Visiting AGORA, notes by Maija Lanas

In fall 2016 AGORA Centre hosted a visiting researcher, Maija Lanas from the Oulu University. In her notes "from a visiting scholar" Maija writes wittingly and sharply about her anticipations, experiences and reflections from her visit.

Note 1: polo players and a ball

Ever since I was a doctoral student in the national doctoral school in Education, my peers from the south (especially from Helsinki) have seemed intimidating to me, not only because many questions that were relevant to a northern researcher seemed to change shape when brought into discussions with the south, but also because my peers from Helsinki were always so quick, so focused, and they never hesitated biting their teeth into each other’s work. More than once I listened to them talking in plain Finnish, not comprehending what they were talking about. Before my last seminar in the doctoral school I dreamt that my presentation overlapped with a polo game which took place in the same room, and in my dream I was trying to present while polo players circled around me curiously testing with their sticks if I was a ball.

So, as I prepared for the visit, I prepared for observing ruthless academic debates of a wolf pack mentality. Turns out, my preparations were in vain. I saw neither sharp teeth nor polo sticks.

Note 2: nakedness and national identity?

In the seminars I have had the pleasure of reading and discussing so many interesting high quality works during this autumn that I feel intellectually nourished. I look forward to reading what the researchers within Agora produce in the coming years. One piece that completely threw me off my treaded path was Touko Vaahtera’s emerging work which makes a case for nakedness as a part of national identity and nakedness as a part of ability to swim. Immensely fascinating work that forces us to rethink what we think we know.

Note 3: decentering human intentions

November 24th I gave a lecture about the implicit constraints on teachers’ work in Finland, arguing that Finnish teachers are not quite as free as they seem to be. I highlighted that the focus on discourse decenters individuals; that the lack of teacher freedom does not occur because of any individual school, teacher, principal or teacher educator, but because of how discourses operate, and because of the unintentional “side-effects”. This is a message I sometimes struggle to transmit. In the modernist, humanist understanding effects are in some way traceable to intentions of human agents, whereas the “post” approaches allow discussing the effects without tracing them back to human intentions. There is a need in education for a theoretical language that would not immediately take us to the question of ‘who’.

Note 4: blunt intelligence?

In the feminist methodologies seminar (28.–29.11.2016) Eva Bendix Petersen gave an interesting lecture in which she questioned some aspects of the posthumanist work. She drew an example from an article I had read, and the questions she asked were much like the questions I had asked with some posthumanist researchers in the past year.

The way I see it is that the article which was discussed, just like any article, does not stop when it is written, but it continues inviting responses, reactions, negotiations, and every reader/negotiator engages in their own terms. At times some authors might wish for some negotiations more than others, but they all emerge nevertheless. In the weeks after prof. Petersen’s lecture, as the discussion evolved in different contexts, and several interesting themes emerged:

  • What is political? How do we define political research? If the political implications cannot be directly drawn from research, is it non-political?
  • How do we critique research? Do new approaches require new forms of critique? Does all research need to be critiqued, or could it be enough that it is built on, by those to whom it makes sense? What if one’s way of building is through critique?
  • What are the differences between rules of social conduct and academic conduct? Can one’s work critiqued behind one’s back? Where are the backs and fronts in academic world?
  • Intelligence is often associated with sharp things and sharp adjectives. It is quick, edgy, brave at the face of conflicts, not shying away from confrontations. For a while I’ve been exploring with the thought of dull intelligence: what is left of an argument if its edges are sanded, and if there is no spear to point at anything. I’m still figuring it out.