Weeds of Sociality: Reforms and Dynamics of Social Relations at the University of Helsinki

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph

Abstract

This dissertation investigates the repercussions of contemporary higher education reforms in Finland on daily university life. More precisely, it examines how ‘global knowledge economy’ policies affect the dynamics of social relations at the University of Helsinki. These policies, I argue, enact an ideological model that combines the neoliberal emphasis on the ‘enterprise form’ with the older principles of the ‘scalability design’ that lies at the heart of capitalism. Fusing the two, the enterprise-cum-scalability model entails reducing the totality of social life to first-hand, market-oriented exchanges of knowledge assets, which are now understood to happen on a ‘global scale’. Its enactment in the landscape of Finnish higher education in general and doctoral education in particular creates a friction that could clearly be observed in daily university life. This is a typical outcome of the encounter between universal aspirations and the specificities of a particular social and cultural setting. Such frictions inevitably disturb the old forms of social life, but they also tend to trigger new social formations, designated here as ‘weeds’, which I have followed through the mobilisation endeavours of doctoral candidates. Finally, these new forms of university sociality are a product of disjunctures in both exceptional and mundane circumstances, as the experiences of international doctoral candidates distinctly show.

My thesis draws on several years of ethnographic fieldwork, which I have conducted at Finland’s oldest and largest higher education institution. While my ethnography stretches between autumn 2013, when I began doctoral studies at the University of Helsinki, and spring 2021, when I completed the thesis manuscript, most of the observations presented in this thesis come from the period between September 2014 and January 2016, when ethnographic fieldwork was my primary activity. My material is highly heterogeneous, covering the circumstances of higher education in general and developments particular to doctoral education that come together in the everyday lives of doctoral candidates, which serve as a vantage point for studying university sociality as a whole.

The thesis makes two key contributions. First, I aim to broaden anthropological understandings of contemporary higher education reform by not only paying close attention to the enactment of the enterprise-cum-scalability model but also going beyond it in my granular explorations and nuanced explanations of daily university life. Second, by focusing on the dynamics of social relations, I seek to highlight the particular value of the anthropological contribution to critical higher education studies.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Green, Sarah, Supervisor
  • Kaartinen, Timo, Supervisor
  • Ruckenstein, Minna, Supervisor
Award date9 Nov 2021
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Publisher
Print ISBNs978-951-51-7657-8
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-7658-5
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2021
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Fields of Science

  • 5143 Social and cultural anthropology

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