Youth, media, and the metro

How do young people live in an increasingly digitalised city? What is the current metro culture like? These are some of the questions that the Digital Youth in Media City project hopes to answer. The project combines aspects of media studies, sociology, youth research, and urban studies, and pools together Russian and Finnish researchers to carry out fieldwork on the metro systems of Helsinki and Saint Petersburg.

According to the project leader, Dr Johanna Sumiala, the project has got off to a good start in both cities. Information is being collected by interviewing young people and representatives of subcultures, as well as by travelling on the metro and making observations.

“We have decided to approach this topic from different angles in both countries. Our priority in Finland is to conduct interviews and study the atmosphere on the metro from the perspective of young people’s daily lives”, Sumiala explains.

“Our colleagues in Saint Petersburg are focusing on the local metro culture and associated subcultures there.”

Helsinki Metro perceived as unsafe by young people

A metro project called Brand New Helsinki was launched in Helsinki in the summer. The project involved collecting photographs from local residents, which will be showcased at metro stations this autumn. Young summer workers contributed to the illustrations at the Kontula and Central Railway Station metro stations. The Brand New Helsinki project is separate from the project led by Sumiala, but it gave the research team an opportunity to interview young people about the metro system and its significance in their lives.

“Many of the young people we interviewed felt unsafe on the metro. They wanted more reliable adults in the metro system. For example, some of our interviewees felt threatened by drunken adults on the metro”, explains Heta Mulari, one of the researchers involved in the project.

“Girls in particular had experienced threatening behaviour on the metro, and some had even been physically harassed.”

The safety and security arrangements of the Helsinki Metro and the Saint Petersburg Metro are very different. Security has a visible presence in Saint Petersburg, but guards are rarely seen on the Helsinki Metro.

“It is a common belief that young people and security guards are each other’s worst enemies, but our interviews revealed that young people would like to see more guards on the Helsinki Metro”, Sumiala explains.

Security cameras monitor people’s movements on the Helsinki Metro, but the interviewees felt that the cameras are ineffective in creating a sense of safety on the metro.

However, the interviewees also saw the metro as an important part of youth culture and as a means of socialising and getting to after-school activities around Helsinki. In the case of the latter, however, young people rarely travel alone on the metro. Travelling in a large group creates a sense of safety and security.

Strong subculture evident on the Saint Petersburg Metro

The data from the first field surveys and interviews conducted in Saint Petersburg and Helsinki are still being analysed, but interesting differences can already be discerned between the metro cultures of the two cities.

“The Saint Petersburg Metro is older than the Helsinki Metro. The longer distances between stations and the longer travel times on the Saint Petersburg Metro are sure to have contributed to the development of a strong metro culture there”, Heta Mulari says.

“There are a number of different subcultures on the Saint Petersburg Metro, such as sticker art. Our researchers have been able to interview some of Saint Petersburg’s sticker artists. We also intend to interview a Finnish sticker artist.”

The visibility of the metro on social media also varies between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg. The Helsinki Metro makes few appearances on social media, although some people have now begun to use the hashtag #metrohelsinki. The Saint Petersburg Metro, on the other hand, is featured in several Facebook groups.

The Saint Petersburg Metro also appears to be busier than the Helsinki Metro. The interviewees described the Helsinki Metro as quiet compared to many other countries. They also felt that there are certain unwritten rules that apply on the metro, such as keeping your voice down and behaving properly otherwise as well.

Mobile telephones a source of personal space and safety

The interviews revealed that young people often seek solitude on the metro and other modes of transport by wearing headphones or browsing their mobile telephone.

“The interviewees felt that they were more likely to be left alone on the metro if they were listening to music and looking out of the window, for example”, Johanna Sumiala says.

Some of the interviewees also stated that they felt uncomfortable standing alone and waiting for a train without a mobile telephone.

“The interviewees felt more accepted when playing with a mobile telephone than just standing on their own”, Mulari explains.

Overcoming challenges

There are inevitably certain challenges in conducting research in two different countries. Getting the necessary permits for interviews, filming, and other aspects of the study was easy in Finland, but conducting research in Russia is not always as simple.

Sumiala and Mulari are nevertheless pleased with how the project has progressed in Saint Petersburg as well, despite the rules there not being as straightforward as in Finland.

“What we plan to do next is to swap roles so that our Russian colleagues will study the daily life of the Saint Petersburg Metro and we in Helsinki will focus on observing Helsinki’s metro culture and subcultures more closely”, Heta Mulari says.


More information about the progress of the Digital Youth in Media City project is available on the project’s website

The exhibition featuring the photographs produced in the course of the Brand New Helsinki project opened on the metro on Saturday, 3 September.


Johanna Sumiala is a lecturer of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Helsinki Department of Social Sciences.

Dr Heta Mulari is a researcher at the Finnish Youth Research Society.

Malin Fransberg, M. Soc. Sc., Researcher, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere

Päivi Honkatukia, Professor, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere

Yana Krupets, D.Soc.Sc, National Research University High School of Economics, the Centre for Youth Studies

Elena Omelchenko, Ph.D, National Research University High School of Economics, the Centre for Youth Studies

Leena Suurpää, D.Soc.Sc, the Finnish Youth Research Society

Arseniy Svynarenko, M.Soc.Sc, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere