Research Projects
Research projects in Global Indigenous studies.

Conceptualising Biodiversity in Amazonia

Project leader: Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen
Funding: Academy of Finland (2021–2025)

Biodiversity is elemental for a sustainable future of humans and the planet. The Amazon is well-known for its biodiversity, but how is it conceptualised locally and in terms of time? Taking an Amazonian Indigenous ontological approach, this interdisciplinary project examines cultural views on diversity in places, landscapes, and different ecological systems; Amazonian Indigenous understandings of temporality in relation to notions of biodiversity and conservation over the long term; and Amazonian Indigenous cognitive and linguistic principles embedded in environmental diversity. In parallel with community-based methods, we work with ethnography, oral history, geospatial analysis, and linguistics. We will organize community workshops in Brazilian Amazonia that explore notions of biodiversity from the deep past, as well as their cultural time layers. This project offers pioneering research on the cultural valuation of biodiversity and it will have cross-disciplinary impact.

Researchers: Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Francisco Apurinã, Bruna Fernanda Lima-Padovani, Vesa Matteo Piludu, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares; collaborator Sidney Facundes.

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Healing Methodologies: Alkuperäiskansatietämisen, kirjoittamisen ja Saamenmaan parantavilla lähteillä

Researcher: Hanna Guttorm
Funding: Kone Foundation 2020–2022

Yhdessä elämässä kietoutuu monta tietoa, tunnetta ja kokemusten ja kohtaamisten virtaa. Tämä tutkimus ja kirjoitus tapahtuu (ainakin) tämän kaiken kanssa: a) planeettamme hätätila sekä kulttuurisen biodiversiteetin ja sosiaalisen oikeudenmukaisuuden alasajo, b) saamelaisten ja suomalaisten välisen suhteen ja saamelaisen yhteisön sisäisen pahoinvoinnin nykytila kolonisaation ja ylimuistoisen ja unohdetunkin historian valossa, c) Maa-eläjyyden (earthling) ja kaiken elävän (ealli, saameksi myös eläin) keskinäisen riippuvuuden uudelleen tunnistaminen, ja d) tutkijaelävän kokonaisuus ja ainutkertainen paikka eli kokemusten ja kohtaamisten kirjo. Useimmiten tutkimus kohdistuu yhteen, huolellisesti rajattuun, edellämainitun kaltaisista ilmiöistä. Meillä onkin maailmasta ympärillämme ähkyyn asti tietoa ja teoriaa, jonka valtavirrasta tutkijan kokeva ja tunteva minä on, usein objektiivisuuden nimissä, siivottu pois.
Tässä tutkimuksessa tutkija haluaa laajentaa sekä käsitystä tutkimuksesta että kutsua kirjoittamisellaan nyt tarvittavaan yhteyteen ja maailman tunnistamiseen siksi, mikä se on. Samalla tutkimus lisää tietoa maailman ja elävien ymmärtämisen mahdollisuuksista. Tutkimus ja kirjoitus rakentuu alkuperäiskansaontologioiden ja mannermaisten filosofioiden, poststrukturalistisen feminismin ja uusmaterialismin hedelmällisille pohjille ja juhlii kieltä ja kieliä, mm. saamen ja suomen materiaalisuutta sekä runon aukollisuutta.

Large-scale subclimax in the Amazonian lowland forests due to pre-Colombian deforestation

Project leaders: Risto Kalliola, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Martti Pärssinen
Funding: Academy of Finland (2016-2021)

Hundreds of geoglyphs, geometrically formed man-made earthworks and enclosures, have only recently been found in southwestern Brazilian Amazonia and adjacent Bolivia. These occur in an area that partly overlaps with bamboo-dominated forests that form an exceptional rain forest dominated by single species. The aim of the project is to find out if there is a causal relationship between these bamboo forests and the geoglyphs.

Researchers: Risto Kalliola, Kalle Ruokolainen, Martti Pärssinen, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Francisco Apurinã

The Anthropocene in an onto-ethico-linguistic approach in Amazonia

Project leader: Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen
Funding: Future Fund, Faculty Arts (2020–2022)

This project aims at decolonizing the studies on the Anthropocene, and asks how are the epochs of human history and the Anthropocene conceptualized in an Amazonian Indigenous view?

Revitalizing the connection with the Earth: Walking and becoming Earth

Researcher: Hanna Guttorm
Funding: HELSUS fellowship (Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki) (2018-2020)

"In this autoethnographic project I examine, move, and imagine towards embodying and reconceptualizing the sustainable connection with the Earth. This re-thinking, re-searching, and re-vitalization is done in Sápmi (Sámi land) with Sámi traditional knowledge holders, artists and other researchers, while being inspired by both Indigenous and posthumanist theorizations and methodologies. I am highly interested in social and ecological justice, as well as maintaining and celebrating diversities in human and more-than-human entanglements. With explicating and playing with creative scientific writing I dream to invite readers to feel, think, and act differently."

A tangible heritage: Vepsian language and non-human agencies to co-construct a northern environment

Project leaders: Laura Siragusa, Olga Zhukova
Funding: Kone Foundation (2019–2021)

Marking a strict separation between ways of speaking and communicating, and the environment does not match Indigenous ontologies in the circumpolar region, where the boundaries between the two usually blur. This project allows us to explore the complex relations between ways of speaking in the heritage language, non-verbal communication, non-human agencies, and links to a northern environment, which in this case is the boreal forest.

We do not reproduce a separation between language and the environment, supported by the Cartesian separation between mind and body, competence and performance, langue and parole, and the more recent tangible and intangible heritage by UNESCO. Rather, we embrace an approach on co-creation, shared space, and dwelling, with the aim to reconcile the separation between humans and the environment. We add language to the equation. We study how verbal art and non-verbal communication can result from the union of human and non-human agencies and have very tangible and material consequences on the environment and other beings.

The case study for this project is Vepsian, an Indigenous minority language, as it is used in forested areas in Northwest Russia. Vepsian villagers have developed ways of speaking in relation to the environment and both human and non-human beings living there. Preliminary work has shown that Vepsian villagers use folkloric genres, such as the spells, to prompt changes in the environment, and to relate to human and non-human beings.

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Indigenous Research Methods in Academia

Project leaders: Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Pigga Keskitalo, Torjer Olsen
Funding: Finnish Cultural Foundation (2017-2019)

Indigenous Research Methods in Academia is a network of 20 Nordic researchers from Indigenous studies, Sámi research, Educational sciences, Linguistics, Environment studies, Development studies, Religious studies, and Anthropology to address the use of Indigenous epistemologies as well as Indigenous research methodologies and their evaluation in academia.

This research network (2017-2018) explores how Indigenous research methodologies are applied in academic teaching and learning. Indigenous research methods emphasize qualitative, collaborative, participatory methods and empowerment frameworks (e.g. Tuhiwai Smith 1999; Wilson 2008; Denzin at al 2008; Chilisa 2012).

Aims of the network are:

  • To compare previous and novel data on Indigenous research methods globally.
  • To explore the experiences of applying different Indigenous research methods in university teaching and learning.
  • To advance the use of Indigenous research methods in academia.
  • To develop the evaluation of Indigenous research methods used in academia.

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University of Helsinki: Future Development Fund: The 'Great White North'

Project leader: Josephine Hoegaerts
Funding: Future Development Funds (Faculty of Arts, Helsinki University) (2019)

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Transforming the Future in Brazil: Ritual and Indigenous Agencies

Project leader: Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen
Funding: Research Funds of the University of Helsinki (2014–2017)

The project examines Brazilian Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian people’s ways of engaging with the world from the perspective of forging new subject positions. People from Indigenous and Afro-American backgrounds are becoming ever more active in their political engagement, designing new education systems, taking new positions in academia, and creating novel religious intersubjectivity. Global interactions, technologies, and new state policies have been important factors in these processes. The project focuses on agency constructions in a variety of social, cultural, economic, and political contexts and the ideas of imagined (home)places and spaces based on ethnicity, philosophy, and religion as they affect power relations and notions of creating the future. We stress a ‘not-yet’ consciousness, modes of attention to the fact that something has still to happen or become. Both human and non-human subjects are included in the analysis of agency and relations. Our research sites in Brazil include Arawak-speaking Indigenous populations in the states of Acre and Amazonas; São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro metropolitan areas, where the devotees of Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion are the primary focus of attention; and Bahia that brings transnational capoeira Angola participants into the picture of Afro-Brazilian experience.

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