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Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility
Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility
WhenMonday, Nov. 18, 2019, 3:30 – 5 p.m.
Campus locationDenny Hall (DEN)
Campus room313
Event typesLectures/Seminars
Event sponsorsUW Human Centered Design and Engineering, STSS, UW Anthropology, and eScience Institute

Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility

18 November 2019
3:30-5:00 pm
Denny Hall 313

Mwenza Blell
Rutherford Fellow and Academic Track Fellow,
School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

Data about the Finnish people is being touted as a new source of economic growth for Finland. The country is being marketed as a place in which the welfare state has created exceptionally valuable data resources (both from its biobanks and healthcare data), as a byproduct of having created a homogeneous and highly-equal society apparently without socio-economic disparities, with excellent health care, high levels of education, ethical businesses, trust in the state, and tech savvy. Such claims draw from the domain of bioethics to advance the argument that Finland is a more appropriate place for human subject research, particularly in terms of medicine and health, than the Global South and other places in the Global North in which far greater inequalities exist. The bioethical argument that people in Finland are willing and not vulnerable and thus their use of their data is not exploitative is a key strategy in this marketing. Why would representatives of the state make such arguments? This paper draws from recent ethnographic fieldwork in Finland to explore the connection between this presentation of Finland and right-wing politics, linking the present and recent past to less widely-known histories of ethno-nationalism and anxieties about population and reproduction.

Mwenza Blell is a Newcastle University Academic Track Fellow, Rutherford Fellow affiliated with Health Data Research UK, a visiting fellow at Tampere University and University of Helsinki, and Cambridge University Changing (In)Fertilities Project Researcher. She is a biosocial medical anthropologist who has worked on a range of projects using qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate health and reproductive issues in the UK, Latin America, South Asia, and East Africa. She has recently returned from initial fieldwork in Finland carrying out ethnographic research for the Kone Foundation Project: Teknologia, etiikka ja lisääntyminen: kiistanalaisuus normalisaation aikakaudella (Technology, Ethics and Reproduction: Controversy in the Era of Normalisation).

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