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Projects Under the Research Theme

  • Chinese Workers - Global Consumers

Dr Cecilia Milwertz, senior researcher, NIAS 
Professor Bu Wei, the Institute of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Production and consumption are the engine of today’s global economy. Many Nordic companies have now moved their production to the People’s Republic of China, where labour is cheap. However, both these companies and the Chinese state  are increasingly being held responsible for ensuring acceptable working conditions for the millions of peasant workers who have left rural China to work in urban factories. Similarly, Nordic states are being held responsible by consumers for ethical public procurement. This project therefore focuses on perceptions of the links between producers and consumers.

This project aims to understand relations between workers in the PRC and consumers in both the Nordic countries and China by viewing workers and consumers as related to each other through consumer products. It asks how consumers conceive of this relationship and their responsibility for the well-being of workers in the PRC. Do they leave responsibility to states and companies or do they see themselves as individuals and groups that have a role to play?

The main questions we ask include: What awareness exists among consumers in the Nordic countries and China of how their lives are linked to those of Chinese factory workers? How are perceptions of the links between producers and consumers related to dominant global consumption discourses or to the alternatives that are being promoted to ensure global survival? Ultimately, the research asks how perceptions may shape consumer behaviour in ways that either promote or obstruct social change and a reduction in exploitative relations?

This project will enhance understanding of individual and collective consumer behaviour and this is of relevance for Nordic policy and practice. However, the overarching aim is to contribute to ongoing debate about our shared responsibility for environmental sustainability and social equality.  

Participants: Research groups are being established in Denmark and China, while the intention is to expand the project to include research groups in all five Nordic countries.

Funding: In 2015 applications for research funding will be submitted to the Danish Research Council and to the EU.


  • Creating Non-government Initiated Organizing in the People’s Republic of China – a study of three gender and development organizations

Cecilia Milwertz, senior researcher, NIAS 
Wang Fengxian, Institute of Sociology, Beijing Academy of Social Sciences

This is a grounded-theory study of the living and changing phenomenon of organizing from below to address gender and development issues in the People’s Republic of China during the approximately ten-year period from the mid-1990s to 2006. We are concerned with relations between the social entrepreneurs, foreign development aid organizations and domestic party-state institutions involved in initiating and developing NGOs. Our main questions are:  How have knowledge and practices relating to both form and content of organizing to address social issues been created through processes of intra-action between social entrepreneurs and people from foreign donor organizations and domestic party-state institutions? How have knowledge and practices that have developed within the framework of the People’s Republic of China met up with knowledge and practices from Western development aid organizations.

This project is part of the larger Norwegian-Asian project Re-visiting Gender in Development: Complex Inequalities in a Changing Asia.

Project coordinator: Professor Ragnhild Lund, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Geography/NTNU Social Research.

Funding: The Research Council of Norway
Timeframe: 2011-2014


  • Cultural Encounters— Cross-cultural Encounters – the Travels of Gender Theory and Practice to China and the Nordic Countries

Min Dongchao, professor, NIAS

This interdisciplinary project is concerned with the cross-cultural translation of knowledge and practices that may or may not take place when different cultures interact, and the resulting production of new knowledge. Taking the travelling routes of gender theory and practice to, and also between, China and the Nordic countries as the empirical object of study, the project will focus on the crucial questions of why and how knowledge travels or fails to travel. The project will explore in which forms and by whom knowledge is sent, received, understood, translated, or even refused. The project then seeks to assess the impact of these travels. 

The main objective is to develop an interdisciplinary framework in the form of an alternative travelling theory to facilitate an improved understanding of the cross-cultural translation of knowledge and practices. The project is significant for the European Research Area, as well as for governments, civil society and public opinion in light of increased cross-cultural interaction between Europe and Asia.

Funding: European Union Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship
Timeframe: 2013 to 2016


  • Development Strategies of Nordic and Asian Countries – understanding cultural relations

Aki Tonami, researcher, NIAS

This research aims to investigate the nature of development policies of Nordic and Asian countries, as well as contributing factors that shape differences and similarities of their development policies. In doing so, we not only consider the aspect of governance and institutions, but also cultural relations that comprise differences and similarities. With the existing academic research, analysis on individual country’s development aid is often conducted but comparisons with a particular focus on the relations of Europe and Asia are limited. Such analysis is imperative for governments and other institutions that engage in development aid such as NGOs in order to increase more cooperation and coordination between Europe and Asia.

Through this research, we will also examine the history and current and future directions of diplomacy of these regions. To do that, we choose three prominent donor countries from Nordic and Asian regions, specifically, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, China, Korea, and Japan. The nature of development aid is classified to the following:

  1. Distinct characteristics (including the size, recipient countries, and thematic focus
  2. Institutions of governance (including financial mechanism and decision making mechanism)
  3. Comparative advantages
  4. Domestic cultural influence
  5. Cultural relations to each other
Timeframe: August 2011-January 2013


  • A continued Nordic Track II diplomatic approach towards North Korea

Geir Helgesen, director, NIAS

The project thus aims at identifying ways of addressing the problem while avoiding the strong animosities between the parties engaged in the ongoing Korean conflicts, which are rooted in a web of historical, national, international and socio-cultural differences and disagreements. The project is based on the understanding that culture – i.e. values, norms and a generally disseminated and broadly accepted worldview - is a fact of life, and affects people in particular ways, differently from region to region. These differences may hamper international understanding even more than ideological animosities and political conflicts. When political entities are located in different cultural spheres, as in this case, it may disturb communication between the parties concerned to such a degree that mutual understanding is rendered impossible. The key to this problem may be to culturally contextualize the existing disagreements and invest an empathic approach to conflicts at hand.

Next activity: Focusing on food security in North Korea.

Project coordinator: Geir Helgesen
Funding: external
Timeframe: 2013 - 2017


PhD projects

  • Encountering Difference: The experience of Nordic highly-skilled citizens in India

Nicol Foulkes Savinetti', PhD candidate at the Department of Social Research, University of Tampere since 2007 and based at NIAS

The study is an analysis of Danish and Finnish highly skilled migrants who travel in conjunction with work for a limited period of time to the growth economy and so-called ‘developing’ country, India. It investigates how diversely the migrants’ social citizenship is affected by the move to some of the most culturally and environmentally challenging cities of the world (Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore) that lie outside of the territory of the European Union. Social citizenship is understood not only as the conventional rights and entitlements to welfare services and benefits (Marshall 1950, 1964) and guarantees of equality of opportunity, but also includes the societal participation of members, whether they are permanent or temporary in a given society. The thesis explores Rainer Bauböck’s (2010) theory that citizenship exists in different constellations among populations. I focus on differences that are encountered by citizens, vertically, in relation to the state, state institutions and the labour market, horizontally in relation to members of the different communities (neighbourhood, family, work place, social clubs) with which they inter- and intra-act, and in relation to the broader social environment (cyber space, natural and physical environment).

I argue that being in a position of privilege and possessing economic, social and cultural capital (Bourdieu 1984), as well as erotic capital (Hakim 2010, 2011) can be both advantageous, disadvantageous and irrelevant when encountering difference. I propose that when considering the ‘social’ aspects of citizenship, there is good reason to argue that, as a result of the different positions of privilege and the different acquisition and usage of various forms of capital, citizens exhibit and are subject to a variety of different citizenship constellations. The project takes a holistic approach and follows a Gadamerian hermeneutic paradigm in which understanding is the object of reflection. It utilizes a combination of semi-structured interviews, participant observation and detailed pre- and post-interview questionnaires with individuals from Denmark and Finland who are living in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai (interviews carried out in India in 2009). The interviews were transcribed as narrative texts and returned to the key informants for their reflection and critique in order to facilitate my understanding of their situation.

The results show that citizens indeed experience changes both to their legislated social rights in their home country depending on the country of origin, duration of stay and whether they are in or out of work among other factors. In addition, during secondment their behaved citizenship – attitudes and responses to people and the social and physical environments they operate within – also changes in various ways among the same and different nationalities. Th variations may occur as a consequence of their divergent levels, ability and willingness to mobilize different forms of capital; as a consequence of framing effects in relation to people, groups and institutions; because of different relationships to and services provided by the sending company. The findings suggest that closer consideration needs to be given to how decisions to take a different path in one’s life course, namely migrate, impacts the social contract and the Nordic model of universalism. Furthermore, it highlights the urgent need for social policy researchers to pay closer attention to the phenomenon of industrial citizenship among mobile highly skilled populations.

Keywords: difference, migration, social citizenship, welfare, privilege, capital ________________________________________

Funding:  The Academy of Finland Future of Work and Well Being 2008-2011 Programme;  LabourNet Graduate School and University of Tampere;  The Finnish Work Environment Fund.
Timeframe: Thesis submitted. Thesis defense expected spring 2015
Supervision: Pertti Koistinen, University of Tampere and Olli Kangas, The Social Insurance Institution of Finland