Seminar Series

The weekly HEPP seminar discusses the work of HEPPsters and guests.

On 26th of February HEPP met with Antti Gronow, Tuomas Ylä-Anttila and Arttu Malkamäki for midday lunch before the HEPP seminar.   

In the seminar Antti Gronow presented his team’s COMPON research project. COMPON (Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks) being a long running research project started in the US in 2007 with the goal to gather information about climate change organisation’s policy actors in multiple different countries. While the original project managed to gather the multinational data, the comparative research was not managed to be researched until it was picked by Antti Gronow and Tuomas Ylä-Anttila. This data has now been used in various studies related to interorganisational coordination, collaboration and advocacy.  

Further discussion between participants involved in-depth discussion about various elements of quantitative research such as topic modelling and sentiment analysis.


On 12th of February Emilia Palonen & Kleber Carrilho shared with the HEPP Seminar about the progress with ongoing multimodal analysis project on EP2024 elections and associated pilot studies about the Finnish presidential elections. This research focuses on audiovisual analysis of online video content.  

Pilot of the Finnish presidential elections held two rounds of studies. The first round of study was an experimental study conducted with researchers using a custom operating system to run made up profiles on Instagram and TikTok with varied backgrounds. The second study was an interpretive study utilising volunteer students that would log and record daily their social media activity.  

Second pilot is being done on Portuguese elections ahead of EP2024 elections managed by Kleber.  


On 5th of February, the HEPP seminar started at 2pm by celebrating Finnish national day Runeberg’s day (commemorating the Finnish national poet) by having some coffee and seasonal Runeberg’s pastries. This short event was followed by the one presentation we had on that day by Emilia Palonen and Alexander Alekseev discussing their draft of a book chapter on qualitative approaches to populism. In this seminar the presenters discussed the role of qualitative research and its discursive approaches to populism. They highlighted the role of discourse in populism studies focusing on two most prominent approaches to populism examplified by the works of Ernesto Laclau and Ruth Wodak.   


On 29th of January we resumed our HEPP seminar after the holidays and our first presenter, Olena Siden, shared her work on exploring metaphors about the Ukrainian War in French context. Her presentation focused on recurring metaphors on topics including ones such as ‘Independence of France’, ‘War as a catastrophe’ and ‘War in Europe’. Discussion brought up interesting points about the nature of metaphors in the context of linguistics and political science.   

On 29th of January our second presentation of the session and the year in the HEPP seminar, we had Alexander Alekseev presenting his work on the concept of freedom in the discourse of Polish Law and Justice party. This presentation discussed the success of Law and Justice as a populist radical right party, focusing on the analysis of topics and discursive strategies in the context of 2019 European elections. Subsequent discussion was about different dimensions of the concept of freedom in populist discourse.  


This week, the HEPP seminar opens with Katinka Linnamäki’s talk on “Gender in the hegemonic articulations of the Hungarian Fidesz-KDNP government” where she aims to bring three published papers into a coherent story. Departing from the illiberal political shift in Hungary under Viktor Orbán and underlying populist logic, Katinka studies gender ideology in populist and issue-based discourses with a post-foundational approach. According to her analysis of visual materials, Orbán as a populist leader perfoms a hegemonic masculinity while positioning himself as one among “the people”. In addition, gender order is often portrayed in several spaces such as sports and households by populists when describing “the people”, and familialism is prevalent in social politics of the Hungarian government (often associated with nationalism) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Katinka’s analysis sparked a discussion on masculinity portrayed by politicians through sports and some suggestions on how the overall argument can be presented with a coherent narrative and situated in a global populism context. 

In the second half of our session, Zea Szebeni and Ilana Kartikainen shared their ongoing work “Banana populism”: Appeeling to the people, exploring visual cultural markers as populists’ tools for mobilization.”.  They started collecting quirky populist visual contents during the pandemic to bridge the gap in researching such visual materials and gradually developed the analysis based on Laclau and Moffitt’s theoretical works. Introducing the term “banana populism” as an analytical lens to how everyday private life is incorporated in the public and political sphere, their paper focuses on the role of these visual cues in anchoring populist identity – resonating with “the people” and setting them apart from “the elite” — and underscores their ubiquity in various movements as a global phenomenon. 


On 20th November, HEPP welcomed Giorgos Venizelos during his visit to Helsinki and reserved our seminar session for the talk and discussion on his latest book “Populism in Power: Discourse and Performativity in SYRIZA and Donald Trump”. It is a comprehensive intellectual outcome of Giorgos’ doctoral research, aiming to explore what it means for populism once becomes in power in terms of institutional and policy (in)compatibility. Based on impressive ethnographical data from multiple channels (mass media, online platforms, direct interviews, and fieldwork), the analysis underscores how populist movements continue their discourse and performativity, framing themselves as the underdog despite being in government. More specifically, populists reinvent themselves into master frames combined with new frames from political conjunctures. The following discussion touched upon challenges in their paradoxical framing attempts and different outcomes depending on local contexts, specific populist frames on democracy and election-related arguments, and different approaches to populism from the style or core signifiers of populist discourses. 


On 13th November, Feeza Vasudeva started HEPP seminar with her talk on “Revisiting the populist moments in postcolonial India”, enriching our horizon with observations beyond the global north. Her empirical study focuses on political articulations by two prominent figures Narendra Modi and Indira Gandhi, particularly their constructions of “the people” with both populist and nationalist characteristics. While Gandhi gained remarkable electoral success with a coalition of the poor, religious and ethnic minorities, her populist discourse proved unstable without any clear antagonistic entities to continually reinforce the coalition. Modi started out criticizing the Congress and the Muslim minority that he believes to be favoured by it, and eventually boiled down narratives on Hindu nationalism. Feeza’s analysis underscores significant theoretical implications for the contingency of populist politics and suggests historical conditions as a meaningful variable in understanding how populist discourses emerge from a broader discursive field. In addition, she introduced a project plan on “Resentment Affective Memory and Right-Wing Politics in India” which explores “internet Hindus” and how they collectively reconstruct history into an affective memory regime that further steers right-wing nationalistic populism.

Under the working title “Duelling visions of the past in populist conspiracy theories about immigration”, Ilana Hartikainen presented her progress in studying Czech right-wing populist Tomio Okamura’s articulations of Great Replacement Theory (GRT). Ilana breaks down GRT narrative into elements of fantasmatic logic with beatific fantasy about the homogenous Czech fullness of a golden past in contrast with the horrific fantasy of violent, dangerous migrants as the result of EU decision-making power. The following discussion touched upon how Okamura posits his racial background in his political discourses, pointing out the process of radicalizing others’ past, and suggested considering several additional elements such as economy, gender or technology. 

The last presentation is a collaboration of Kleber Carrilho and Emilia Palonen on “Bolsonarism vs. science: political influence on official Twitter communication in Brazil during the pandemic”. Using a large dataset of tweets related to Brazilian Ministry of Health and  topic modeling, their analysis captured the pivotal moments of the narrative during different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted divergences between scientific-bureaucratic and political leadership discourses. Plans for further research including investigating the activity of bots in the hashtag and broader landscape, and comparative study with other contexts such as Finland, Germany and Poland as a part of the larger ENDURE project.


On 6th November, two paper drafts by HEPPsters and colleagues are presented in our seminar touching on crucial populists’ repetoires about democracy and representation of “Other”. Alexander Alekseev introduced his latest work under the title The (Changing) Concept of Democracy in (Transforming) European Populist Radical Right Discourses: The Case of the Polish Law and Justice shedding light on the discursive struggle over the notion of democracy. It is a longitudinal discourse analysis with rich observations of Jarosław Kaczyński’s discourse during 2007-2023 when his party Polish Law and Justice (PiS) stayed in power and opposition at different points. The study shows Kaczyński/PiS’s emphasis on democracy as a populist mobilisation device with inconsistent associations as their position changes while opening discussions on bridging the Laclaudian approach, hegemony, contested concepts and their rhetorical role.

In the second half, Dayei Oh shared her work with Line Nyhagen (Sociology, Loughborough) on Moral Outrage, Paranoia, and Distrust: Populist Affective Repertoires in the Construction of the Other in American and Irish Abortion Discourse on Twitter. The focal point of this research is the discursive psychological analysis of affective repertoires in the "Us vs Them" dynamic in online abortion discourse. With over 6000 tweets, the researchers identified three affective repertoires underlying discourse on the Other as a part of abortion politics and suggested a historical contingency in abortion discourse. Their cross-country analysis of the US case (2020) and Ireland case (2018) sparks thoughts on the complex psychological facets of moralisation of politics and conspiratorial-populist communications. The research concludes with alternative affective repertoires for "Us-Them" dynamics, encouraging more collaborative intergroup negotiations in the two countries. 


On 30th October, Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius and Ilana Hartikainen introduced a paper co-authored with Annastiina Kallius with the working title “Infrastructure of unreality: Conspiracy theories, media, and illiberalism in Central Eastern Europe”.  The study approaches both illiberalism and conspiracy theories through an epistemic lens, asking how media infrastructures in more or less illiberal systems propagate conspiracy theories differently. Four case studies in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic highlight nuanced differences in how state-sponsored conspiracy theories about forced migration spread in local state/non-state media. The following discussion dived into epistemic implications of (il)liberalism, possible scope and essence of conspiracy, as well as comparative methods.

In the later half, Zea Szebeni presented her ongoing work The truth shall prevail!”: Sense-making and Navigating Alternative Epistemologies in Facebook Comments about the Bucha Massacre. Starting with the question how people react and make sense of (dis)information, the study investigates two most commented Facebook posts on the Bucha Massacre from the pro-Russian and fact-checking media in the first year since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Zea identified several elements interplaying to establish truth or narratives: the geopolitical dichotomy of Russia - the West, historical context and collective memory, external epistemic authorities and the commenters’ agency. Her analysis sparked discussions on schemes and frames as sense-making approaches, perceived authenticity and trustworthiness, and how to operationalize studied concepts.


HEPP Seminar Series moved to a new home on Monday 23rd October and Alina Mozolevska shared her ongoing research on digital popular art and visual narratives in the Russo-Ukrainian War. Drawing from a data set of 950 digital artworks by Ukrainian artists and illustrators on Instagram, her work is a rich description and analysis of prominent wartime visual discourse. Alina provided an overview of the discourse landscape, which encompasses diverse topics such as anxiety, traumatic experience, collective identity and victimhood, and representations of enemy and wartime reality, etc.  Article series or book publication has emerged as suggestions for delivering the research findings. Our discussion also touched on possibilities for further analysis, with attention to the war progress as context, audience responses, and multiple perspectives on the Russian side and the international community.


The HEPP seminar on 16th Oct was in fully hybrid mode with discussions on spiritual movements in Finland and methodologies for social media studies. 3 HEPP affiliated researchers Zea Szebeni, Ilana Hartikainen and Emilia Lounela introduced their project idea on contemporary spirituality in the Finnish and global context, nostalgic narratives and gender ideals. It sparked conversations on how to develop a multifaceted theoretical basis for this emerging societal phenomenon, and its political implications. We considered possible deliverables such as book/article publications, and panels or events to inform and engage the public. HEPP also welcomed Olena Siden from Ukraine as our guest this week to give us a glance on her research interests, particularly social media communication by French politicians on the war in Ukraine. Current changes with X (formerly Twitter) have negatively affected data access for research purposes, while directing attention to other growing platforms such as Instagram and TikTok and the methodology developments on multimodality research.


The HEPP seminar on 9.10 started with Erfan Fatehi’s talk - From Fear to Compassion:  Populist Performances and Syria's Displacement in Turkey's 2023 Elections. His current study focuses on a dual populist landscape surrounding the Syrian refugee issue, where two key politicians Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu presented contrasting emotional narratives: one with compassion, moral obligation, and the Turkish historical-cultural identity; and the other about national resources, sovereignty concerns and societal implications. The intriguing case opens up theoretical considerations on the diverse capacity of populism which encompasses both inclusion and exclusion, emotional appeals ranging from compassion to fear. We further discussed how different theoretical lens such as Janus-faced populism and bipolar hegemony illuminate this context and how to mitigation potential limitations in observations/data selection.

The following presentation is Dayei Oh’s latest work on “Strategic secularisation in the fight for the God-given right to life: Epistemic contestations of personhood in the American Christian nationalist movement”. Using content analysis on the published materials on the pro-life movement Personhood Alliance’s website, she explores different epistemic modes and argumentative contexts in play, as arguments can be legitimatized through different sources of epistemology including Christian doctrines, science, social traditions, etc. The study underscores several pro-life discourse elements such as the concept of foetal personhood, motherhood, real meaning of democracy versus judicial tyranny, pro-life martyrdom, abortionist conspiracy theory and so forth… Further theoretical implications can arise from strategic connections and disconnections within this narrative system (for example, how abortion is separated from healthcare while Christian morality is translated into secular, American values).


On 25th September, HEPP welcomed Professor Adrienne Russell from the University of Washington to share insights on her latest book The Mediated Climate: How Journalists, Big Tech and Activists are Vying for our Environment and Media Futures. Within the context of emerging climate concerns and the large shift in climate change responses in the United States, the book sheds light on different facets of the contemporary information environment including climate journalism, the platform problem, activism and advocacy. Though limited to progressive, niche climate news outlets, Adrienne’s findings provided compelling evidence of less denialism and dismissive tone towards activists, along with the growing collaboration and conscientiousness about meaning-making processes on climate change. On another front, the book presents two major challenges - online noise and incivility - disrupting climate conversations, raising questions about negative freedom, and the advantage and responsibility of platformers. Following the presentation, we together dived deeper into various stances and motivations of climate journalists including neutrality, objectivity, impact focus, and engagement. Negative freedom sparked another discussion on monitoring and regulating disinformation on platforms, and factors guiding the formulation of screening criteria.

During the second half of the seminar, HEPP’s PI Emilia Palonen presented a series of our ongoing works under the title “Populist logic and politics in the populist culture: what is in the form? HEPP approaches populism in rather broad, addressing its ubiquity in political movements transcending traditional political left-right boundaries and extending into multiple aspects of culture, gender, religion... (a.k.a “Populism on the loose”). Our model of polarisation underscores the “bi-polar hegemony” logic in the struggle of an underdog/fringe “us” against the mainstream “frontier”, and how such heuristic devices are fueled by affects built upon polarisation knowledge. As more cultural/social elements are embedded into hegemonic articulations, and multimodality comes into play in today's hybrid media environment, theoretical resources and tools are required to investigate and address these complex phenomena effectively.


On 18th of September HEPP invited Oleh Brovko from West University of Timisoara to discuss his research proposal about democracy under martial law in Ukraine under the title of “Direct Democracy in Shadow of War, Martial Law in Ukraine.” Oleh’s research intends to look into the democratic transformations in Ukraine during the war and conflict over the coming years. Specific interest of this research would be the development of democracy in the municipal and local institutions in contrast to the Ukrainian central government.

Next we had one of our HEPPsters, Dayei Oh, present their work (in collaboration with Dr. Shin from University of Helsinki as well) about feminism in South Korea under title “From unveiling gender inequalities to sensationalising gender wars: Historical shift in Korean press discourse on feminism using topic modelling, 1990-2022 .” This research looked into South Korean liberal and conservative press discourse on feminism and gender using topic modelling. Research shows historical changes and partisan disparities in how feminism and women’s rights issues have been reported in South Korea over the course of three decades.


On 28th of August HEPP Seminar came back from the summer holidays. Restarting the weekly season we had Taneli Viitahuhta from University of Jyväskylä talking about his draft for paper “Cynical Soberness or Mild Lunacy? Adorno on Radical Right, Late Capitalism, and Mimetic Language.” This paper approaches understanding far-right rhetoric through Adorno’s concepts of “Cynical soberness” and “Mild Lunacy”. Especially are highlighted ideas about various elements of unconscious influence of far-right and fascist language and psychology.

Second presentation of the day by Emilia Lounela was about the idea of incels (involuntary celibacy), how it manifests on the internet as a form of culture, community and identity under the title of “Interviewing current and former incels: Experiences, life events and world views.” The presentation gave some insight into understanding incels and incel communities but was mainly focussed on the methodological aspect due to the limited number of interviews conducted so far. Due to the nature of incel identity and communities people willing to be interviewed have been scarce. Emilia noted that her being a woman also made it much more difficult to get in contact with potential participants.


On September 11th, the HEPP Seminar Series, Ilana Hartikainen, a doctoral researcher affiliated with HEPP, presented her article titled "Fear and Loathing in Czechia: Great Replacement Theory as Horrific Fantasy in Tomio Okamura’s Facebook Communication." Her research delves into the relationship between populism and conspiracy theories, focusing on their performative 'us-building' mechanism. Central to her case study is Great Replacement theory (GRT), which posits that immigrants from Muslim-majority countries will replace European host societies' workforce and threaten their values. The following discussion highlighted shifting narratives of belonging, and regional adaptations of international issues, while raising questions about ethnicity and the agency migrants are granted in conspiracy narratives.

In the second presentation, Laura Horsmanheimo, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Helsinki, outlined her research plan proposal on sex work in contemporary society. Laura's unique approach considered spatial politics in various worksites and the agency of sex workers, aiming to examine precarity, vulnerability, and resistance in sex work. Her methodology involving creative practices garnered interest, and the discussion touched on topics like heteronormativity, legal frameworks, and feminist perspectives in the sex work debate.

Lastly, the HEPP researchers discussed their proposal for a Kone Foundation grant under the working title "Tribalist Tendencies: Dissecting Knowledge, Identity, and Mobilization in Varied Democratic Landscapes (DIVIDE)." This project aims to explore tribalism's role in politics, both online and offline, and 'tribalist epistemology' as a foundational concept. The discussion revolved around harmonizing the project within an interdisciplinary and internationally diverse research group, involving researchers  Niko Pyrhönen, Rūta Kazlauskaitė, Sabine Volk, Tuukka Brunila, Ilana Hartikainen, Eemil Mitikka, Mikko Salmela, and Zea Szebeni.