–12 years of research experience, and advanced researchers at their peak of their career.

Receiving an ERC grant is always significant for both the researcher and his or her home university. The funding allows researchers to concentrate on their research for an extended period. An ERC grant requires not only an impressive CV, but also a research idea that has the potential to transform the research field. This means that an ERC grant is often seen as recognition of the researcher’s status at the cutting edge of his or her field.

The ERC is part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation.

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