Mercedes Barros visiting SKY doctoral program and HEPP4 Conference 

In December 2023, the University of Helsinki had a special guest from Argentina. Mercedes Barros, currently a researcher at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (National Council for Scientific and Technical Research).

Mercedes Barros spent two in Finland giving two open keynote lectures, advising PhD students and networking with old and new colleagues. In Helsinki, Mercedes Barros taught a master class, Dirty Words: populism, feminism, and hegemony, together with Emilia Palonen (University of Helsinki). The course was organised by the University of Helsinki Doctoral Program in Gender, Culture, and Society (SKY) in cooperation with HEPPsinki and the Now Time Us Space Project.

As a part of the master class, the first open lecture of Barros was given in the SKY Christina Research Seminar on 5th December. In her speech, Barros opened insights into populism theory in the context of Latin America especially in Argentina where Barros has carried her empirical research out on Peronism, rights, and feminist movement. Barros elaborated on the processes through which the feminist movement had gained popularity in Argentina in the 21’s century and claimed that populism as a logic, as studied in Laclaudian theory, is more than a practice of far-right and authoritarian regimes. The speech awoke colourful discussion on feminist movements in various contexts, from India and Turkey to Nordic countries.  

The master class continued with a two-day workshop in which doctoral researcher from the SKY program presented their current research on feminist political movements, practices of feminist resistance, anti-gender movements and hegemony. The topics of the presentations covered Hungarian gender politics, sex work discussion in Finland, public discourses of Finnish street gangs, imaginaries on immigrant labour in Finnish policy, generational variety of feminist activism in Kenya and the performance of Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in French Populism. In the discussion, attention was paid to content and methodological choices, research ethics and the researcher’s work and position as a part of an academic community. This made the workshop an opportunity for young researchers to receive advice to develop their work from their teachers and peers.  

After the master class, it was time to start the HEPP4 conference. On the first morning of the three-day conference in Helsinki, the audience had a chance to hear the second open lecture from Barros. The speech followed her current line of research on the specific ways in which the language of rights is articulated in political discourse, focusing especially on the period of Peronism. Barros elaborated on the development of liberal rights in Argentina and paid attention to the populist interventions and hegemonic contestations appearing in specific contexts. With examples from Argentinian gender and sexual law reforms, Barros talked about populist logic and democracy. She articulated that the core of populism lies in identity-building processes where the people are presented as the same as a whole and as a victims from which the other has been excluded. The keynote session ended up with a discussion between Barros and two discussants, Virpi Salojärvi (University of Vaasa and University of Helsinki) and Kleber Carrilho (University of Helsinki).   

The HEPP4 conference continued in a post-conference symposium day in Rovaniemi and a workshop in Pyhä organized in cooperation with the University of Lapland. This gave a chance for researchers at various stages of their career to carry on conversations with Barros in world cafe and fishbowl workshops without forgetting sauna and walks in the snowy Lapland.