Suvi Keskinen studies emerging post-ethnic activism in Finland

Few people are as knowledgeable on the topic of post-ethnic activism in the Nordic countries as Academy Research Fellow Suvi Keskinen. She is interested in what activism beyond multiculturalism signifies for Nordic societies.

In 2015 Koko Hubara started the blog Ruskeat Tytöt (“Brown Girls”) with the aim to create a platform where she herself could define what racism was and how she felt about it. She wanted to create a community for people like herself, Finns of colour, where one could discuss topics such as racism and identity. The platform expanded and grew into a media portal where brown girls write for other brown girls. Through the portal, Koko Hubara has given a face to racialised persons.

This is an example of the type of post-ethnic activism that Academy Research Fellow Suvi Keskinen studies in her research. This autumn, Keskinen was appointed professor of ethnic relations at the Swedish School of Social Science, but due to her project Postethnic Activism in the Neoliberal Era. Translocal Studies on Political Subjectivities, Alliance-Building and Social Imaginaries, she will hold the post of Academy Research Fellow until the end of August 2019. The project has received funding from the Academy of Finland for the period 2014–2019.

“Today, we have generations in their twenties and thirties who were born here and yet are regarded as ‘others’ by the white majority population because of their looks or their name. They want to define their place in society themselves and not be labelled or categorized by the majority population,” says Keskinen.

Racialisation is the act of associating certain qualities, stereotypes or prejudices with people based on their skin colour or ethnic background. In post-ethnic activism, people mobilise themselves on the basis of their racialised position in society rather than on ethnic group membership. They organise themselves in ways that transcend ethnic boundaries, simultaneously problematising racialised power structures in society.

“My interest lies in how the activists organise themselves and what it means to organise oneself beyond ethnic boundaries from the position of being racialised as ‘the other’,” Keskinen says. “How is community created and how are differences negotiated?”

Shifts in power relations

The focus of the research project is on antiracist feminist groups and civic activism in racialised urban neighbourhoods, as well as on groups that seek to mobilise people on the basis of being Black or Muslim.

“I examine how political subjectivity is created in today’s neo-liberal society, where a high premium is placed on individual performance. Due to social media, activists often emerge as individuals. I am interested in the negotiation between the individual and the collective.”

Keskinen has studied post-ethnic activism in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. In Finland, this type of activism only emerged around 2015. By then the research project was already in full swing, so Keskinen has been in a position to follow the emergence and development of post-ethnic activism in Finland from the very beginning.

Koko Hubara’s blog has also garnered interest among the white majority population, and Keskinen is interested in the effect on society when racialised groups claim a place in the public sphere.

“There is an interest in certain racialised persons in the public sphere and in mass media. Activists are participating actively in ‘white’ spaces. I want to study how these groups negotiate the power structures that are present in their contacts with the white majority population and in the official sphere.” Not all activists are interested in participating in the official arena, however; some prefer to focus on grass-roots support for those that are racialised as ”others”.

What are the effects on society at large when these activists enter the public sphere? How do different groups relate to each other? Keskinen hopes her research will supply the answers to these questions.

“This is a societal phenomenon that will influence power relations between groups and bring about changes in discourse.”

Academy Research Fellow Suvi Keskinen

Appointed Professor of Ethnic Relations at the Swedish School of Social Science at the University of Helsinki in autumn 2017.

Academy Research Fellow 2014–2019

Project Director, The Stopped – Spaces, Meanings and Practices of Ethnic Profiling 2015–2018

Leader of the Nordic research network Multiculturalism, Cultural Homogeneity and Societal Security in the Nordic Region (NordHOME) 2016–2018

Finnish partner in the Nordic network Decolonial Critique, Knowledge Production and Social Change in the Nordic Region 2018–2020

Finnish partner in the Nordic network The Power of Narrative: Democracy and Media in Turbulent Times 2018–2020

Finnish partner in the Nordic network The Futures of Feminism in the Nordic Region 2016–2018

Research on ethnic profiling in Finland

Suvi Keskinen is also involved in a project that studies ethnic profiling in Finland. The Stopped – Spaces, Meanings and Practices of Ethnic Profiling has received funding from the Kone Foundation for the period 2015–2018.

The project is the first study to examine ethnic profiling in Finland. In Europe, there have been clashes between police and residents in many racialised suburbs whose residents have felt subjected to ethnic profiling. Until now there have been no data on the phenomenon in Finland, but based on references in other research, reports in the media and accounts by people who have been subjected to profiling based on their appearance or ethnic background, it is safe to assume that ethnic profiling exists in Finland.

The project is funded by the Kone Foundation programme Is Finland Becoming Polarized? Its aim is to highlight the phenomenon and increase our understanding of the topic. It employs the cooperative work of researchers, artists and journalists and will result in research publications, media texts, discussion events and an interactive web documentary.