Insights from the first year of 'Inequality Studies': Even necessary sustainability policies can produce inequalities in many ways

14.6.2021
INEQ's interdisciplinary cross-faculty 'Inequality Studies', hosted by Bachelor's Programme in Social Research and open for all University of Helsinki students, started in the Autumn of 2020. During the past academic year, students learned about inequality in relation to health, the welfare state, privacy and human rights law, religion and social cohesion, and geography. Now, after the first year of inequality studies, there are some interesting insights to share from one of the courses.

In the spring of 2021, students in the course 'Geographies of Inequalities' became acquainted with how fostering green technology in one place can produce inequality elsewhere through both policy activities and legislation. The main learning objectives were to be able to critically evaluate sustainability dimensions and to understand the spillover effects of different policies. This year the specific context was global mining. The entire course was conducted virtually due to the COVID pandemic.

Infographic

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are strongly connected to the mining business

 

In addition to lectures and readings related to the topic, as well as writing personal learning diaries, students - coming from several master’s programmes - explored the local and global opportunities and challenges of green technology in groups. The aim was to produce a common course outcome that approaches the topic from multiple perspectives. This resulted in a blog, titled 'Dirty Side of Green Technology'. All content in the blog site has been provided by students. The course ended with an online seminar where the results of the groups’ research journeys were presented to high-level professionals from several countries. Course content was provided by Associate Professor Pia Bäcklund from the Department of Geosciences and Geography of the University of Helsinki in cooperation with Deputy Director Vivi Niemenmaa / National Audit Office of Finland (NAOF).

Map of the global connections of Finnish refineries

Illustration from the students' blog

 

In student words: “I hope we managed to arouse some new thoughts or ideas in you with this blog. The great thing in science is that it’s not always about the answers – but setting out the questions. Our aim here was to address some of the challenges, which have to be taken into consideration while creating carbon neutral policies. As the previous paragraphs address, there are several environmental and social risks around the mining business. According to our findings, the cross-sectioning question is anyhow strongly related to geography – which part of the world should take care of these problems? As a part of the global north, we argue Finland should be responsible for the minerals we use, and the course seems to be on the right way. ”

'Inequality Studies' in the academic year 2021-2022

Inequality Studies will continue in the next academic year. The first courses have been confirmed and 'Introduction to Inequalities' (SOSK-209), for example, will take place in the first teaching period starting in September. You can find a list of all the courses in the study module here. The schedule will be updated shortly.