[Åbo Akademi University News Bulletin 1/2007]

News in Brief

Reforming markets and organisations

Researcher Sonja Grönblom and Professor Johan Willner are involved in the project Reforming Markets and Organisations.

The project Reforming Markets and Organisations analyses the performance of different types of firms and markets, and the impact of economic reform. Stateowned companies, public services and infrastructure industries in most countries are now privatised and/or liberalised, or at least becoming subject to internal markets, performance-based budgeting, individual wagesetting and other reforms associated with the so called New Public Management. Such an agenda conforms to the so called Washington-consensus, because of its prominent position in the recommendations of organisations such as the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO.

These issues are important for Europe and in particular Finland. The so called welfare state means not only redistribution and social security, but also subsidised public services such as education and health-care, and public investments in infrastructure industries to the benefit of the business community as well.

It has often also meant public ownership of some industrial companies with objectives that include social and environmental issues and not just profits or shareholder value.

The work is divided into four sub-projects which include both basic and applied research: (1) The performance of organisations and markets, (2) The motives for reform, (3) The impact of economic reforms from the angle of different stakeholders, (4) Case studies such as telecommunications, research and education.

The research team is based at the Department of Economics and Statistics (DES), with partners at the Department of Business Studies and at the Turku School of Economics, the Cranfield School of Management and the University of Uppsala. The research group is also involved in the European Network on Industrial Policy (EUNIP).

The project is partly funded by the Academy of Finland and led by Professor Johan Willner, Department of Economics and Statistics, Åbo Akademi University. http://ises.abo.fi/forskning/


Organic electronics – future electronics?

Printed electronics on fibre or plastic based substrates has the potential to change our everyday lives. Imagine newspapers with flashing pictures and changing colours, intelligent packages that know what is inside and where it is supposed to be, if the cold-chain has been disrupted on frozen goods, tell you when the medicine should be taken, etc.

In order to successfully make “intelligent packages”, there is a need to make active electronic components at basically no cost directly onto cardboard or plastic. This can be done with mass-fabrication techniques such as roll-to-roll printing techniques using electrically active polymers. This requires a totally new approach to electronics: simple device design and innovative solutions.

Polymers are usually considered to be excellent insulators, but thirty years ago it was discovered that polymers could be made electrically conducting by the addition of dopant molecules. This polymer family is now often called electroactive polymers.

The Organic Electronics group, at the Department of Physics, is devoted to developing novel solution for processable organic electronic devices by clarifying and modelling the electro-optical properties of disordered organic materials. Within the Åbo Akademi Center for Functional Materials (FUNMAT), the Organic Electronics group is developing techniques to demonstrate printed organic electronic components.

Contact person:
Professor Ronald Österbacka
Department of Physics and Center for Functional Materials http://www.abo.fi/fak/mnf/fysik, http://www.abo.fi/funmat.


Atlantic networks during the age of slave trade

Acting Professor Holger Weiss.

The project Atlantic Networks – Consumption, Identity, and Networks during the Age of the Slave Trade studies the impact, extension, intensity and depth of Atlantic networks during the age of the Atlantic slave trade as an expression of increased interconnectedness between individuals and communities.

The research project uses an actor-oriented framework to study how various kinds of networks and connections created conditions for new forms of flows of material and immaterial goods and ideas, which led to the emergence of new types of consumption throughout the Atlantic world during the eighteenth century.

The main objective of the projected CINDAST research project is to develop an integrated framework for research in global history. Starting from the seventeenth century, various regions in the Atlantic world became connected to each other through trade and political networks. Seen from a global perspective, a Eurocentric projection of the Atlantic world is problematic: although (Western) European trading and political networks dominated in the region, North American, Brazilian and African networks became important during the eighteenth century, if not earlier.

Focusing on three general components – networks, consumption, and processes of identity formation – the research project will be able to generate studies on both the global within the local as well as the local within the global, thereby overcoming a Eurocentric approach.

The project started in January 2007 and is co-funded by the Academy of Finland. It is led by acting professor Holger Weiss, PhD, Åbo Akademi University. http://www.abo.fi/fak/hf/hist/forsk_cindast.htm


Implementing a human rights-based approach to development

Implementing a Human Rights-Based Approach to Development is a project aiming at studying the human rights approach to development, which integrates the norms, standards and principles of the international human rights system into the plans, policies and processes of development.

Special attention is devoted to certain groups – such as people with HIV/AIDS, internally displaced people, indigenous communities and children – in need of empowerment, participation and protection against discrimination.

The five doctoral thesis that are being written within the project focus on the relationship between child work, education and development; the right of internally displaced persons to return after natural disasters; the rights-based approach to development in the context of HIV/AIDS and the right to food; indigenous peoples’ right to education in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru; and the role of human rights in the overall framework of the African Union.

Focusing on the practical implementation of the human rights-based approach in development policies and on concrete issues of central importance in development processes, the studies conducted seek to be of direct benefit to policy-makers on the national and international level.

The research project is jurisprudential in nature. Consequently, the individual studies mainly rely on conventional methods of legal analysis and interpretation, including comparative analysis of the relationship between international and national law, between various national legal orders, as well as between international and national law and customary law.

However, issues of law are addressed in a multidisciplinary perspective utilizing the results of, inter alia, anthropological, sociological, political science and pedagogical research. The project also includes research visits to countries under specific attention by the research team, including Tanzania, Malawi, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Bolivia.

As Åbo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights coordinates a national graduate school in human rights research, the project is also part of a broader multidisciplinary environment of doctoral training in the field of human rights.

The project is co-funded by the Academy of Finland for the period 2006–2009 and led by Professor Markku Suksi and Professor Martin Scheinin.


Chemical Sensors Based on Electroactive Materials

Professor Ari Ivaska.

The research activity in the area of electroactive materials comprise conjugated polymers, donor-acceptor molecules, fullerens and carbon nanotubes. New conjugated oligomers and polymers are synthesised electrochemically.

The main interest is in polymers which themselves are semiconducting (electrically conducting polymers) and have been functionalised in order to obtain special properties to respond specifically to other chemicals. These materials are then used to make chemical sensors for specific determination of different chemicals.

The practical applications are many: clinical analysis, process control and environmental monitoring. With these sensors, we can detect compounds that are either useful or harmful to us. Chemical sensors could be called our “seventh sense”.

Contact person:
Professor Ari Ivaska
Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry, Åbo Akademi University
Åbo Akademi University Foundation


Democracy: a citizen perspective

The development of modern democracy from the viewpoint of the citizen is the object of study within the project Democracy: A Citizen Perspective.

Modern democracy has, as a result of a fundamental social transformation during recent decades, left its earlier class- and party-based forms and developed into an Audience Democracy. By combining an interdisciplinary approach with the possibilities offered by information technology and new methods, the project aims at an analysis which is both comprehensive and innovative.

The objectives can be summarised in two broad research questions: To what extent has a transition to Audience Democracy taken place? What are its consequences from the point of view of the citizen, and what action do these call for?

The first research question is addressed along four thematic dimensions: (1) Political Participation, (2) Public Institutions, (3) Media, and (4) Individual, Group and Society. Under each theme, research is structured according to three central aspects: Citizens, Channels and Political Systems. A comparative approach is adopted throughout the study, which is based on quantitative data, systematic content analyses and comparative case studies.

In order to answer the second question, a platform for several kinds of experimental studies will be constructed.

This Virtual Polity simulates a real-life society and will supply tools for deliberation among citizens, between the people and their representatives and within the political elite. It will also allow for testing of various mechanisms for electronic governance.

The project period runs during 2006–2009. It is co-funded by the Åbo Akademi University Foundation and the Academy of Finland and led by Professor Lauri Karvonen, Political Science, Åbo Akademi University, http://www.dce.abo.fi


Research focusing on the family

Assistant Professor Eva Österbacka.

The family is an important institution that affects children and their adult lives. All of us want the best for our children; they are our future. However, some families do not have the capacity to offer what is needed for the success of their children. Why are some children excluded from a life where it is possible to make both ends meet?

The recently founded Turku Institute for Child and Youth Research is a regional actor within family research. This Institute aims at enhancing child and youth research particularly by encouraging interdisciplinary approaches. The Institute is a joint endeavour of all the seven institutions of higher education operating in Southwest Finland. The aim of one project within this institute is to find “keys to a good upbringing”. In this project, data will be collected from the cohort born in 2008 at Turku University Hospital (TYKS). About 4,000 children from the Turku region will be followed from early childhood up to their school years and even further until they reach adulthood and make a career on the labour market. Perspectives from several fields such as medicine, education, social science, humanities, and economics will be integrated in the project in order to find the keys to a good upbringing.

Contact person:
Assistant Professor Eva Österbacka, PhD, Economics,
Åbo Akademi University