Connecting to the North, the post-conference symposium at the University of Lapland

We trust this message finds you well. We are excited to share highlights from the recent post-conference symposium co-hosted by the University of Helsinki, featuring as the second part of the D.Rad HUB on ethnonationalism in Europe, and the University of Lapland, held on December 14, 2023.

Exploring Ethnonationalism, Populism, and Hegemonic Struggles 

The symposium centred around ethnonationalism in Europe and beyond, was a captivating exploration of the complex dynamics within the Global North and South. Distinguished speakers and scholars from both universities were pivotal in fostering insightful discussions on populism, hegemonic struggles, and the perspectives of ‘the North of the North,’ delving into the indigenous Sami and Northern Arctic viewpoints. 


Engaging Opening and Lectures 

The symposium commenced with eloquent opening words from Professor Laura Junka-Aikio (University of Lapland), Virpi Salojärvi (University of Vaasa), and Dayei Oh (University of Helsinki), setting the stage for an intellectually stimulating day. 

Laura's opening lecture on Northern populism laid a strong foundation for the subsequent discussions. Laura's presentation offers valuable perspectives on the connections between the Finnish state, society, and the Indigenous Sámi people, focusing particularly on the disputes concerning Sámi identity in Finland. Emilia Palonen's talk addresses the homogenising and confrontational binaries in meaning making (darkness/light) and hegemonic struggles, and discussing populist challenge to the power-holding Centre party in the North of Finland and reflecting on ethnonationalism in Europe. Her talk was insightfully commented by Mercedes Barros from CONICET Patagonia Norte, linking the South of the South with North of the North. 


Interactive World Café Workshops 

Post-lectures, participants engaged in parallel world café format workshops, addressing pivotal themes in populism studies. From Polarisation (chair: Pinar Uyan Semerci, Istanbul Bilgi; rapporteur: Mateusz Karolak, Wrocław) and Radicalism (chair: Jose Olivas Osuna, UNED & LSE; rapporteur: Sabine Volk, Passau) to Culture (chair: Christian Lamour, Luxembourg (LISER); rapporteur: Olena Siden, Ukraine/Helsinki), Emotion and Reason (chair: Susan De Groot Heupner, Deakin; rapporteur: Alexander Alekseev, Helsinki), Othering/marginalisation (chair: Didem Unal Abaday, Helsinki; rapporteur: Matti Pohjonen, Helsinki), Post/decolonialism (chair: Tiina Seppälä, Lapland; rapporteur: Cristiano Gianolla, Coimbra), and Theories of populism (chair: Juan Alberto Ruiz Casado, Venice; Rapporteur: Allan Dreyer Hansen, Roskilde). Held in three rounds of 30-minute small table discussions, participants had a chance to explore multiple workshop groups and engage in open and inclusive conversations to generate ideas, share knowledge and stimulate innovative thinking. These sessions were a testament to our academic community's collaborative and diverse nature.  


Roundtable Conversations Bridging North and South 

A fascinating roundtable conversation ensued, featuring scholars from both the North and South, including Mikkel Berg-Nordlie (Oslo Metropolitan, Norway), Leena Suopajärvi (University of Lapland), Nafisa Yeasmin (University of Lapland & Arctic Immigrants ry). We learned more about how the Sámi politics have been contributing to a wave of decolonialism in Norway and in the Sápmi. We also heard of the exclusions of the immigrants in Lapland, particularly in the labour market beyond specific jobs, and how land use questions have become a prevalent issue in northern politics. This was put in context with other indigenous people, in the South of the South, from Australia to Patagonia with Mercedes Barros (CONICET Patagonia Norte, Argentina), and Susan de Groot Heupner (Deakin, Australia).  


Debriefing, Summarising, and Closing Discussions 

The day we concluded with a debriefing and summarising session, providing an opportunity to distil the insights gained during the workshop-based roundtables. The closing discussion reflected on the day's proceedings, setting the stage for future collaborations and discussions. 

Due to the word limit of this newsletter, we present only a portion of the fruitful discussions raised during the debriefing and discussion with the rapporteurs of each workshop: 



Mateusz from Wroclaw discusses the theoretical definition of polarisation as an issue-based, geographic, affective, and perception-related (e.g., ‘perceived polarisation’ in comparison to actual degree of polarisation) phenomenon. He explores the relationship and differences between polarisation, socio-political conflicts, and antagonism. Mateusz also touches upon the importance of intersectionality and socio-economic conditions of polarisation in a post-materialist society. 



Sabine from Passau delves into the conceptualisation of the term 'radicalism' and its etymology. She explores how 'radical' or 'radicalism' is used in different disciplines (e.g., chemistry), drawing parallels with its usage in social sciences. Sabine discusses the characteristics of radicalism in relation to one's background and what feels 'radical' personally. Additionally, she addresses gendered aspects of radicalism and the differences in approaching radicalism of the majority versus minority. 



Olena, representing Helsinki/Mykolaiv, discusses how culture is constructed in populist discourse. She explores characteristics of populist appropriation of the concept 'culture' in cultural politics, language, control of history, and the imaginary of geography and borders. 



Matti from Helsinki discusses the proliferation of discourse around gender and sexualities between the Global North and South, liberal and illiberal politics, and the West and non-west. Key issues include the appropriation of feminist politics for populist radical right agendas, such as using feminism as a tool for anti-immigration. 


Emotion and Reason: 

Alexander from Helsinki distinguishes between emancipatory versus reactionary politics of emotion and reason. He rethinks and deconstructs the binary opposition between reason and emotion in political studies. Alexander discusses the discourse around the authenticity of emotions, citing examples of right-wing discourse questioning the authenticity of left-wing outrage as fake, always "looking for opportunities to be offended." 



Cristiano from Coimbra problematizes the conception of 'the third world' and challenges static borders between the North and South. He questions the idea of 'periphery' in international politics and geography, using Ukraine as an example of double peripherisation as the periphery of both Europe and Russia. Cristiano challenges the essentialism of indigenous diversity and colonial/master identities, providing a notable example of the double identity of the colonized and colonizer, such as the Finns who were colonized by Sweden and Russia but have an opposite relation to Samis. 


Theories of Populism: 

Allan from Roskilde discusses the relevance of populism as a category for the analysis of politics, particularly along the theme of the North and South. He explores populism as a category without applying negative connotations a priori and discusses the implications of the negative connotation attached to the term populism in the public sphere. 


Following the debriefing by all the rapporteurs, Dayei Oh from Helsinki provided a final summarising question for further discussions: the spectrum between the conception of populism as an empty form without a priori normativity on one hand and the nonetheless normative implications and discussions in left- and right-wing populism studies on the other. 


The City of Rovaniemi reception and final thanks 

The symposium closed with an unforgettable, warm reception by the City of Rovaniemi at Alaruokasen talo in Rovaniemi, creating a delightful atmosphere for further networking and camaraderie. Many thanks for this opportunity. 

We sincerely thank all participants for their active engagement, thoughtful discussions, and invaluable contributions that made this symposium a resounding success. Your commitment to advancing academic discourse is genuinely commendable.  

We also warmly thank Laura Junka-Aikio and the University of Lapland for collaboration and hosting of this event at the very busy Christmas season, which for our guests was quite a remarkable experience. 

All these insightful ideas introduced in the symposium have since been carried forward into subsequent Pyhä international workshops.

See Roundtable in the D.Rad hub on Ethnonationalism and Colonialism in Europe and Screening Je'Vida, first film in the Skolt Sámi language, with its director