New era taking shape in online discussions

Professor Jussi Pakkasvirta expressed his wish for any anniversary remembrances to be allocated to supporting research, teaching and studying in Latin American studies at the University of Helsinki.

Jussi Pakkasvirta, professor of area and cultural studies at the University of Helsinki, has worked at the University for more than 30 years in an expansive academic and administrative career. At the moment, he is serving as the director of the Department of Cultures at the Faculty of Arts, as well as one of the vice-deans of the Faculty and the president of CEISAL, the European Council for Social Research in Latin America.

“Fundraising is an important part of the operations of our modern University. It also increases awareness of our activities, evolving from a one-dimensional acquisition of resources to a productive interaction with society. What’s more, it was very easy to organise an anniversary fundraising campaign by using both the University's system and my personal channels in social media,” Pakkasvirta explains.

Suomi24 online community exposes national mindscapes

Pakkasvirta has built a diverse and international academic career for himself. He has studied and developed the multidisciplinary field of area and cultural studies in Finland, elsewhere in Europe, and in Latin America. Currently, Pakkasvirta is heading the Citizen Mindscapes research consortium funded by the Academy of Finland, focused on analysing social media datasets.

“We have at our disposal data collected for 15 years from the Suomi24 discussion forum, altogether 70 million messages. Suomi24 is Finland’s largest subject-oriented online forum. What interests me in the project is a broad question in social theory: Are we currently living in an era that will later be remembered as the start of a new age? There are historical moments when concepts change.”

As a scholar of nationalism and populism, Pakkasvirta is also interested in how social media provides a mobile platform for political behaviour: people can feel strongly about belonging to a certain group, having a say in the group for a period of time and then quitting it. The number of identities has increased, also within traditional political parties.

“Europe is at an extremely fascinating historical juncture where it is becoming quite difficult to establish political alliances. This is evident in Sweden and Germany, as well as the United Kingdom.”

Donations to increase regional and cultural understanding

The study of Latin America has taken Pakkasvirta all across the globe, occasionally also bringing the world closer to him.

“International networking in tiny Finland progresses quite quickly if you’re studying ‘exotic’ regions. That's why I have had both Che Guevara's son, from Havanna, and Fidel Castro’s daughter, who lives in Miami, visit my home. Last autumn, Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, and her entourage shared dinner with us, and some years ago I dined in Kluuvi with the former vice-president and defence minister of Colombia.”

Allocating his 60th anniversary remembrances to Pakkasvirta's alma mater felt like the right and natural thing to do.

“Research and teaching have comprised a central part of my life. I found it a great idea that instead of buying me flowers, books and bottles of cognac, my friends, colleagues and relatives have now made donations to the University that has given me so much. At the same time, I managed to get contributions from other interest groups that are close to me, which might not otherwise have directly taken part in remembering my anniversary.”

Together with his friends, Pakkasvirta hopes to promote the understanding of regions and cultures, as well as diverse global interaction. The internationalisation of junior scholars is a particular focus of the anniversary campaign.

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