STS Helsinki – Our current Activities

by Heta Tarkkala, Aaro Tupasela, Salla Sariola

Over the years, STS Helsinki has drawn together researchers with a longer background in the field, as well as early career researchers. STS research is distributed between several universities and departments. STS Helsinki has provided the possibility to build collaborations over institutional borders and allows a shared sense of coming and working together out of intellectual interest. In an academic world of constant changes in terms of funding, affiliations, collaborations and research projects, STS Helsinki has proven to be a community that helps researchers stay connected even during discontinuities in terms of funding or contracts.

The TOTEMI doctoral seminar in its meeting of December 2019.

Currently, STS Helsinki is a lively collective that meets regularly at the STS Helsinki Seminar Series, where we have had visiting talks from scholars from both Finland and abroad. During 2019, for example, Sheila Jasanoff, Stephen Turner and Nik Brown presented their research at the seminar. Moreover, the Knowledge, Technology and Environment PhD Seminar (TOTEMI) at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, with its 6-8 annual seminar days, is a venue where many of us meet to discuss STS by commenting on manuscripts of the current PhD students. In addition to research seminars at the University of Helsinki Faculty of Social Sciences, STS related teaching and supervision is an important activity that contributes to the development of the community. Courses ranging from AI and society to environment and sociology of health, illness and medicine, not to mention STS focussed introductory courses, offer students a range of courses and topics to choose from.

Additionally, the PhD Data Lab allows junior members of the STS Helsinki community to present short excerpts from their data and data analysis and receive help in developing their work further to the writing stage. The community also regularly goes away on writing retreats where members get a chance to focus on intensive writing and commenting of work in progress. We regularly publish blog texts, conference and workshop calls, and job advertisements on our STS Helsinki blog (, and disseminate information about our activities through our social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. The blog has been a venue for STS researchers to publish their texts for a popular audience.

Members of the collective have their own research focuses and institutional settings, and deploy and develop a wide range of STS approaches in terms of theories, concepts and empirical focus. Even though STS Helsinki is not devoted to a strictly defined theoretical or methodological program, there are numerous shared projects and interests many of us are involved with. The following examples offer a glimpse on some of the research activities taking place within the STS Helsinki community.

The Cultures of Cultures research group studies microbes from various perspectives across five different research projects. The projects take a comprehensive look at human-microbe connections focusing on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in global contexts; how lay and scientific communities are constructing a post-antibiotic world; and develops experimental methods for studying microbes via fermentation. This work develops a theoretical opening in the field of STS as regards to social study of microbes. Moreover, these projects come tied with a strong focus on tackling AMR in collaboration with environmental and clinical microbiologists.

Research is also conducted around topics related to biomedicine, genomics, artificial intelligence, critical data studies, as well as reproduction and health data. For example, in the project VALDA: Valuating Lives through Infertility and Dementia, value creation and governance related to reproduction and ageing are studied. In the coming years, theories and conceptualisations for example about the role of affect and emotions in the processes of biotechnological change will follow based on the empirical study on vaccines. There are also scholars working on the intensification of data sourcing from the viewpoint of health data. This work has contextualized the recent development of intertwinement of health and innovation policies and continues by elaborating on national strategies on leveraging health data and using it for AI based applications. Biobanking and health data sourcing in Finland has also been addressed from viewpoints such as health data ecosystems, consent practices, populations as brands and blood donors as biobank participants.

Societal knowledge-making practices are approached from multiple perspectives. Expectations and policies regarding carbon neutrality are examined, for example, in debates on energy transitions in Finland. Another approach to knowledge can be found on studies of expertise. There is research concentrating on how actors can make reasoned judgments about (or based on) expertise in which these actors are non-experts. This issue is studied in the context of law-science interaction. Similarly, a recently published dissertation highlighted the constructedness and expansion of expertise in the contemporary public sphere through the case of healthy eating.

Higher education studies and interest in social impact evaluation, as well as interdisciplinary research funding are areas where we will see several publications in the coming years as there are a number of PhD projects being carried out in this field. Additionally, research is carried out for example in relation to boundary making between organic farming and conventional agriculture, public health and the concept of risk, as well as cognitive sociology and machine learning (see our blog for more information and links to individual researchers).

Members of the STS Helsinki collective are also active in relation to academic organizations such as the Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies, The European Sociological Association’s Research Network 24(Sociology of Science and Technology Network), and the Science and Democracy Network( The EASST journal Science & Technology Studies is also managed by members of the STS Helsinki community. The journal has been a long-running publication that was originally published by the Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies, but has since become a joint effort with EASST, making it an important open access resource for STS scholars globally. While the S&TS does not represent STS Helsinki alone, it strengthens the STS community and adds to the vibrant conversations going on in Helsinki.

In addition, the collective hosts a working group on Science, technology and society at the annual sociological conference organized by the Westermarck Society. This stemmed from the idea to create an annual meeting point for both Finnish and international scholars to share and discuss their work with others doing STS. In 2020 the conference will be held at Rovaniemi, and we will be hosting the working group for the 4th time.

During the upcoming decade, we will continue with our STS Helsinki Seminar Series. New courses, research projects and writing retreats are being developed and planned. Most importantly, we will continue to work in strengthening the visibility of STS and building the STS Helsinki community.