Kone Foundation’s activities


Markku Lonkila: Boldness is perseverance

During this spring we started to present the members of our Board of Trustees. Next in turn is Markku Lonkila, Professor of Sociology at Jyväskylä University, who has been a member of the board since the spring of 2014.

What happens when fifty million people input personal information into a service such as Facebook in an authoritarian country? During the summer Markku Lonkila, Professor of Sociology at Jyväskylä University, has been thinking about the dual role of social media in Russia. This is leading to an article with the cooperation of Russian colleagues.

“Social media can simultaneously help organize opposition protests and function as a tool of state control. We investigated how the surveillance of Russian Internet tightened after the 2011 and 2012 protests against Putin.”

Russia, social networks, social movements, international comparisons and social media are central keywords in Lonkila’s career as a researcher.

Comparative research tackles the things we hold self-evident

An important step in Lonkila’s journey as a researcher was taking part in a project led by professor Risto Alapuro in the beginning of the 1990s, which compared the networks of everyday life in several European countries. His doctoral thesis was finished in the same flurry.

“It was a wonderful experience to get to speak with professors and researchers from different cultures in an international environment. Risto’s support and the example he has set have been decisive in my career.”

In his thesis, Lonkila compared the social networks of teachers in Helsinki and Saint Petersburg. Russian habits were surprising at first, but as the research progressed, his attention shifted in the other direction.

“For example, the nuclear family which feels natural to us and the sociality built around it began to seem less obvious.”

Indeed, one of the advantages of comparative research is in its ability to undo stereotypes and the things we take as self-evident. For example, Finns are often seen as work-oriented and Russians as more family-oriented.

“Our research showed that Russian teachers had considerably more ties through work than Finnish teachers. The importance of work and the workplace in the social life of teachers in Saint Petersburg was very different to Helsinki.”

Specialization should not be taken too far

Lonkila was appointed professor at Jyväskylä University two years ago.

“Administrative issues and teaching easily take up all the time in the work of a professor. You have to fight to get time for research.”

Amid cuts in resources and pressures to increase the distinctiveness and profile of universities, appreciation for The Kone Foundation’s funding policy has continued to grow.

“The world of Finnish science would be different without The Kone Foundation.”

Lonkila thinks it is important to have funders whose decisions aren’t influenced solely by universities’ strategic priorities.

“The excessive specialization and profile raising of universities can lead to the disappearance of healthy competition in research. A faculty which has gained a monopoly position in their own field will regress from a lack of challenges.”

Boldness can have a playful dimension

Boldness is easily associated with heroic deeds, where a valiant knight kills the dragon and saves the princess. Adapted to the scientific world, the hero of the story is usually a genius male researcher who makes a discovery worthy of the Nobel Prize.

Instead of isolated heroic acts, Lonkila wants to discuss everyday boldness.

“Simply consciously choosing a career as a researcher is bold in these times.”

Similarly, it is bold to passionately focus on an area that interests you, come up with a new viewpoint for a thoroughly studied topic, or ask entirely novel questions.

Boldness often has a playful dimension. It is brave to connect previously separate issues to each other, creatively.

“It is bold to calmly and slowly do your own thing despite terrifying pressures. Boldness is perseverance.”



Markku Lonkila, born in 1956, is a member of The Kone Foundation Board of Trustees and Professor of Sociology at Jyväskylä University. In his thesis, Lonkila compared the everyday social networks of teachers in Helsinki and Saint Petersburg.

He is currently researching political and social activism in Russian social media.

His hobbies include music and reading. Legend has it that one time Lonkila was so impressed by Isaak Babel’s short story The Sin of Jesus, that copies of it had appeared on his colleagues’ desks in the morning.