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The Centre for Sociology of Democracy studies democracy in modern societies. Our projects deal with democracy from different perspectives and with different methods.


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Social movements

In their chapter for the Concise Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics in the Social Sciences, Taina Meriluoto and Eeva Luhtakallio discuss the specificities of ethical questions when studying a political topic, in particular social movements and activists in stigmatized or risky positions.

Visual politicization and youth challenges to an unequal public sphere: conceptual and methodological perspectives

By discussing current youth’s democratic practices and introducing the concept of visual politicization, Eeva Luhtakallio, Taina Meriluoto and Carla Malafaia argue for a reconsideration of what we understand as political action and propose new methodological tools for analyzing it.

Visual bodies, ritualised performances: an offline-online analysis of Extinction Rebellion’s protests in Finland and Portugal

In their article, Carla Malafaia, Jenni Kettunen and Eeva Luhtakallio explore the function of bodies as tools of visibility in ritualised online-offline performances. By analysing performative protests, the authors shed light on the importance of paying attention to non-verbal levels of political action and argumentation.

Education and climate activism: Youth democratic practices and imaginations towards a common world

In this editorial Carla Malafaia, Maria Fernandes-Jesus and Eeva Luhtakallio discuss the new diverse ways young generations have become mobilized to tackle the climate crisis and picture ways towards a common world and practices.

The Pepe the Frog Image-Meme in Hong Kong: Visual Recurrences and Gender Fluidity on the LIHKG Forum

Using a combination of a computational big data analysis and a qualitative analysis, Katrien Jakobs, Degel Cheung, Vasileios Maltezos and Cecilia Wong examine how activists used the Pepe the Frog image-meme to make statements about Hong Kong politics, gender and democracy during the 2019 Anti-Extradition Bill and Law Movement.

‘Missing school isn’t the end of the world (actually, it might prevent it)’: climate activists resisting adult power, repurposing privileges and reframing education

In her article, Carla Malafaia studies how youths manage their activism and argues that activists construct margins of resistance in their political practices by incorporating processes that interrupt adult structures while reframing educational imagination.

PLURALITY IN URBAN POLITICS: Conflict and Commonality in Mouffe and Thévenot

In their article, by augmenting Mouffe’s agonistic pluralism with Thévenot’s pragmatic sociology, Veikko Eranti and Taina Meriluoto develop both an analytical framework for a more nuanced study of urban politics as sites of democracy and a detailed conceptualization of pluralism in democracy.

Fame democracy? Social media and visuality-based transformation of the public sphere

In their article, Eeva Luhtakallio and Taina Meriluoto argue that a fame-based logic has become dominant in the strategies of actors in many different situations concerning political action in public. By recognizing the fame-based values informing public action with a pragmatist approach, they argue that a wider variety of action can be recognized as public action and the normative foundations that inform people’s action in public can be interrogated.

How do civil society organizations influence climate change politics? Evidence from India, Indonesia, and Finland

In their article, Luhtakallio, Ylä-Anttila and Lounela compare the efforts of civil society organizations to influence climate change policymaking in three countries with very different traditions of democratic decision making.

ImagiDem mini kick-off: Visual participation of young Europeans – snapshots from France, Finland and Portugal

On 24 September 2020 ImagiDem’s kick-off seminar discussed how the increasing emphasis on visual forms of communication affects young people’s societal participation and the way in which they construct democracy. The seminar featured short presentations of visual participation from three European countries: France, Finland and Portugal. The event was streamed online.

ImagiDem members and advisors at kick-off

Eeva Luhtakallio: Imagi(ni)ng Democracy: European youth becoming citizens by visual participation (Presentation PDF)

Today the process of politicization often takes an exclusively visual form: snapping, posting, sharing and commenting images is commonplace as well as arguing, justifying and expressing emotions with and through them. ImagiDem strives to understand the intersection of changing democratic patterns and practices of politicization that rely on images. To achieve this, we build on a methodological tripod of ethnographic and computational analyses applied to a comparative research approach.

Ethnographic “snap-along” analyses from four countries, several localities and political settings provide thick descriptions of democratic practices induced by visual politicization, while a neural network based analysis will reveal general patterns of visual politicization. With all this ImagiDem aims to not only develop novel methodology and pragmatist theory to better include the visual dimension, but also to provide an overarching analysis of the future of European democracy.

Carla Malafaia (University of Porto: The visual dimension of participation among climate activists in Portugal: an ethnography with student strikers and civil disobedience groups (Presentation PDF)

The presentation explores the visual dimension of participation among climate activists in Portugal. Based on ethnographic fieldwork (combining online and offline observations and interviews), I try to understand the meanings ascribed and negotiations involved in the activists’ use and crafting of images, which take different shapes and formats on social media. By analyzing the visual dimension as a constitutive fabric of the activists’ political practices, I begin to uncover the potential of visual practices as ways of mobilizing audiences, of creating and contesting meanings, of resisting and reclaiming power, of anchoring political discussions, of making claims across public/private spheres and of taking political stands within the movement. Moreover, the complex layers of the activists’ social media practices emerge as a contentious realm, requiring a skillful and strategic management of visuality towards a politicized communication of climate crisis.

Karine Clement (CNRS, Paris): Visual dimension of the Yellow vests mobilization (Presentation PDF)

The yellow vest movement in France is rich in visual materials. But we have to distinguish between two kinds of visuality: a virtual and mediatized one (photos and videos), and a material and concrete visuality – embodied in vests, bodies, faces, objects, which are often not the same and can even contradict each other. The second kind of images is often devaluated in the public sphere, where visibility is focused on the most spectacular features. Against this bias, the analysis must study the common places (suburban roundabouts), objects (especially the high-visibility vest) and bodies through which visibility claims are made. In the field of mediatized images, the research would gain in studying the battle of images that unfolds in the public sphere around the yellow vests, for instance on the issue of violence.


Jyrki Rasku (University of Helsinki): Branches of image recognition: Heuristic approach (Presentation PDF)

Purpose of this presentation is to give a reader a basic idea about the most common image recognition tasks. These tasks are applied to a set of Instagram images and some initial results are presented. Ultimate goal of using these heuristics is to find a way how to extract such information from the images that conveys recognizable dimensions of political, especially democratic actions.

Taina Meriluoto (University of Helsinki): I just want to be seen for who I am: Selfies of stigma and the struggle for recognition (Presentation PDF)

This part of the ImagiDem-project looks into experience-based activism in Finland. By using the snap-along method, I have followed two groups of activists with experiences of homelessness or mental ill-health. My aim has been to understand how the young activists employ their personal experiences in their societal participation, and how this takes shape visually.

One of the most intriguing manifestations of experience-based activism are the selfies the activists take and post on social media, mainly Instagram. I have conceptualized these selfies as the activists’ tools in breaking the stigma associated with their past experiences, and as their means for gaining recognition. In this study, I have wanted to push further from the idea of a political selfie being simply “a face and a sign with a political message”. Instead, I have wanted to understand how “being visible” can be a political claim in itself.

In my preliminary analysis, I have found three ways of using selfies to fight stigma: 1) images that testify normality, 2) images that highlight individual uniqueness and 3) images that contest what counts as valuable. The first strategy refers to selfies that seek to dispel stigma by highlighting how their taker conforms to the present criteria of “normality” in our society. The second is a strategy of detachment, seeking to create a distance between the stigmatising group and the selfie-taker as an individual. The third, in turn, targets the value-basis that enables the stigma to emerge in the first place by forcing the question “what counts as valuable and worthy?”.