Colour matters

The use of colours has social and political impacts that can easily be overlooked if we fail to really pay attention, says Docent Juha A. Vuori, Dr.Pol.Sc., who, with his team, is studying the use of colours in connection with security practices.
Photo: Margarita Rosselló Ramón

How did you become a researcher?
I have been interested in science since high school. After completing my Master’s Degree, I was working as a designer at the Finnish Virtual University and writing my PhD thesis after work. After 18 months of applications, in 2003, I managed to secure a grant from the Emil Aaltonen Foundation to write my thesis. That was the start.

What are your research interests?
My research focuses mainly on the political uses of security, and most of my research is conducted on the People’s Republic of China (see https://scholar.google.fi/citations?user=2XhTxTsAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=sra and http://helsinki.academia.edu/JuhaVuori )

I have also studied the politics of nuclear weapons, society of control, and the political imaginaries of popular culture.

I applied for a grant from Kone Foundation for a project that combines research and art, entitled Turvallisuuden värit (‘The Colours of Security’), which studies the use of colours in connection with various actors (such as the armed forces), everyday objects (such as flags) and securitised spaces (such as demonstrations). The international research team of the project has been working with these issues for a while and has developed its own research approach to resolving these issues. However, we are taking the project to a new level by adding art to the research process and to the manner in which the results are presented. The project is not limited to studying visual practices; we will conduct research through visual methods together with a professional artist.

Why did you apply for a grant from Kone Foundation?
The project is far removed from mainstream research in political science, and it crosses the interface of science and art. This fits in well with the objectives of Kone Foundation. Kone Foundation is also one of the few foundations that supports teams working within social sciences rather than just individuals.

What makes your project a bold initiative?
The use of colours is one of the basic elements of political symbolism: parties and ideologies have their colours, and colours are also used for multiple purposes in security procedures, such as for camouflage in battle gear and visibility in safety vests. Colours are so obvious it is easy to overlook them. But the use of colours has social and political impacts that can easily be overlooked if we fail to really pay attention. Colours are a part of social classification.

Studying colours in relation to people in the security context is not only bold in terms of general security research, but also in terms of visual security research. Adding art to the research process and to the manner in which the results are presented enables us to bring critical security research to new audiences through the use of art exhibitions, for example. Because security tends to be made of unchallenged practices, it is important to make the political nature and political consequences of these practices visible.

What is it like to conduct research with a grant?
As a researcher, a grant enables you to be as free as it is possible to be. You are able to carry out research full-time without the constraints of the administrative and teaching duties present at universities. However, due to the nature of the grant, there is a limit to the freedom. The grant is for a fixed period, and the level of income tends to be lower than when you are employed. Being a recipient of a grant also means that you fall outside many socioeconomic structures. In addition, some universities do not offer researchers working on a grant the same facilities that are offered to employed researchers. However, a grant gives you independence and enables you to concentrate on your chosen topic.

Although at university, you tend to spend too much time and energy on insignificant matters, I still think fondly about the opportunity to focus on the exact issues that interest you, to meet interesting people in the international field and to ponder on social and scientific questions with your students. All this still inspires me after 20 years of studying and working.

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Docent Juha A. Vuori (Dr.Pol.Sc.) is working as Professor of International Politics on a fixed-term contract at the University of Turku. In 2016, he and his team received a grant from Kone Foundation for the Turvallisuuden värit (‘Colours of Security’) project.