Laura Ahva: To understand journalism, we need to look elsewhere – introducing new researchers

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Laura Ahva is a researcher of journalism, media and communication. She received her PhD in 2011 at University of Tampere where she has mostly worked since; as a postdoctoral researcher and senior researcher. She has specialised in questions of participation in journalism: how non-journalists can increasingly take part in news making and the resulting public discussion. Laura Ahva is currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere.


“There is no need for every journalist to become a coder but everyone needs to understand information technology and its logic.” This is a quotation from the university magazine, Aikalainen, where Jussi Tuulensuu, the editor-in-chief of a regional newspaper Aamulehti, reflected on the future of journalism and journalism education.

The sentence sounds familiar for many people working in journalism practice, research and teaching – in fact, I believe I said almost the exact same sentence to the students last year. On the one hand, coding and the resulting algorithms provide possibilities for journalists to analyze and present digital data in new ways, but on the other hand, algorithms as non-human actors have been given an increasingly central role in deciding the kinds of news that users get to see, a role that used to be played by professional editors.

Coding and the entire field of information technology is just one example of the various aspects that journalists need to understand better. There are many fields that are now more than ever shaping journalism’s organizational structures, ethical standards or economic sustainability.

In my upcoming research project as an IASR fellow, I will examine actors and practices that shape journalism but originate from the fields of technology, economy and culture. These practices have not traditionally been regarded as “journalistic” but are becoming more important for journalism and ultimately to the kind of public discussion we can have. The practices I will focus on, are connected to coding, entrepreneurialism and eventification. They are practised by people who actively take part in journalistic work, but whose position may not be that of a journalist. These people can be data miners, startup coaches or event organisers.

Furthermore, these people are not necessarily located in the newsrooms: journalism is increasingly happening outside or in the outskirts of traditional newsrooms, for example in hackathon meetings where technologists scrape data for stories, in business hubs where new start-ups are developed by entrepreneurs, or at theatre stages where the presentation of journalism is dramatized.

Therefore, if we wish to better assess the possible futures of journalism practice and also adjust journalism education accordingly, we need to tap into “non-journalistic” practices that emanate from the neighboring fields but result in constructing the field of journalism.

To understand journalism, I will have to look elsewhere.

Secessions Within Federalism: A Cure for Destructive Nationalism – Catalonia and the EU by Robert Imre

Catalonia is yet another political case that demonstrates the necessity of strengthening a federal construct in the EU. Now that Britain is on the way out, and a major critic of federalism as a viable political option will no longer be present (after all, even with the ‘home nations’ and devolution, the UK never managed to progress to a federal state), it is time for the EU to embrace the politics of unity. Federalism is just such a project and various models demonstrate how multiplicities of language and identity are viable within a politically unified system.

Germany is already such a nation, with proper federal constructs set up while at the same time maintaining regional identities and smaller decision-making capacities in municipalities and city-centred politics. Certainly there are different forms of federalism, and beyond Europe, arguably two of the most successful are Australia and Canada. In both countries, various powers are devolved to the states and provinces at the sub-federal level. For example, if a state such as Western Australia sees the need to set up a trade commission/delegation to a given region or nation, it is free to do so and indeed has done just that. All Australian states have trade commissions around the world. Canadian provinces have power over immigration, and can organise their respective education and health systems at the provincial level. Sections 51 and 52 of the original British North America Act of 1867 ensured that federation would not take away from these decision-making powers, and Australian federation in 1901 kept the same sections of the constitution. Canada’s ‘repatriation’ of the BNA Act in 1982 and the subsequent additions to the original formative constitution kept these legal positions and even when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was added, which is a radically progressive addition guaranteeing individual and group rights and freedoms while at the same time curtailing hate speech and incitement to violence, it still placed primacy on balancing the rights of people(s) with local(ized) governing capacities.

In the Canadian case, there have been two recent ‘internal secessions’ and an ongoing debate about Quebec. There is no space here to discuss Quebec in detail, and this is always a process of negotiation. But politics is not only about consensus. It is also about living with dissensus and finding ways to accommodate various forms of difference while, crucially, expending neither blood nor treasure. In the case of Quebec, there was almost a proper secession in which Quebecois voters sought to leave Canada and form some type of ‘sovereignty-association’. The political (and cultural, social, economic) negotiation continues and there are varying degrees of success and failure, accommodation and conflict.

The two ‘internal secessions’ I want to focus on here, can be similar to Catalonia, provided we have a stronger federal construct in the EU. Such federal constructs then manage to take away the large modern problems that nations have difficulty managing individually (the military, and other special resource distributions such as building and maintaining transportation and communication connections, fixing environmental problems, are all massive transnational undertakings). This means that states and provinces have autonomy, like Catalonia would inside a federal construct. On the first of April, 1999, the Northwest Territories split in two parts, one retaining the original name, and the other part became Nunavut, a self-governing territory with an elected legislative assembly. This was the end of a long process around land claims by local Inuit people as well as an eventual referendum. This is an important political realignment recognizing First Nations and Indigenous Peoples capacities for political life. Canada’s tenth province, and last to join confederation in 1949, sought a constitutional amendment for several years, and was successful in a name change to officially change to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001. Again, a political realignment within a federal construct meant that expressions of identity in a political territory could be negotiated with a desired change of the political designation, the actual name, of said territory. Internal negotiations not loss blood and treasure; accommodation by various political powers, not violent reactions to shifting territorial alignments; acceptance of identity claims, not rejection by powerful arms of the state.

There is much to be learned from Australian and Canadian federalism, and much to be gained by the EU, from moving in the direction of creating a type of confederation that both of those countries enjoy. It is in this way that dissensus can be managed, and secessions like Catalonia can then become viable political options without creating more political grievances that destroy nations.

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Dr Robert Imre is currently Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Advanced Social Research (IASR) at the University of Tampere and he begins as a researcher at the Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI) later on in 2018.

Our new fellows: Elina I. Mäkinen Translational Research in the Field of Medicine: The 15 Year Long Development Process

Elina I. Mäkinen is an organizational sociologist specializing in innovation, collaboration, and teamwork in the life sciences. She received her Ph.D. at Stanford University’s organization studies doctoral program and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere.

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A year ago, MIT published a report titled Convergence: The Future of Health (Sharp et al. 2016). This report presented the views of world-renowned scientists and medical researchers who argued that advances in the fight of diseases like cancer and dementia call for the integration of different types of expertise. The report highlighted the mixing of, for example, biomedical knowledge, engineering skills, and expertise in the physical, computational, and mathematical sciences. Converging different forms of knowledge in an effort to create new healthcare applications and technologies would not only benefit patients, but also potentially create new jobs and improve varied societal aspects.

This kind of research approach is very similar to translational research. Translational research in the field of medicine involves moving knowledge gained from the basic sciences to its application in clinical and community settings. Translational research cannot be achieved without collaboration and integration of knowledge among different experts.

While it is widely agreed that the ability to translate scientific discoveries to clinical practice is fundamental to improving healthcare, translational research process is challenging. The development process is slow and prone to failure. One estimate has been that it can take up to 15 years of research findings to be implemented in healthcare organizations (Balas and Boren 2000). At the same time, we do not know how many efforts fail during the development process or what kind of projects are even likely to get to the implementation stage.

My research agenda is directed at developing an understanding of the whole translational research process and the challenges for collaboration that projects face at different stages. This research agenda builds on my dissertation project conducted at Stanford University. My dissertation was a longitudinal ethnographic study on a new translational research center in the field of medicine seeking to uncover the causes of premature birth.

During the three years that I studied the center, it became evident that translational research process was threatened by challenges associated with collaboration in heterogeneous teams. Developing a shared, translational research narrative among scientists and physicians from different backgrounds was difficult, because it required letting go off one’s own research process and including elements from the work of others.

In order to develop a thorough understanding of translational research, it is important to understand how different experts are able to collaborate at different stages in the development process. Throughout the translational research process, team composition will vary. Depending on the developmental stage, teams could include researchers from the life and the physical sciences, healthcare practitioners, employees from university’s technology transfer and commercialization office, stakeholders from patient organizations, or social workers. As such, translational research is even more inclusive than the previously described convergent science.

I want to know, what the issues are that hamper collaboration at different stages. For example, is the knowledge boundary between a bioinformatician and a microbiologist easier to cross than the one between a social worker and a physician? If the challenges for collaboration are not resolved, what happens to the translational research process? Does the ease or difficulty associated with crossing a particular knowledge boundary relate to what kind of healthcare implementations we end up with?

The challenge for finding answers to these questions is being able to get access to the right kind of empirical settings. I am looking for translational research projects of varied levels of maturity focused on the development of healthcare related technologies, applications, or programs. I have been able to identify some, but the search still continues. If you think you can provide help with connecting me with the right people and projects, or are otherwise interested in this research effort, please get in touch:


Balas, E.A. and Boren, S.A. (2000): Managing clinical knowledge for healthcare improvement. In J. Bemmel and A. T. McCray (Eds.), Yearbook of Medical Informatics, 65–70.

Sharp, P., Jacks, T. and Hockfield, S. (2016): Convergence: The Future of Health. Cambridge, MA: MIT.





IASR back from summer holidays: welcoming new researchers!

Our fellows are back from summer holidays and welcoming new researchers!

Please, check our page here to learn about our researchers.

Our usual kick-off seminar held on September 6-7 at Wuolle Mansion, Hauho, allowed fellows to introduce their research to each other and exchange new ideas. With this post we start introducing our new fellows and their research.