Representations, Encounters, Interaction (REI)

This community consists of two research groups:

Representations of the Self and the Other as a Factor in Cultural Encounters

Representations of Nature and Culture


Representations of the Self and the Other as a Factor in Cultural Encounters

Principal investigator:

Kari Alenius (Professor)

Research group members:

Olavi K. Fält (Professor)

Timo Sironen (University Lecturer, Ph.D)

Roman Hautala (Docent, Ph.D)

Petteri Mertala (Ph.D)

Esko Nevalainen (Ph.D)

Marika Rauhala (Ph.D)

Antti Heikkinen (MA)

Hannu-Pekka Kangas (MA)

Sanna Salo (MA)

Annariina Seppänen (MA)

Janne Timonen (MMS)

Pekka Tuomikoski (MTh)


Conceptions of self and others form the basis for all cultural encounters. The central significance of such conceptions may be understood through their close engagement with identity, which is a basic feature of the existence of individual personas and of human communities. Every individual and every community has an identity, which distinguishes them from all other individuals and communities. Identity, in turn, consists of all the elements that people use in defining themselves.

The research group focuses on analysing how conceptions built on communal identities affect cultural encounters in various historical situations. The terms group identity or collective identity may be used as synonyms for communal identity. Although group identity is built from connecting elements that are often felt to be identical or nearly identical, and although identities possess a certain continuity that is sometimes very strong, one must be careful not to over-emphasise the constancy or mutually exclusive character of identity. It is clear that, within human communities, individuals differ to some extent in their perceptions both of the elements that make up their own group identity, and of the relative importance of those elements. Secondly, different groups may, and often do consider some of the same elements as part of their identity; in other words, groups almost never differ categorically from each other in all aspects of their identity.

Thirdly, it must be remembered that all people belong to multiple identity groups. People can perceive themselves simultaneously as members, for example, of various social, religious, ethnic, cultural, gender, and other comparable groups. In different life situations the significance of membership in different groups will vary. Fourthly, it should be emphasized that, in spite of certain continuity, identities are in a state of continuous testing and modification. People judge the content of their group identities, weigh the criteria for group membership, and may attempt either to strengthen existing elements or to modify them; they may also exchange one group for another.

All identity-related processing receives its concrete manifestation in the form of conceptions. Those conceptions are, to a large extent, generated unconsciously, and are based on the lifetime experience of the individual and of human groups. While the conceptions are not "real" in the sense that they might be "true" or "false" in absolute terms, nonetheless they all have real effects. Conceptions strongly guide people in shaping objectives and in selecting approaches in different situations.

Conceptions of self and others are the basic elements of a world view, not least because one's own identity is always built in comparison with others. Those who are considered to have sufficiently similar identity factors are perceived as "own", while "others", correspondingly, are those who are not seen as possessing sufficient similarity. It is inevitable that, in the absence of any generally accepted criteria for definition, the boundaries between groups are inherently vague and open to interpretation. The border between "us" and "others" sometimes must also be understood as multidimensional because, on a conceptual level, the world is not organized only into these two categories, but into multiple categories, subject to constant pressure for change. The more similarities we detect in other groups, the more "own" and less "other" these groups appear. Also, at the other end of the scale of identification are groups that are "very other and only slightly own" or "even more other and hardly own at all".

On the other hand, people have a strong tendency and need to see the world as simpler and more manageable than it is. This is why people emphasize and exaggerate both the internal unity of groups and the differences between them. In cultural encounters, the conceptual starting points are often such stereotypically constructed images of self and others.

The research group's key contribution to the international research discussion on conceptions and their impact is precisely to bring out the crucially essential role that conceptions play in the interaction between human communities, irrespective of time, place and other background and situational factors. The relative importance of the various factors naturally varies to some extent in different situations, but it should be emphasized that any analysis is incomplete that underestimates or ignores the directive effect of conceptions. All of the research group's individual projects adopt the perspective that, by taking into account the role and importance of conceptions, one can make substantial contributions to earlier research discussion of these phenomena and approach their more comprehensive understanding and explanation. Ultimately, historical research is itself to be understood as a discipline that analyses the psychology and behaviour of human communities.



Representations of Nature and Culture

Principal investigator:

Maija Kallinen (Associate Professor, Ph.D)

Research group members:

Tero Anttila (Post doc)

Samu Sarviaho (Post doc)

Jouni Huhtanen (MA)

Suvi Kuokkanen (Ph.D)

Mirette Modarress-Sadeghi (MA)


Last updated: 13.8.2020