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Immigration policies, governance of ethnic minorities and multiculturalism: A snapshot interview with Miikka Pyykkönen

13 Jan
Miikka Pyykkönen has worked at the department of social sciences and philosophy in University of Jyväskylä Finland since 2000. He is specialized in politics of cultural diversity and multiculturalism, civil society, Foucauldian methodology and analytics of power, governance of ethnic minorities, indigenous politics, and European and Finnish immigration policies. His recent publications deal  with cultural diversity in cultural policy, theoretical conception of civil society, historical governance of the Roma and Sami in Finland and immigrant politics in Finland.1. Miikka, your PhD thesis (completed in 2007) examined the work of immigrant associations in Jyväskylä and Tampere. Could you share with us the main hypothesis, research objectives and main outcomes of your research?The guiding hypothesis in the beginning was that the immigrant associations in Finland work mainly for the cultural and religious traditions of groups they represent. Very soon while working on the thesis, I figured out that this general assumption was partial. The repertoire of associations is much wider and their orientations vary from traditions and religions to gender, age, arts, sports and intercultural issues, for instance. My main research objectives were to study how the associations construct ethnicities of different immigrant groups, what kinds of forms of integration association promote and how they understand the concept, and how is their role signified in the administration of immigration affairs. The outcomes connected to these objectives are: Ethno-cultural and some mono-ethnic religious, women and youth associations want to, indeed, construct the ethnic identity in accordance with the traditions of the areas and countries of origin. However, many associations tend to promote multiculturalism, interculturality and multiethnic identities. Some multicultural, youth and women associations do not cherish ethnic identities at all, but emphasize other identifying elements of citizenship and belonging. Relatively similar division was seen in relation to integration as some associations mainly promoted integration of their members and clients to a particular ethnic group, some – especially so called integration associations – to Finnish society and culture accordingly to the official integration policy, and some between the immigrated groups. One central finding was that the administration of immigration affairs is very keen on incorporating immigrant associations to the integration work in accordance with the official integration principles and general societal rationalities. Immigrant associations have become more and more a tool for governing and administrating the immigration affairs in an empowering way.2. What are the three distinguished features of the University of Jyväskylä in comparison of other programs and universities you are familiar with?Our Master’s programme in Cultural Policy is strongly grounded in the critical social scientific basic research. The leading objective in our research is not that the research is applicable for administrative work or art field, but the interests rise mainly from the earlier research, theoretical perspectives and communication of the researchers. I think this is the number one difference if compared to cultural policy or management programmes in many other European and non-European educational institutions. However, we of course do applicable research and cooperate a lot with instances doing research like that (e.g. Foundation for Cultural Policy Research – CUPORE). Secondly, and in relation to the previous, our programme deals with many dimensions of cultural policy and the curriculum of our programme is very versatile. It combines anthropological and “semiotic” approaches to culture as well as aesthetic and arts oriented approaches. We study, and also have courses on:  theories of culture and cultural policy, multiculturalism, governance of culture, cultural and arts organizations and artistic identities and professions. Thirdly, we are very well established in the international and national networks of cultural policy research. This is not actually a difference if compared to many other educational institutions in this field, but our central characteristic anyway. We participate actively in Nordic and international research networks and organize events. We have also strong representation in the international scientific journals and publications of the field.

3. You have been visiting lecturer at several prominent universities (University of Umeå, University of Iceland, University of del Salvador and University of Fasta, Argentina). Is there any difference in the way issues related to immigration, cultural identity and multiculturalism are approached by researchers in Europe, in the Scandinavian region, and in South America?

It is really hard to point out any country-specific differences in research orientations, but there are differences between the departments and faculties due to the research traditions and paradigms they affiliate with. At the time when I visited the University of Iceland (2006), immigration and multiculturalism did not seem to be big issues there in cultural studies and social sciences. Nevertheless approaches to culture and cultural differences were very similar than in Finland – postcolonialism, anti-essentialism and the study of representations and stereotypes. The same goes with Umeå University in Sweden. Both destinations also shared similar interests to political processes and policies than sociologist, political scientist and cultural policy researchers working with multiculturalism and diversity have in Finland.

In Argentina the orientations and approaches were quite similar too, but I have to say that many older and established researchers shared views which have been contradictory or even somewhat rejected in the European (multi)cultural studies for the last decades, mainly concerning the natural existence of racial categories and differences between races. The whole academic race discourse, which is not much used in Europe (here ethnicity), was quite lively there. However, this can be also because of the influence of the US academic discourses. More or less constructionist approach to identities and cultures was not unfamiliar there, but not as taken for granted as it is in Europe. One has to bear in mind that I only visited two universities in Argentina and my experiences are only from them. Just out of curiosity I want to mention a funny coincidence, which happened when I spoke about the policy models of multiculturalism in Europe for the PhD students at the Universidad del Salvador. One of the PhD students in anthropology was hostile toward me from the very beginning of my lecture and questioned my position by saying “Why does this representative of European imperialism come to our university to lecture about the policy models of dealing with multicultural issues? Europeans have never been able to deal with multicultural phenomena properly”. His point was that I do not have any legitimacy to be there and talk about these issues in terms of the historical colonialist relations between Europe and Latin-America. I tried to explain that it is not of course my point to tell about the best models of multiculturalisms and I am very critical towards colonialism and most of the European models as well. To convince him about this was hard because of his very negative attitude, but also because of simultaneous translation used in the class. In the end the Dean of the faculty removed the student from the class for disturbing my lecture. However, I guess we managed to find some kind of understanding as he publicly said “I agree with you, I love this man” when he went out. It was a pity that I did not have possibility to discuss with him about colonialism and postcolonial approach(es) any longer.

4. The issues of multiculturalism are popular among researchers and academia, but less understood by artists and cultural managers. Could you give few examples of the practical implementation of multiculturalism in artistic practices?

I am not quite sure if I agree with the statement in the question, because to me it seems that artists and art world have been dealing with multicultural issues already for long, and cultural managers have “wakened” to the issue as well. It seems to me that multiculturalism has perhaps already passed the art world as a trendy issue… There are already a lot of existing examples of dealing with multiculturalism in arts and art organizations. Here are few practices which I know from Finland and Nordic countries:  Immigrant associations have had amateur art activities since the beginning of 1990s and recently they have also affiliated more or less professional artists. Cultural associations of the Roma are quite active and organize Roma arts and artists. The professional and amateur art activities of the Sami have already since mid 1990s been autonomously taken care of the own representative body of the Sami, Sami parliament. Recently particular arts council funding strands for immigrant artists and multicultural arts projects have risen. Locally the galleries, museums and artists have lot of cooperation and have got artists with Nordic or immigrant background involved in intercultural and integrative “multicultural activities”. What still have remained rather untouched by explicit multicultural approaches are the mainstream cultural events. On the one hand, many of them are multicultural by their founding nature as the performers very often share different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. On the other hand, not many minority members do know about them or find their ways to them. Thus the instruments for increasing minority participation and access could be still improved a lot. However, many examples show that the position of minorities among the audiences should not be over-emphasized, because the participants do not want to be treated differently, even – or especially – if they belong to minorities.

5. In August 2010 you gave a keynote speech at the 6th International Conference of Cultural Policy Research. What was your personal impression of the Conference? What were the main benefits for you as a result of your participation?

To my understanding the conference was success. People heard interesting speeches and papers and got new fruitful contacts, and the old networks strengthened. I know that at least three joint publications and several research projects have been constituted on the basis of the discussions in that conference. The main benefit for me personally was to get good critical feedback to my conference paper, which is now being processed into submitted article manuscript. The keynote speech – which is published in the issue 2/2011 of the Nordisk Kulturpolitisk Tidskrift – was an educative personal challenge as I had not really given keynote speeches before that. It also brought new contacts for me as many people approached me after the speech to continue the conversation. 

6. What motivated you to start an academic and research career in the cultural policy field? Do you have any “role model”, or a person who helped you the most in your professional development?

Initially: money J. I was making my dissertation on Finnish immigrant associations to sociology and facing the end of one financing period when Professor Anita Kangas suggested me to apply in an ongoing cultural policy doctoral student financing call. I did and got the funding, which also settled that I did a cultural policy dissertation within the discipline of sociology. Then when the lectureship at the Master’s programme of cultural policy was established in 2006, I applied to it and got the position. After a year the position was regularized.

I cannot say that I have any role models. However, I do follow certain theoretical and methodological “gurus” like 99% of researchers do.  Prof. Kangas has been the person supporting me the most with my career development in the field of cultural policy research as she and her contacts have opened many doors for me to networks and publications, but also current cultural policy trends and discussions on them.

7. What are your next research plans?

Right now I am making my post doc research on the history of governance of the Roma and the Sami in Finland and in other Nordic countries to some extend. The research touches upon the time between 16thcentury and 1917 (Independence of Finland). I investigate which were the main political rationalities of this governance and how these rationalities implemented through different kinds of technical and practical solutions.  The ultimate aim is to see what kind of discourses and practices there are on the background of the recent assimilative and integrative multiculturalisms in Finland and Nordics. We have also put quite a lot effort to research project on urbanization of indigenous peoples and cultures in northern and southern circumpolar areas. Perspectives of the planned project are cultural policies on the urbanized indigenous groups, cultural sustainability and cultural rights. This is really something that I would like to develop in the near future, because it is so acute topic considering the huge cultural changes and challenges indigenous peoples are facing in these areas, the true realization of human and cultural rights and the preservation of unique forms of the intangible and tangible heritage of humanity, but also because of the recognition of different epistemic models of understanding the urban living. Right now I am finishing couple scientific articles in relation to the previous topics. I am also writing couple of book manuscripts at the moment: one being an English text book on multicultural cultural policy and the other – more polemic – book in Finnish on the pervasive and hegemonic entrepreneurial ethos, including focus on the cultural sector.

8. What do you do in your free time? Do you have a passion for the arts outside of your work?

Most of my free time goes with my two years old daughter and the family. I also play football and futsal, snowboard and try to spend as much time in nature as possible. In terms of modern and late modern art, I am mostly keen on critical visual arts. I try to visit exhibitions once a month at least.  Music – especially alternative genres and scenes like punk, indie and drum’n bass – is close to my heart as well. I do practice some photographing myself and to some extent have greater passion for photographs as an art form as well.  In addition I belong to a group of hobbyists in archaeology and that takes a major part of my leisure. In this context I am interested in ancient arts, especially rock art (petroglyphs and rock paintings).  Last August we organized a week trip to North-Karelia and White Sea regions in Russia for this purpose. In 2012 I plan to visit river Umba in Kola Peninsula.

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You can read the interview also on the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum on LabforCulture: http://www.labforculture.org/en/groups/open/young-researchers-forum/voices-and-viewpoints/93088

 
 

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