Jaakko Kuorikoski (b. 1977), professor of social and moral philosophy, has an exceptionally large amount of citations for a philosopher. And for two reasons: he often co-authors articles, and he tries to keep his philosophy of science at a sufficiently practical level to make it useful to the disciplines in question.

Kuorikoski’s philosophy of science has a strict naturalistic perspective. He believes that the philosophy of science should be closely related to the empirical discipline under examination, and that naturalistic philosophy of science can yield better results than a conceptual analysis which follows the intuitions of the philosopher.

Kuorikoski’s most cited article, “Straddling between paradigms: A naturalistic philosophical case study on interpretive research in management accounting”, was published in 2008, but he began work on it years earlier when he was a research assistant at the Helsinki School of Economics. The article is a philosophical intervention into the self-understanding of business economics research, particularly when it comes to qualitative methods.

This article has been much cited in business economics, where his number of articles and citations significantly exceeds those concerning philosophy of science itself.

In his second most cited text, “Dissecting explanatory power” (2010), Kuorikoski moves in the realm of more general philosophy of science, examining the concept of explanatory power together with Professor Petri Ylikoski.

When, in academic conflicts, one model is asserted as the better explanation of a phenomenon than the opposing model, the point isn’t necessarily the validity or lack thereof of the respective models, but the fact that people tend to prefer theories which correspond to the way they are used to thinking.

Kuorikoski has developed a contrastive-counterfactual theory of explanation, which means that the explanation will only make sense when it is in relation to an alternative situation. Therefore it is meaningless to ask why Finland’s gross national product is a particular amount. A more meaningful question would be to ask why the Finnish gross national product is smaller than Sweden's.

Kuorikoski has also studied the imperialism of economics, i.e., how conventions in economics spread to sociology and other social sciences. For example, the models for religious belief or the family are based on an assumption that fundamentally rational actors protect their own interests, which results in social institutions that are the most effective methods for allocating resources.

Economic theories are often accused of “unrealistic assumptions”. Kuorikoski has taken this one step further, focusing on when such unrealistic assumptions become harmful, and, conversely, when they cause no harm. Problematic assumptions may be harmless if they do not influence the result, i.e., the same result could be reached by replacing the assumptions with other, equally unrealistic ones, and that the model itself is sound and genuinely universal.

Kuorikoski is not opposed to simple assumptions per se: science must have some jumping-off point from which to try to understand our complicated world.

Kuorikoski has also wondered why economics employs so few actor-based simulations. In principle, economics assumes that theories start from choices made by rational actors, but the models are not purely actor-based; rather, they are based on some given restriction, typically some form of balance.

Meanwhile, actor-based simulation models have become increasingly common in sociology during the past few years. Such models have been used to theoretically establish how a society can generate a norm that no individual supports, for example.

Kuorikoski has spent a great deal of time considering how the characteristics of constituent parts and their organisation can be used to explain the function of a whole, for example, how the study of neurons could be used to explain psychological phenomena.

In the philosophy of science, this type of mechanical language has been in fashion since the beginning of the current millennium, and over the past few years this mode of thinking has also spread to the social sciences. The intention now is to find “mid-level theories” between obscure social science theory and purely empirical approaches. For example, a field study of immigrants in Mellunmäki based on sociological field theory would be in dire need of a mid-level explanatory model.

Kuorikoski completed his doctoral dissertation in 2010 and has spent his entire academic career at the University of Helsinki, with the Centre of Excellence for Social Science Philosophy. In 2016, Kuorkoski will begin to lead the University of Helsinki’s contribution to the pan-European INSOSCI project, which studies the inclusion of neurosciences in the social sciences, particularly from the perspectives of drug and alcohol addiction and policy.

Jaakko Kuorikoski: researches, publications, actions

Anssi Peräkylä (b. 1957), professor of sociology, has used conversation analysis to examine many different kinds of interactions, particularly in psychotherapy. At the same time, he has further developed methods of conversation analysis. Peräkylä’s goal is to integrate exact, quantifiable elements from the natural sciences into conversation analysis. He also wants to use conversation analysis to study the central issues of psychotherapy.

In his doctoral dissertation, which he completed at the University of London in the early 1990s, Peräkylä analysed videotapes in which psychotherapists spoke with AIDS patients and their families. It was among the first attempts at AIDS counselling based on systemic family therapy, where the intention was to make the patient’s family and friends understand the situation and react positively while helping the patient.

Peräkylä particularly focused on the way the therapists would formulate their questions so as to make people speak openly around each other. The therapists would frame their questions with a hypothetical future scenario: “If at some point – and I’m not saying that this will happen – you will no longer be able to make decisions for yourself, who would you like to make the decisions for you?” They would also ask the questions from another person’s perspective: “What is your mother most worried about in your situation?” The mother would then add to her child’s answer.

Peräkylä’s dissertation served as the basis for his book AIDS Counselling: Institutional Interaction and Clinical Practice (1995), which has also been used as a textbook for systemic family therapy.

Peräkylä’s highly cited 1998 article observed the way doctors in Finnish health centres shared diagnoses with their patients. The doctors spoke in a democratic manner, as if including the patient in the diagnostic process: “I heard some rattling in your lungs and your blood count isn't good... Looks like you have pneumonia."

The doctor–patient relationship in Finland in the 1990s was more equal than in the UK in the 1970s, where doctors could prescribe medication without telling the patient what was wrong with them.

In the 2000s, Peräkylä studied psychotherapy interaction through Finnish sound and video recordings, examining such issues as how therapists interpret their patients’ explanations. If the therapist interprets sibling quarrels in childhood as competition, they can hypothesise that competition with a colleague could evoke similar feelings.

From 2007 onwards, Peräkylä and his team have been combining conversation analysis with facial expressions, for example, how a change in expression can herald a change in tone. Sometimes, the person listening can join the speaker's emotive state through facial expressions even before the change in content is expressed through speech.

Together with his team, Peräkylä has since expanded the research towards psychophysiological reactions, such as measuring the conductivity of the skin, respiration and heart rate of the conversation participants. Peräkylä’s mission is to bring quantifiable elements from the natural sciences into the sociological study of interaction.

Peräkylä’s most cited text is a chapter on methodology from a book in 1997, in which he proposes how the reliability and validity of research on conversation analysis can be controlled.

Peräkylä has worked in the universities of Tampere, London and Helsinki, and he has been based in Helsinki since 2003. He is now the vice director of the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence on Intersubjectivity in Interaction.

After extensively researching psychotherapy interaction, Peräkylä trained as a psychotherapist himself in the early 2000s in order to better understand his research topic. He feels that working in therapy also enriches his life. Peräkylä spends between four and five hours a week working as a psychotherapist.

Anssi Peräkylä: researches, publications and actions

In several studies, Ossi Rahkonen (b. 1952), professor of medical sociology, has found that social class has a powerful impact on health throughout an individual’s lifetime.

It is mainly a coincidence that Rahkonen has himself always been roughly the same age as his primary research subjects.

At the beginning of his career, in the 1980s, Rahkonen worked in the Nuorten terveystapa project, studying the health of young people, at the Department of Public Health. During the project, he found that young people who went on to general upper-secondary school tended to be slimmer, healthier and have healthier habits than those who entered vocational upper-secondary school. The young people who had the most illnesses and the poorest health were the ones who were not accepted for any secondary education - or who didn't even apply.

Rahkonen found this selection for education cruel in the sense that commonly the people with the poorest health would end up in professions which were the most physically taxing.

At the turn of the 1990s, Rahkonen began to study the health of adults, and found that the health discrepancies by social class remained and became heightened through the working career. After a physically tiring workday and a long commute, healthy exercise isn't the first thing on a person's mind, particularly if it isn't very common among their social circle.

In 1998, Rahkonen began to study older City of Helsinki employees together with Professor Eero Lahelma in the Helsinki Health Study (HHS) research project, which continues to this day. In the project, the researchers have found that even though there is much talk about the psychosocial burdens of work, the fact remains that the jobs which are most detrimental to health and that are most likely to lead to disability pensions are the ones that involve heavy physical labour.

The inequality continues in retirement: a stressed middle-class office worker can finally shake off the pressures of work and enjoy the free time to the full, while a working-class person is limited by damage from a lifetime of physical labour. Working-class people also tend to die younger.

The results of the Helsinki Health Study have been compared to those of similar studies conducted by the University of London and the University of Toyama in Japan. The results from Helsinki and London are largely similar.

The results from the University of Toyama, however, differed. In Japan, health and lifestyle differences are linked to social class in different ways. All classes smoke considerably, all consume roughly the same amount of alcohol, and generally all tend to live long lives.

Rahkonen's citation figures are high for a social scientist, largely because after studying social policy, he became involved in public health and specialised in the sociology of medicine.

The field began to produce international, English-language articles years before the other social sciences. Rahkonen’s 1994 doctoral dissertation was the first article-based dissertation published in social policy and raised eyebrows in the field, which was used to lengthy monographs.

Rahkonen’s research career is characterised by its multidisciplinary perspective. The Helsinki Health Study group has researchers ranging from sociologists to physicians and nutrition scientists.

Ossi Rahkonen: researches, publications and actions