My research interests focus on the role of biosciences and biotechnologies in societal change. I am particularly interested in the processes through which embodied biotechnologies become accepted, contested or routinized. My current research addresses this question through recent cultural debates about vaccines. In my previous research, I have analyzed biotechnological and biomedical change by focusing on the cultural uses of population genetics as well as the continuities and disconnections between different forms of evolutionary theory.
My Academy Research Fellow’s project Affect and Biotechnological Change: Three Vaccine Debates in Europe (2018-2023) explores the role of collective emotions in biotechnological change – that is, how biotechnologies become contested, rejected, accepted or routinized. The question is addressed though three recent and ongoing vaccine debates in Europe: 1) the connection between the 2009 H1N1 (“swine flu”) vaccine Pandemrix and narcolepsy; 2) the extension of HPV vaccination programmes to boys; and 3) public debates about the development and introduction of Covid-19 vaccines. The project traces the ways in which emotionally charged public responses to vaccines arise from how vaccines articulate and reshape ideas of differences, such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, age and disability. The project uses four types of data: 1) bioscientific and public health articles on vaccines, 2) national and EU-level institutional reports and official vaccine communication, 3) media material, and 4) blog posts and online discussion forums. The data is approached through qualitative textual methods. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland.
I’m also the leader of the project Gendered Chronic Disease, Embodied Differences and Biomedical Knowledge (GenDis), which has received a 4-year grant from the Academy of Finland as well as a 4-year grant from Kone Foundation. The project investigates the treatment of gendered chronic illness at the intersection of three ongoing developments: the introduction of personalized or precision medicine, public plans for rationalizing treatment, and global disruptions in the availability of pharmaceuticals. We focus on three illnesses, endometriosis, hormonal migraine and fibromyalgia, which are all characterized by episodes of pain and debated in terms of their link to gendered embodied processes, especially ones involving hormones. The three diseases shed crucial light on tensions in emerging biomedicine: as chronic pain is difficult to standardize, it falls outside the logic of both precision medicine and rationalization, while pharmaceutical products used in its prevention may not be seen as ”essential drugs”, and are thus affected by drug shortages. We approach the management of gendered chronic illness through four sites: 1) patient organizations and activism, 2) clinics where individual treatment plans are negotiated, 3) public health governance of gendered chronic diseases, including both rationalization plans and approval of new and repurposed drugs, and 4) biomedical research on causative mechanisms and search for new therapies. We also theorize chronic pain as an embodied, intersectional phenomenon and explore the temporality of chronicity trough questions of age. In the project, I work closely with postdoctoral researchers Maria Temmes, Lilli Aini Rokkonen, Henni Alava and Elina Helosvuori, doctoral researchers Ahalya Ganesh and Ilze Mileiko as well as Associate Professor Mianna Meskus.
I am also a member of a research collaboration on The Somatechnics of Death in Life (2023-2024), funded by the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS) and affiliated with the Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies at Stockholm University. With my co-investigators Lisa Käll, Luna Dolezal, Ingvil Hellstrand, Donna McCormack and Margrit Shildrick, we will organize three workshops in Stockholm, Tampere and Stavanger.
My postdoctoral project The Politics of Belonging: National Narrative in the Genomic Age (2011-2016) interrogated how population genetics has refashioned belonging since the 1980s. While the project focuses on national narration, it also explores competing forms of belonging such as ethnic, regional and personal belonging. The project starts with the premise that technological and theoretical developments in population genetics have challenged the concepts of history/prehistory and global/local on which narratives of national, ethnic or regional belonging are usually predicated. It asks how narratives of national or communal belonging negotiate these changes, and how the mutually embedded histories of race, gender, and sexuality shape the forms of belonging that have emerged with population genetics. The key results of the project have been published as a monograph Population Genetics and Belonging (Palgrave Macmillan 2018). The project was funded by the Academy of Finland (Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher’s project 2012-2015) and the Kone Foundation (Postdoctoral Researcher’s grant 2011).
I was also a co-investigator on the project The Embodied Self, Health and Emerging Technologies (2017-2018) funded by NOS-HS and located at Stockholm University.