Research Projects

A tangible heritage: Vepsian language and non-human agencies to co-construct a northern environment (2019–2021)

Project leaders: Laura Siragusa, Olga Zhukova
Funding: Koneen säätiö (2019-2021)

Marking a strict separation between ways of speaking and communicating, and the environment does not match Indigenous ontologies in the circumpolar region, where the boundaries between the two usually blur. This project allows us to explore the complex relations between ways of speaking in the heritage language, non-verbal communication, non-human agencies, and links to a northern environment, which in this case is the boreal forest.

We do not reproduce a separation between language and the environment, supported by the Cartesian separation between mind and body, competence and performance, langue and parole, and the more recent tangible and intangible heritage by UNESCO. Rather, we embrace an approach on co-creation, shared space, and dwelling, with the aim to reconcile the separation between humans and the environment. We add language to the equation. We study how verbal art and non-verbal communication can result from the union of human and non-human agencies and have very tangible and material consequences on the environment and other beings.

The case study for this project is Vepsian, an Indigenous minority language, as it is used in forested areas in Northwest Russia. Vepsian villagers have developed ways of speaking in relation to the environment and both human and non-human beings living there. Preliminary work has shown that Vepsian villagers use folkloric genres, such as the spells, to prompt changes in the environment, and to relate to human and non-human beings.

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Large-scale subclimax in the Amazonian lowland forests due to pre-Colombian deforestation (2016–2021)

Project leaders: Risto Kalliola, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Martti Pärssinen
Funding: Academy of Finland (2016-2021)

Hundreds of geoglyphs, geometrically formed man-made earthworks and enclosures, have only recently been found in southwestern Brazilian Amazonia and adjacent Bolivia. These occur in an area that partly overlaps with bamboo-dominated forests that form an exceptional rain forest dominated by single species. The aim of the project is to find out if there is a causal relationship between these bamboo forests and the geoglyphs.

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Revitalizing the connection with the Earth: Walking and becoming Earth (2018–2020)

Researcher: Hanna Guttorm
Funding: HELSUS fellowship (Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki) (2018-2020)

"In this autoethnographic project I examine, move, and imagine towards embodying and reconceptualizing the sustainable connection with the Earth. This re-thinking, re-searching, and re-vitalization is done in Sápmi (Sámi land) with Sámi traditional knowledge holders, artists and other researchers, while being inspired by both Indigenous and posthumanist theorizations and methodologies. I am highly interested in social and ecological justice, as well as maintaining and celebrating diversities in human and more-than-human entanglements. With explicating and playing with creative scientific writing I dream to invite readers to feel, think, and act differently."

Indigenous Research Methods in Academia (20172019)

Project leaders: Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Pigga Keskitalo, Torjer Olsen
Funding: Finnish Cultural Foundation (2017-2019)

Indigenous Research Methods in Academia is a network of 20 Nordic researchers from Indigenous studies, Sámi research, Educational sciences, Linguistics, Environment studies, Development studies, Religious studies, and Anthropology to address the use of Indigenous epistemologies as well as Indigenous research methodologies and their evaluation in academia.

This research network (2017-2018) explores how Indigenous research methodologies are applied in academic teaching and learning. Indigenous research methods emphasize qualitative, collaborative, participatory methods and empowerment frameworks (e.g. Tuhiwai Smith 1999; Wilson 2008; Denzin at al 2008; Chilisa 2012).

Aims of the network are:

  • To compare previous and novel data on Indigenous research methods globally.
  • To explore the experiences of applying different Indigenous research methods in university teaching and learning.
  • To advance the use of Indigenous research methods in academia.
  • To develop the evaluation of Indigenous research methods used in academia.

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University of Helsinki: Future Development Fund: The 'Great White North' (2019)

Project leader: Josephine Hoegaerts
Funding: Future Development Funds (Faculty of Arts, Helsinki University) (2019)

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Transforming the Future in Brazil: Ritual and Indigenous Agencies (2014–2017)

Project leader: Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen
Funding: Research Funds of the University of Helsinki (2014–2017)

The project examines Brazilian Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian people’s ways of engaging with the world from the perspective of forging new subject positions. People from Indigenous and Afro-American backgrounds are becoming ever more active in their political engagement, designing new education systems, taking new positions in academia, and creating novel religious intersubjectivity. Global interactions, technologies, and new state policies have been important factors in these processes. The project focuses on agency constructions in a variety of social, cultural, economic, and political contexts and the ideas of imagined (home)places and spaces based on ethnicity, philosophy, and religion as they affect power relations and notions of creating the future. We stress a ‘not-yet’ consciousness, modes of attention to the fact that something has still to happen or become. Both human and non-human subjects are included in the analysis of agency and relations. Our research sites in Brazil include Arawak-speaking Indigenous populations in the states of Acre and Amazonas; São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro metropolitan areas, where the devotees of Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion are the primary focus of attention; and Bahia that brings transnational capoeira Angola participants into the picture of Afro-Brazilian experience.

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