In this series, we introduce the researchers of the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives.

Mervi Leppäkorpi works as a PhD student in EuroStorie’s subproject 3, Migration and the narratives of Europe as an "Area of freedom, security and justice". Her home university is the University of Eastern Finland. She has a background in sociology and anthropology, but also in various activist organizations.

Mervi began her studies at The Freie Universität Berlin. At the time, her plan was to do a minor in sociology in Berlin and return to Finland and study to become a teacher. However, she soon found herself quite intrigued by sociology, so eventually she ended up doing both her Bachelor’s and her Master’s degree in Berlin, with a major in sociology and a minor in anthropology and political science. She was especially interested in issues related to development as well as gender issues, Latin America and environmental movements. Mervi’s studies were largely focused on development sociology that examined not only the notion of development as such, but also development co-operation. 

For a long time Mervi believed that she would want to pursue a career in development co-operation, but when working on her Master’s thesis, she realized it was not quite what she had believed it to be. Instead, the reality of it was very different from the optimistic rhetoric about it.  Mervi’s thesis took her to Bolivia. In it, she studied a Bolivian village that had recently joined the Fair trade movement and the development of the terms of trade there.

After finishing her Master’s degree in Berlin, Mervi ended up moving back to Finland working for an organization called New Wind.  She was active in Siemenpuu Foundation former Latin America working group, focusing on local movements targeting social and environmental issues. Her political focus has been on issues related to migrants’ rights, something she has worked with through the Free Movement Network.

When Mervi returned to Finland she soon discovered that in public discussion, migrants in irregular situations were often seen as “illegal criminals”. Thus, she became more interested in the roots of this view and to what extent it was based on facts. By then, basically no research had been done on the topic in Finland. Before starting her PhD studies, Mervi discussed this topic in a non-fiction book called Asiaton oleskelu kielletty. In the book, she considered the overview of migrants in irregular situations in Finland – who they are and how they have ended up living in the irregular situation they were in. However, after finishing her book, she was left with more new questions rather than more new answers. She began to wonder whose needs are taken into account the most when legal services or clinics for migrants in irregular situations are formed.

After inspecting the topic in her book, Mervi decided to pursue the matter further in postgraduate studies. In 2014, she began as a PhD student at the University of Eastern Finland by doing fieldwork over the period of three years. Studying anthropology earlier had clarified to her, how she would want to do research – not only when it comes to methods, but also providing a fertile way how to treat the data.

In her dissertation, Mervi examines the relationship between organizations and those residing in Hamburg, Stockholm and Helsinki without a residence permit: how these people are met within organizations and what the mechanism of influence is. She also focuses on examining the roles of migrants in irregular situations themselves in political projects concerning them. Her research focuses on these encounters in Helsinki, Stockholm and Hamburg.

Mervi’s dissertation is already on the homestretch. She will complete her research as part of EuroStorie’s subproject 3, which she joined last November. The aim of her research is to undress the ostensible non-political nature of suppositions that are usually considered as self-evident. For example, whenever there is a discussion on security or vulnerability, it is never fully neutral – even if it seeks to disguise as such.

Updated by Nora Fabritius 27.5.2019.