Boarded up in Punavuori / Helsinki / 12 Mar 2016

Boarded up in Punavuori / Helsinki / 12 Mar 2016




  4. cultural

Kampin kappeli, the Chapel of Silence / Helsinki / 11 Apr 2016

Kampin kappeli, the Chapel of Silence / Helsinki / 11 Apr 2016


Next year, Finland will celebrate its centennial. One hundred years of an independent Finland. After a hundred years, a country starts to change. The generation that fought for independence and survived the Winter War, built the government and civil society is aging, and the younger generations are inheriting a country with an uncertain future.  

All countries undergo this transition. In Finland, the politically tumultuous climate, economic uncertainties, and the increasingly rapid process of globalization intensify the stakes of this transition. Like other times in their history, Finland must do many things at once.  

 Although prophecy is a poor industry, young people in Finland are optimistic. They see serious obstacles and challenges, but there does seem to be a line to success. Reeta, an 18-year old from Helsinki, neatly summarized how Finland’s past experience can create a positive future:

“It's the history that really pushes us forward, and makes us remember how things were. We just get up and still work hard and achieve our goals. I think Finland is not that big, but it's impressive though. What I read and what I learned is that we really, despite the obstacles and difficulties, we just still rise and want to be our own country. Like when we were under Sweden or Russia, we still wanted to be our own country. We just said, ‘No. We won't be surrender. Period.”’

Pendant lamp landscape at the new Artek / Helsinki / 19 Mar 2016

Pendant lamp landscape at the new Artek / Helsinki / 19 Mar 2016


The 2008 global financial crisis was devastating for Finland. Not only did it freeze domestic consumption and internal markets, but international trade – mostly Russia and Sweden, who account for the overwhelming majority – dropped precipitously. Russian demand in particular fell and has continued to stay low, even as European markets recover, because of low oil prices and anti-Russian economic positions elsewhere in the world. Parts of Eastern Finland have felt this reduction in Russian exchanges most dramatically. Towns are shrinking and industries that were set up to cater to well-to-do Russian tourists are folding. As a result, Finland is attempting to partner with countries outside of its usual sphere. Cooperative agreements with countries in Asia are helping to bolster the economy.

 Another common topic when talking about the economy in Finland is Nokia. At its height, Nokia was nearly 5% of Finnish GDP. However, Nokia’s decline, which coincided with a global financial contraction, left one of the biggest non-forestry movers dramatically reduced. Finland has needed to lean on its paper and wood pulp production even more heavily in recent years, leveraging it to sustain social programs and economic stasis.

Partially, Finland’s economic woes stems from the tendency toward consolidation. For a country of Finland’s size, the extent to which a number of large, vertically integrated corporations dominate the economy is staggering. Of course, there are many foreign corporations in Finland, but the real focus is on homegrown companies. Even students looking for remedies to the sluggish economy are looking for, in their words, “the new Nokia” and “the next Nokia.”

Instead, I recommend Finland reinforce the smaller companies, emphasize the design element of Finnish products, where they can compete globally, and grow their developing technological sector. Finland cannot compete in every market when it comes to basic goods and services. Where it can thrive is when it comes to quality and luxury. Artek, which still makes Alvar Aalto’s Studio 60 stool in Turku, is one company whose methodology would work as a Finnish archetype. Marimekko too, who manufactures many of their goods in Finland, and Iittala, where the traditional glass methods still exist, are other examples. Finland can’t win on low cost or quantity, but they can win on quality. 

“Given the recent wave of celebrating civil society as the potential cure to all the ills of democracy, it is important to recall that the dominant forces in transnational civil society remain businesses and organizations tied to business and capital. Businesses are important in ways that distinguish them from markets—as institutions, they organize much of the lives of their employees, and they coordinate production as well as exchange across continents.” Calhoun (2002), 169

I was talking about Nokia and how it felt, and I think there's a big problem there is not ... those think that will get Finland's economy up, like there should be something new and something special, for example like forestry, it's not that big of a driver anymore, because people don't use that much paper, and everything, so Finland is a bit in the back now, because there is nothing new. Maybe like, for example IT, stuff will be the savior. – Lilja, 18, Tampere

We need a new Nokia. That’s why we’re going to start the companies and see where it takes us. – Venny, 15, Joensuu

I hope our economy gets better. It has been really bad for 3 years. We have good engineers here, architects and stuff. Something big has to happen. We don't know what. – Sanceri, 17, Vantaa

I trust in the economical state of Finland. We have lots of strong, big companies that aren't going to fall apart. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

Well, I would think that the government would keep on going like what they're doing right now. I think it should be like the more, very technology grounded country. A lot more start up, but mostly in the electronic divisions already anywhere else. For example, Finland is very strong in app developers, and cell phone makers used to be, but still is. A few other cell phone companies are also being started up right now. – Andre, 15, Helsinki

In economics, what are the obstacles there? We have to find, we used to have Nokia and when we had it, everything was just going well. Now we don't, or at least it's not so big, but I think we shouldn't have one big firm. We should find something we're good at, like IT and technology overall and it's very good and high indication and stuff like that. If we concentrate on stuff like that, and giving those young people that are right now here the possibilities to succeed so they won't be having at this age already, the feeling "I should leave. I should go somewhere else. There is the possibility that home can't give me anything." – Timofei, 18, Helsinki

The fact that we speak English and we know how to speak it, I think is great. If everyone will speak good English, then it will be ... for a better future and I think every Finnish maybe wishes to ... Nokia to happen again. That everyone would know when Finland is ... Finnish ... that's a huge thing. Maybe it will happen again. People always seem to like Sweden more than Finland. If people will come from Japan, they expect to see northern lights and sky and everything like that, and we're just ... we don't really get those here, maybe if you go to Lapland, there might be a chance, but it's not very big. – Leena, 17, Joensuu


  1. How is the weakness and struggle of the Finnish economy representative of troubling economic trends globally?
  2. American audiences: What kinds of underlying problems haunt the U.S. economy and what can the country learn from the Finnish case to strengthen it?
  3. Finnish audiences: In what ways might Finnish companies and the economy as a whole adapt in order to thrive in a revised and weakened global economy?
  4. How is the tendency in Finland towards fewer, larger companies representative of a cultural trend or mode? 
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this section complement or relate to the text?
Martinlaakson open house / Vantaa / 19 Jan 2016

Martinlaakson open house / Vantaa / 19 Jan 2016


Finland’s political climate is experiencing the same deepening rift between the liberal left and conservative right that has proliferated across Europe and appeared in a particularly populist way on both ends of the spectrum in the U.S. Therefore, prophesizing only the outcome of elections is a mostly futile task. Coupled with the complexities of political gamesmanship and the shifting whims of the electorate, any certainty at the political future of Finland is literally impossible.

Students, teachers, and others all identify that Finland is also growing more and more socially liberal. This trend has had an impact on various civil rights legislation in Finland, led to the growing acceptance of LGBTQ populations, and a more general open-mindedness among Finns as a whole. However, this shift to the left is paired with a turning away from the traditional institutions of authority. A disengaged electorate instead seems to be turning to local action and grassroots activism instead of navigating official channels. Considering that Finland has historically vested a great deal of trust in government and corporations, this shift might be more significant than these conversations indicate.

Additionally, people from all over Finland predict a contraction of the liberal social welfare state. The economy has been too slow to recover, global competition has been too rigorous, and larger political concerns too distracting. Many students described shrinking student grants, considered absurd in the United States but a part of the social fabric in Finland. Seniors expressed concerns about social security and support for the elderly. Everyone seemed doubtful that Finland can continue along the same path that has worked for so long.

Partially, this political uncertainty is a symptom of a larger and deeper crisis of conscience. Finns and the people who live in Finland are having an ongoing and slow discussion about what the country will look like. Of course, many are opposed to change of any sort, but those advocating change are gradually drowning them out. What change? That depends on political affiliation. But a change is coming to Finland. 

“The quest for humanism and democracy in education and respect for law and one’s fellow human beings are formal goals and objectives. Preparing ourselves to meet the demands of a rapidly changing society—the constant presence of that change, the need for continual education, the information explosion, rapid yet economically sound development, competition and integration: these are the challenges of today.” Kimonen (2001), 5

I think it's going to be quite tough few years, coming ahead. Government, the new government, has had to- they've made some really tough decisions in terms of all kinds of money things, trying to shut down the spending and that affects everyone. That affects the job market. I need to find myself a new job, soon. I'm worried that I may not find it, so it does affect my life in that sense as well. It affects the money that we get for education. There's a big thing, I don't know if you've read the news, but there's a big thing going on now, we need to get these student grants and they're going to- Reduce them, yes, reduce them quite a lot. And that is not good for the students. When I was a student at university, that money was definitely needed. I know it's kind of a luxury that we get, because we don't have the same kind of system in the U.S., for example, so you think "Oh, free money, just take it, why are you complaining?" but we're so used to the system, perhaps too used to it, I think, because that's why all the rallying now is going on. Maybe we've been too well off, I don't know. That affects the students, that affects the education system, that affects people who are going to be able to apply to university and what kind of jobs are coming ahead in the future. It's not looking very bright, I have to say. I am worried about many things, including my own future. – Katariina, English Teacher, Helsinki

“The present government of Finland, and its predecessor, [has] had an official agenda of encouraging citizenship participation. The government and leading politicians seem to be worried about the sinking electoral activity, and perhaps also about the results of research related to young people’s disinterest in political issues.” Virta (2005), 485

Students in this generation are accustomed to find information easily from the internet. Because of this, they are shortsighted and cannot concentrate on broader entities. – Hilkka, Finnish Teacher, Helsinki

I think that our generation wants to change something. It’s not fine to just sit at home and be like okay, it’s going on out in the world, life continues. – Mikko, 15, Joensuu

“The issue of democratic inclusiveness is not just a quantitative matter of the scale of a public sphere or the proportion of the members of a political community who may speak within it. While it is clearly a matter of stratification and boundaries (e.g., openness to the propertyless, the uneducated, women, or immigrants), inclusiveness is also a matter of how the public sphere incorporates and recognizes the diversity of identities that people bring to it from their manifold involvement in civil society.” Calhoun (2002), 167

“In a world of economic globalization and international migration, what is the staying power of national identities and how do these identities shape public reactions to demographic and cultural changes? In addressing these issues, there is an emerging consensus that the ‘normative content’ of a nation’s identity—the criteria that define membership in the nation and the values and traits that are consensually recognized as distinguishing ‘nationals’ from ‘others’—should be distinguished from the affective dimension of this attitude.” Wright et al (2012), 469

Not so different from now, even though I think that there should be some changes. I think they won't be fast, and I think it's a good thing that they won't be instant. It will take time. Finland is on the right track for the most part. If it will continue the way it does, with some little, or not so major changes in the economy. We talk just about how Finns are going to change in 20 years, it's becoming more, as the older people pass away and the younger people are becoming more important to society. The open mindedness will come to Finland. Openness. – Timofei, 18, Helsinki

“National identity in the service of a common culture recognizes cultural differences only to flatten them out in the conservative discourse of assimilation and the liberal appeal to tolerance. However, the relationship between national identity and nationalism is not bound by any particular politics, and by definition is not intrinsically oppressive. Hence, it is both important and necessary as part of a progressive politics of national identity to provide a theoretical space to address the potential of both a pedagogy and politics that can pluralize cultural differences within democratic relations of power as part of an effort to develop an emancipatory politics of national identity and nationalism.” Giroux, H. (1995), 47

Maybe more Finnish, maybe music, more movies, showing that we have a culture, it's not always MTV or sometimes it feels like the culture disappearing and become American or European or something different than Finnish. – Leena, 17, Joensuu

“How do the Finns expect to attract…recognition and to extent that influence? Finland’s real ‘European vocation’ is to be an actor in the EU as a core country that has a seat at every table, involved in every decision whether monetary policy, voting procedures, trade policy, or crisis management. Finland moved straight to the core of the EU once it had acceded to membership because, as Finns argue, it was the only course that made sense for a small country always wary of being marginalized.” Rinehart (2002), 431

You have to manage on your own. – Tarja, Helsinki

I think it's marvelous. We have so international and so talented students here and when I have those pessimistic student moments, for example Russia, I just look around me and understand that if we educate our students to be reflective and not to always think about military resolutions or violent resolutions. There are not bad nations and good nations but all nations are like a combination of those and there are many tactics we do nowadays that this big nation becomes like a bat and it's not always that. Finland has this kind of political reality because we have been all the time between Russia and the Baltic contingent. We understand the political realities and that's why I think we can survive and we will flourish and at the same time we will change but so do other nations. – Sinikka, History Teacher, Vantaa

Well I think our future cannot be the way that all the others are doing. Like, a lot of times, for example, nowadays, a lot of programs are like, “Oh lets buy iPads for all the students, it makes us greater!” and stuff like that. That is not the way. Our strengths, good education, good teachers, well educated teachers. It’s not iPads. That’s what all the other countries are doing. We cannot do it the same way because we’re a tiny country and the bigger ones are going to win if we’re doing it the same way. So we have to find our other way, our own way. I don’t know what that is, but we will have to find that. And if not, we will not get to the next level just by mimicking other countries. We haven’t done that before, we have always been kind of like the “weirdos” in the world, and it’s worked quite well. Considering that a hundred years ago Finland was still a very young country. And now, we are here. Among other western countries. so maybe we can continue being the “weirdos” in our own way. – Helmi, 18, Helsinki


  1. How is the increasingly divisive political environment an inevitable product of the last 200 years of global history? Draw some lines connecting historical trends.
  2. American audiences: Describe the current complicated political climate in the United States and attempt to explain the different vested interests involved in it.
  3. Finnish audiences: What kinds of changes do you see in the Finnish political environment? What kinds of future do these changed predict for Finland?
  4. What kind of strategies can countries like Finland use to achieve, as Calhoun says, "democratic inclusiveness?"
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this section complement or relate to the text?

Walking along the Aura / Turku / 22 Jan 2016

Walking along the Aura / Turku / 22 Jan 2016


Finland is in somewhat of a cultural conundrum right now. Conversations about what Finnish culture is and to whom it belongs are starting to bubble to the surface. The European and American influences, now somewhat ingrained in Finnish social identity, are themselves changing.

 Younger Finns have expressed above all else a desire for Finnish culture to be more open-minded. However, they are mostly unable to articulate exactly what that looks like in Finland. Open-mindedness, it seems, is an empty term for more internationally connected, socially tolerant, and liberal. Depending on the conversations, meaning can be poured in.

What remains to be seen is how the political conflicts dotting the world will resolve. If, in the end, the consensus is toward further integration and internationalism, then Finland will find its twin goals of global partnership and leveraging its flexibility rewarded. If, however, the world becomes more isolationist and nationalist, then Finland will possibly revert back into an internally culturally liberal but externally merely pragmatic state. 

“The Finnish culture is comparatively undifferentiated, it is argued, and therefore the majority of Finns have a common system of meaning more extensively shared by different classes than is normally the case in Western Europe. Therefore, so it may be hypothesized, the existing national imagery allows for few variations; it is unusually poorly equipped to generate new cultural meanings needed in new conditions.” Alapuro (1992), 706

At this moment Finns are very keen on technology and digitalization. Because of this, the view on education is going to change. Inequalities are going to increase and the general education will not, unfortunately, level out the differences in the future. – Hilkka, Finnish Teacher, Helsinki

Not everyone can be normal, someone has to do something special, like start up a company or something other than like a Finnish culture and things go like they upgrade, they go forward. Like someone has to have international relationships with other countries, so we can’t just sit in Finland and do the normal stuff, that someone has to do something different. – Ville, 15, Joensuu

“The practices in which identity is manifest are often overlapping, inconsistent, and even contradictory. Not all of the practices that support a particular identity need to be contiguous and mutually reinforcing. That may happen, but it is not a necessary characteristic of identity. This is what enables people to share an identity and yet disagree over its meaning and who ought to be included in its claim. But this is also what gives some identities resilience—the more complex the practices are that sustain it, the harder it is to dismantle or alter.” Ferguson, M. (2007), 40

Well, I think one of the most of these things is that the younger generation is a lot more open minded. Especially in the south. Again, if I compare it to my teenage years up north, we were all the same, there were no things that were different. I think people were a bit closed-minded. It might be still, nowadays, I don't know even with the younger ones. Open mindedness is one big thing. In my parents’ generation, it was more traditional, traditional values in terms of family and marriage, and maybe even education. – Katariina, English Teacher, Helsinki

“Some have attempted to develop ‘thinner’ assimilation provisions that arguably are compatible with cultural pluralism. The primary goal of the naturalization process, according to these theorists, is to encourage newcomers to adopt the civic national identity of the receiving society. Such assimilation is vital, they argue, because a sense of shared national identity among citizens is a necessary condition of the realization of important liberal democratic ideals and practices. Although different liberal nationalists define national identity and slightly different ways, they all distinguish between a national culture and a civic national identity. A national culture, on the one hand, includes a language, traditions and social customs, more moral values and practices, and religious believes. A civic national identity, on the other, is based on a shared commitment, across cultures, instead of historically embedded the liberal democratic principles. Where is acculturating involves assimilating distinct national cultural practices, adopting a civic national identity involves committing oneself to the political ideas and principles upon which a particular polities founded. However, adopting civic national identity is not solely a matter of political allegiance; it also entails identifying oneself as a member of the civic nation, or people, the defines itself on the basis of it it's members shared political loyalties. Such civic national membership involves mutual exclusive feelings of solidarity, sympathy, and obligation for one's fellow nationals over and above the sense of patriotism for one's country, as ordinarily construed.” Wilcox (2004), 569

Well, it's going to be a lot different than it is now because of the lead of the country is last generation, of course, and now it's changing a lot in this generation of ours. Yeah. It will be a lot, I think, open in some sorts of things. I think not as introverted. More the extrovert. Probably our school system would a little bit. We're going to have to think more ourselves, and that way will improve better. – Lauri, 15 and Juhani, 14, Helsinki

I think we're more open-minded. Because my grandmother she won't admit it but I think she's a little racist. She's really doesn't know how to think about gay people and that. They are not so open-minded about it. In our generation we might make jokes. Some of our age might make jokes about them but they won't be serious. They don't really mind about others being from different countries or about their sexuality. Then they think that it's a good thing that people are different. That's more open-minded. – Essi, 16, Vantaa

Culturally I think that globalization will take over. Along with social media, people are going to be open to everyone, and that's a good thing considering all the religious difficulties everybody has had. – Emma, 18, Helsinki

Politically, I think there is going to be more dividing into two groups, or there might be we get consensus. I don't know. I hope it's not going to divide in the two groups only fighting with each other. That's what it looks like it's heading to. It's not only two groups; it's lot of groups. It's the right wing and the left wing, then immigration divides people, economical things, saving or taking more loan debt; that kind of things. I think we're going to be more global. We're going to look more out in Europe and America and maybe also other cultures. People are going to be more aware that there is life elsewhere, getting affections with things like iPhones and all the global things. Yeah. People are going to change. I think there's going to be a Finnish side also to that changing. We do it our way. We don't take all things to ourselves. If it doesn't fit our culture, then we leave it. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

I think it really depends on how the situation develops. The economy and the refugee crises and stuff. If the refugees just keep flowing in, we can't take massive amounts of people. I realize some people will just snap if too many come in. I'm hoping that Finland will probably, well I don't know how Finland is going to get better but I'm hoping it will stay like this and not get worse. I don't want to be negative but I think we are heading towards a bit negative, worse. I think right now it is getting a little worse but then maybe it can get better from there. I hope. – Nicholas, 15, Helsinki

“[F]or those who wish to make the teaching of history a means for cultivating patriotic sentiments, the following problem remains: truthful stories are not guaranteed (or likely) to be as patriotically uplifting as myths. In my view, one significant difficulty that advocates of truthful patriotic history face is practical: how to encourage patriotic identification while teaching history with integrity. That is, the question is how to be inspiring in the right way without covering up the personal failures of political leaders, the innumerable instances of cruelty, greed, and ambition leading to pointless wars, the enslavement of entire people, and injustices of other sorts.” Costa (2009), 108

I've got a friend who's living in Munich at the moment, and we'll have long discussions about this thing all the time. Summarizing them, I think myself, I'll be here gray-haired being a pensioner. I've gotten out of work two, three years prematurely the adult years of my age, but I'm already well to do, so it's all right. It's not that catastrophic for me. My kids, there's three, two sons and a girl. At least two of them are living abroad in Europe, possibly in Anglo-Saxon countries US, UK, Australia. One of them is living here, making a decent living after a free university education in a country which is considerably more divided than Finland is now. In Helsinki, there will be ghettos, lots of problems of modern cities which we are familiar in the older countries and in the older industrial countries.

I don't think things are going to be that much better. They're going to be the same and better for the people who manage to grab ahold of this global economy, this global service line stretching from Silicon Valley to Helsinki. Those people are doing well, and those who are teaching their kids, cutting their hair. Then there's going to be this huge Roman proletariat which is getting entertainment, cheap drugs, alcohol, and discipline. I'm a bit pessimistic, I know, but I'd say that many people will make it, not all.

Russia is still there. They haven't come over. To me, they're going to make it a bit better over there in Russia. They're not going to be a superpower, but someday, they'll get a leader who understands that they're not as big as they should be, thinking of themselves I mean. As you heard, I'm a bit pessimistic. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

“Terms such as ethnic groups, ethnic identity or ethnicity continue to remain volatile concepts that attain varying shades of meanings in differing contexts. There is the danger of idealizing certain situations by highlighting the cultural core and presenting a static condition that seemingly needs to be preserved. This approach neglects the mechanisms that underlie the expressions of ethnic identity in situations of conflict and suppression among ethnic groups related to numbers (majority-minority relations), economic and political power, and the ever increasing juxtaposition of local and regional expressions versus the expanding processes of globalization.” Müller-Wille (2001), 287

I think we are going to get a lot more multicultural because of immigration and stuff like that. We are getting more open-minded, because there are different people and a lot of new things for us. – Miska, 17, Joensuu

I am told that it will be more multicultural and I hope that this neo-liberalness will fade away. I hope but we don't know. – Markku, History Teacher, Vantaa

“It is typically older and less educated Finns— seemingly reflecting Finnish nationalism—who regard class as something foreign and even, in some cases, regard the only class differences as relating to ethnicity or language. But, nevertheless, there is still a strong case for arguing that a movement is beginning to occur in Finland such that social differences are becoming more pronounced and class difference is being expressed in a latent form, especially around patterns of consumption and life- style.” Dutton (2010), 105

I think that the older people are the one that are slowing progress down to get more open-minded people here. I think that when there's more people that are open minded then they would probably change their mind too. – Essi, 16, Vantaa

I think that we are more open-minded a lot. Parents, when it comes to, for example, equal marriage, it was considered as, I guess, a disease back in the day. I think that some people are just very not that open-minded, older people. Younger ones are. – Tia, 17, Joensuu


  1. How are changes in the cultural dimension similar to or different from changes in the social dimension? Is it merely a semantical difference or is there something specific?
  2. American audiences: Are the changes happening in Finnish society similar or different from the many ways American society is changing?
  3. Finnish audiences: How will these Finnish cultural changes impact other aspects of Finnish society?
  4. What intersections can you find between changing class dynamics, globalization, and increasing diversity in Finnish society?
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this section complement or relate to the text?
Sledding / Porvoo / 4 Feb 2016

Sledding / Porvoo / 4 Feb 2016