Can humans strengthen their relationship with nature and thus improve the chances of all species on Earth? This issue was addressed in the funding call “Our Vital Neighbours,” which focuses on the relationship between humans and the vast diversity of other species. The awarded projects will increase our understanding of human beings’ neighbours, some of which are very common but to a large extent still quite poorly understood.
“The thematic call, which was very popular among applicants, inspired cross-disciplinary initiatives that combine social sciences, humanities, and environmental sciences. In our other research grants, the emerging themes were the conditions of academic and artistic work in contemporary economies, the developments of democracy in Europe, religion, and gender, as well as the decrease of biodiversity. We will fund some very promising doctoral theses, which combine the inspired thinking of the younger generation of scholars with state of the art research methods,” says Kalle Korhonen, Director of Research Funding.
According to Anna Talasniemi, Executive Director of Kone Foundation, “The changing world encourages our grantees to investigate and act, but at the same time research and art projects display the slowness necessary for reaching understanding. Making such projects possible is essential for the foundation.”
The call was opened in September, and we received 5,873 applications. The award rate was 4,7 %. In all, Kone Foundation has awarded approximately 28 million euros to research and the arts in 2018. The Kone Foundation grant call of 2019 will be open between 1 and 15 September, 2019.
Research on the relationship between humans and other species is not limited to cute mammals
The group led by ecophysiologist Thomas Lilley will investigate how humans and bats live side by side and then search for ways to better that relationship. The group will delve into the distribution of bat species in Finland and human attitudes toward this group of vital but poorly understood neighbours. Even though humans and bats benefit from one another in Finland, human attitudes towards bats are often negative.
Bats are also central to the work of environmental scientists Katarina Meramo and Kati Suominen. They will research the influence of environmental changes on bats: Meramo’s focus is on the characteristics and behaviour of bats, while Suominen, with the aid of citizen science, will examine the species’ distribution and conservation needs.
The role of other species in ancient Greek and medieval Islamic philosophy and literature is the focus of a research project led by Miira Tuominen, professor of philosophy. The group, which received a grant of 513,000 euros, will challenge our conceptions of the relationship between humans and nature, how such a relationship was first conceived, and where the contrast between the two stems from. Professor of forest geography Eeva-Stiina Tuittila and her colleagues will investigate the meanings and emotions attached to trees. Her group of environmental and humanities scholars seek to help community planners take into account the meanings and emotions humans attach to their biological and non-biological environments.
Ethnologist Jyrki Pöysä’s research group will use a post-humanistic approach to answer the question of how humans’ “archaic” relationship with nature became, after industrialisation, the nostalgic, critical, or apathetic relationship it is today.
Some projects with generous funding focus on the relationship with humans and microbes. Harri Alenius, professor of medicine, will lead a project investigating the relationship between human microbiome and allergies. The geographical areas of focus are the Finnish and the Russian Karelias, which are particularly interesting due to the immense difference in the standards of living between the two sides of the Finnish-Russian border. A sociological angle to the study of microbes is provided by sociologist Salla Sariola, whose group will look at the efforts of modern societies to get rid of microbes. Their aim is to produce new knowledge for health policymakers, animal care specialists, and medical scientists.
Creative workers seek new spaces with a strong sense of community for their work
An important theme that emerged from the funded projects was the structure of academic and artistic work in Finland, something scholars and artists alike strive to influence. The project led by Katve-Kaisa Kontturi, researcher of contemporary arts, will focus on changes in artistic work in Finland, where one in three visual artists live at poverty level. Her group of scholars will investigate models based on a sense of community as alternatives to the neoliberal entrepreneurial models, which require constant self-promotion.
The forms of collective work that cause us to rethink institutions and structures of work were very visible in the art grants of Kone Foundation, too. Curator Hanna Ohtonen and her team will, at the future feminist art centre, try to incubate and nourish instead of emphasizing production pressure and promotion. The artist collective Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen challenges the notion of individualistic forms of artistic creation, and the Kosminen collective will facilitate giving and receiving peer support in their Kosminen space.
Because of current ruptures in human work, one must redefine its. Theatre director Lauri Antti Mattila and filmmaker Juhani Haukka will embark on an artistic project whose purpose is to offer people exactly the work they want to do. Thus, they question the concept of work and detach it from the logic of profit present in market economy.
The structures of academic work in Finland are rapidly changing. The research project of Hanna Kuusela, researcher of media culture, will investigate the conditions for future universities by focusing on the still-ongoing merger of three universities in Tampere, Finland. The management of an academic institution has become more and more based on strategies and narratives, which has caused crises and opposition movements among faculty. What is the relationship between the experiences of the local research community and the merger process, and how will such processes influence the conditions of academic work?
The state of the environment requires pioneering research in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities
Many of the 2018 grantees will be looking at the politics, economics and ethics of the current environmental crises. The largest grant this year was awarded to ecologist Atte Moilanen, whose project will develop land use planning based on ecology. His new generation methods can be applied in the planning of environmental protection, help avoid environmental damage, and facilitate restoration.
In his doctoral thesis in environmental economy, Teemu Koskimäki will focus on the connection between our socioeconomic system and current environment crises. He plans to challenge the academics and decisionmakers who attempt to fix things only by adjusting economic structures. Evolutionary biologist Jon Brommer and his research group will apply evolutionary game theory to a longstanding dilemma facing social science: How can a group of actors govern natural resources in a sustainable way? The group will test the validity of explanatory models of evolutionary biology in societal decision-making.
Human-induced changes in the environment are compelling to philosophers, too. Lauri Lahikainen’s post-doctoral project questions issues of accountability: What are the responsibilities of cities and city-dwellers as regards climate change? In the research, cities are seen as the hubs of climate responsibility, and the aim is to advance public discussion on climate ethics. In her doctoral thesis, Linnea Luuppala will redefine the concepts of ecological restoration in a way that will be more useful for the protection of nature. Her methods include an analysis of the ethical consequences, responsibilities, and normative principles of ecological restoration.
Together with an extensive group of experts, the artist duo IC-98 will establish a Nature Destruction Park, a monument to environmental destruction and to all biological species. The park will be situated in a polluted piece of land that will be landscaped and cleaned using natural methods. The artistic work will encourage us to ponder the cycles of life and carbon, as well as humanity’s responsibilities for the earth.
Research on democracy focuses on new forms, networks, participation, and gender roles
Many applicants from the social sciences are worried about the future of democracy in Europe. The award decisions thus reflect the grantees’ pledges to examine the role of gender in politics, new forms of political participation, and environmental policy networks. Katja Kahlina’s research group, consisting of political scientists and activists, will analyse the relationships between gender equality, sexual diversity, and the developments of democracy in several different countries. Kahlina has a doctorate in gender studies from Central European University, which is heading for Vienna after being forced out of Budapest following a hate campaign on behalf of the Hungarian regime.
Law scholar Immi Tallgren will look at gender in the context of international law. The aim of the project is to produce radical knowledge of the gendered structures, practices, and distortions of international law. New forms of participation are the focus of Pijatta Heinonen’s work, more precisely the relationship between autonomous societal movements and the architecture of protest camps. The work combines sociological and architectural approaches. Veikko Eranti’s project of political sociology will investigate “parademocracy”, i.e., the societal activism that takes place outside “official” democratic structures.
Environmental policy networks will receive attention from sociologists Antti Gronow and Tuomas Ylä-Anttila. Gronow is asking if political institutions have an effect on how political actors adopt opinions on climate change from other politicians, whereas Ylä-Anttila’s research will delve into environmental policy networks in Finland, Sweden, Japan, and the United States. The Saimaa Theatre will launch an artistic project about democracy. Titled “The Democratic Republic of Saimaa,” its starting point is the planned graphite mine in Heinävesi, Finland, which is an interesting case of how democracy works between the citizens, media, and decision-makers.
Towards a society for all
How can Finland become an equal and inclusive land for everyone? Many grants have a connection with the diversification of the Finnish society and population. Mona Eid will produce a podcast on the inclusiveness of Finnish schools. Filmmaker Erol Mintas will establish the Academy of Moving People & Images, a mobile filmmaking school for people who have arrived in Finland for different reasons, be they immigrants, asylum seekers, students, or employees. The aim is to increase diversity in film production.
Muhannad Mohamed Khorshid, who came to Finland seeking for an asylum, will write a graphic novel. One of his starting points is the fact that exiles, many of whom experienced threats and whose freedom of expression was suppressed in their home countries, are often excluded from society in their new home countries because of racism. Artist Bita Razavi will investigate xenophobic nationalism and its connections with historical and national traumas by photographing abandoned buildings in Baltic countries. The documentary film My Mother’s Story, by Airin Bahmani, is the story of an exile who came from Iran to Finland. Bahmani shows how an active member of society comes to be conceived as an non-political recipient of aid in the new home country.