Our Researchers

Susanne Dahlgren

Susanne Dahlgren

Susanne Dahlgren started as the director of the Institute June 2023. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Helsinki and studied social anthropology in the University of Edinburgh, the London School of Economics (LSE) and Helsinki University. Her minors include art history, theoretical philosophy and live model drawing. Her studies focus on southern Yemen. Her PhD dissertation was published by Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY) in 2010 under the title Contesting Realities. The Public Sphere and Morality in Southern Yemen. That study focused on social dynamics in the city of Aden seen from the perspective of competing moral frameworks. The ethnographic study drew from discussions on moral propriety as present in Islamic and Western moral philosophy.

Her second research project took her to study the history of shari’a and fiqh and the court practice in Aden. Her next book project looks at court practice in Aden since the British colonial period until the current era from the angle of how shari’a has been interpreted and adjudicated with other legal systems throughout the modern era and how that has affected the lives of women and men and their children.

More recently, Susanne’s work focuses on state building and everyday state in Yemen during the modern era. By looking at both administration and governmentally as state acts towards the society she aims to show how modernity affects different social groups in varied ways which make “development” a highly contested issue, as present in the frontlines of the current war. Her work on making sense of the complexities of the Yemeni war has gained praise internationally.

Dahlgren is the past vice president of the Nordic Society for Middle East Studies (NSMES) and a current board member of the Association of the Middle East Anthropology (AMEA), an affiliate of MESA. She is the board member of the journal Hawwa and co-edits with Judith Tucker (Georgetown University) the book series Women and Gender: The Middle East and the Islamic World for Brill (Leiden). Susanne’s publications can be found here.

Samuli Lähteenaho

Samuli LähteenahoFIME’s researcher Samuli Lähteenaho is finalizing his doctoral thesis in Social and Cultural Anthropology at University of Helsinki. His ethnographic research examines the coastline of Beirut and Lebanon from the perspective of environmental and urban politics. The research is based on long term participant observation with, for instance, civil society and volunteer organizations focused on environmental questions. Samuli’s research is part of Crosslocations – Rethinking relative location in the Mediterranean, a project funded by the European Research Council. During his doctoral studies, Samuli has been a visiting scholar at the American University of Beirut in 2018 (SOAM) and 2019 (CAMES). He was also a visiting scholar at FIME in Autumn 2022.

Samuli gained his master’s degree in Social Sciences in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University of Helsinki in 2016. He completed his minor studies in Middle Eastern studies, Practical Philosophy and Semiotics. His master’s thesis on experiences of young Lebanese adults of international mobility and their relative location between Europe and the Middle East was granted the Faculty of Social Sciences Master’s Thesis Award.

Samuli’s work is guided by research interests in environmental politics and anthropology of space. In addition, he is interested in topics of diaspora and migration, as well as epistemological questions in the anthropology of politics. As FIME’s researcher, Lähteenaho will plan a new post-doctoral research project on climate change expertise, adaptation and mitigation in Lebanon. In the new project, he will explore how climate change as a material reality and technocratic discourse is encountered and related to in the fragile socio-political circumstances of Lebanon. 

Samuli’s latest publications are A line in the Sand: Colonial traces on Beirut’s Mediterranean Coastline, a chapter focused on land register, urban politics and relationality of space in an open access book Locating the Mediterranean published in 2022, as well as an essay on the invasive lionfish and environmental activism Fighting the Invasion from the Suez Canal: Coastal Environmentalism and Locating the Lionfish in Lebanon published in International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies in 2023. Samuli’s publications can be accessed here.

Former researchers at the Institute

Irina Piippo

Irina Piippo

Dr. Irina Piippo was the Director of the Finnish Institute in the Middle East 2020-2023. Irina’s fields of research include Arabic sociolinguistics and diasporic multilingualism. In recent years, she has focused on institutional multilingual language socialization of newly arrived students in the Finnish context. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork both in the context of integration training for adults and preparatory education in the Finnish comprehensive school.

Irina has published on Arabic sociolinguistics, sociolinguistic metatheory, multilingual language socialization and on the ways in which people construe language’s role in their social and cultural worlds. Language ideologies were also the topic of Irina’s book called Kielen taju [Sense of language] (2016) that she co-authored with Johanna Vaattovaara and Eero Voutilainen. Her dissertation Viewing norms dialogically (2012) is a study of language norms in sociolinguistic metatheory.

Before her directorship in FIME Irina worked as a researcher at the department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Nordic studies at University of Helsinki. She has been a member of the Center of Excellence, Intersubjectivity in Interaction (2013–2018) led by Marja-Leena Sorjonen and collaborated closely with Maria Ahlholm’s project Meeting in the Middle (2018–2019). Meeting in the Middle -project focused on newcomers’ integration into Finnish comprehensive school and upper secondary school. In 2013–2014, Irina was a visiting researcher at the Semiotics Lab led by Asif Agha at the Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. In addition to her research activities, Irina has a wealth of experience in the field of science administration. She has, for instance, served as the Secretary General of the Council of Finnish Academies.

In her six month leave in 2022, Piippo prepared the fieldwork stage of the MIGDIA research project. The MIGDIA research project led by Piippo is focused on questions of migration, transnational educational paths and diasporic plurilingualism in Finland and Lebanon. Irina’s publications can be found here.

Taavi Sundell

FIME’s previous researcher and coordinator Taavi Sundell finished his doctoral research 2023 in world politics on the political economy of higher education in Jordan and Finland. Combining discourse theory and critical political economy, Taavi’s article-based dissertation examines how specific actors have articulated the border between public and private higher education and the underlying assumptions concerning the societal functions of universities and higher education. The Finnish case is studied through existing documentary data while the Jordanian case relies also on data collected by Taavi through research interviews in Jordan during 2013–17.

Taavi received his Master of Social Sciences degree in political science from the University of Helsinki in 2010. As minor subjects he studied development studies and practical philosophy. In 2010–13 he worked as a full-time research assistant at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. During his doctoral project Taavi has coordinated the Academy of Finland project Politics and Numbers: Global Governance and Policy Instruments, taught and coordinated two Helsinki Summer School-courses, and taught in his own faculty as well as in the University of Helsinki’s Open University.

Taavi is affiliated with the Academy of Finland funded Whirl of Knowledge: Cultural Populism and Polarisation in European Politics and Societies-project (2019–22). While working at FIME started working on his post doc -project in which he planned to examine the role of human capital theory in discussions on education and migration in the context of the Middle East.

Taavi’s latest article on the political economy of open access publishing Political Economy of Plan S: A Post-foundational Perspective on Open Access was published in Political Research Exchange in June 2021. The article can be accessed freely through the publisher’s website. Taavi’s other publications can be found here.

Sandra Nasser El-Dine

Sandra Nasser El-Dine

Sandra Nasser El-Dine worked as a researcher at FIME between 2021–2022. She concentrated on finalizing her ethnographic PhD study that explores how young adults in urban Jordan experience romantic relationships and negotiate gender relations. Her research addresses practices of doing love and relational selving within everyday gender dynamics in intimate relationships. The analytical framework focuses on performative and processual aspects of love; how love is constituted within different kinds of caring actions. Sandra conducted the ethnographic fieldwork for her thesis between 2012 and 2016 among Jordanian and Syrian young adults who reside in Amman. During 2014, she was also a visiting fellow at the Finnish Institute in the Middle East as well as at the Columbia Global Centers in Amman. 

Sandra received her Master of Social Sciences degree in 2010 from the Tampere University majoring sociology. Her master’s thesis on Syrian youth discourses on Western gender relations received the Youth Research Thesis Award. She conducted the fieldwork for the thesis in Syria where she resided for several long periods of time in the cities of Damascus and Latakia during 2003–2006. 

Sandra’s post doc study concentrates on exploring how practices of relational care within displaced Syrian and Iraqi families are entangled with access to education in two very different contexts, in Finland and Lebanon. In addition to intimate relationships and local notions of love and care, Sandra’s research interests include Arab occidentalisms, Muslim subjectivities, and everyday re-definitions of Islamic traditions. She has published on these topics, as well as an article that addresses Arab masculinities. Sandra’s publications can be found here.

Raija Mattila

Dr. Raija Mattila was the Director of the Finnish Institute in the Middle East from April 2014 to May 2020. Raija’s research focuses on the Assyrian Empire, which ruled the Middle East during the 1st Millennium BC. Raija’s research interests include the administration of Assyria and its highest officials, Egyptians in Assyria and Babylonia as well as animals in Ancient Mesopotamia.

In 2018, the institute started a series of workshops which study the social, economic and cultural status of minorities in the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires in 1st Millennium BC. The first workshop was held in Beirut in April 2018, and it examined the minority concept in the context of the Ancient Near East. The workshops are organised in collaboration with the Centres of Excellence Ancient Near Eastern Empires and Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions, both of which are funded by the Academy of Finland.

Raija has published Neo-Assyrian administrative and private documents. Her doctoral dissertation The King’s Magnates (2000) studied the highest officials of the Assyrian Empire.

Raija is an Adjunct Professor (Docent) of Assyriology of the University of Helsinki and an associate member of the Centre of Excellence Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions. Before her position as the Director of FIME in Beirut, she has worked for the Intellectual Heritage of the Ancient Near project at the University of Helsinki, as a researcher at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, as the director of FIME in Damascus (2004-2008), as a researcher in the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies of the University of Helsinki, in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary at the University of Chicago in USA, as well as in the State Archives of Assyria project at the University of Helsinki.

Anu Leinonen

Anu Leinonen worked as a researcher at FIME from June 2019 until December 2020. Her post doc project investigated language policies and debates over those language policies in Turkey from 2011 onwards. Her research focused on how the arrival of 3,5 million Syrian refugees, and public services offered to them in Arabic, have influenced language policies and debates over them. Traditionally public services for citizens have only been offered in Turkish, defined as the language of the state. The relatively wide range of services provided in Arabic have been an important departure from this policy.

Anu is especially interested the experiences of providing education in Arabic for the Syrian refugee children as well as the subsequent transition or integration of the Syrian children to Turkish-language public education from 2016 onwards. Have these experiences raised new awareness of multi-lingual and multi-cultural issues in the classroom? Could the process have an influence on the use of Kurdish language in education? The research material consists of official documents and reports and publications focusing on education and a limited number of expert interviews.

Anu received her PhD in Middle Eastern studies in the University of Helsinki in 2017. Her dissertation investigated how Kurds’ political and cultural demands were presented in the Turkish-language mainstream press in 1999–2009. She received her master’s degree in Central Asian studies in 2003. In addition to nationalism, diversity, minority issues and language policy, her interests include media in Turkey, Turkey-EU relations and Ottoman history.

She has followed Turkey from 1995 onwards and has lived in the country a total of five years. In January 2021, Anu returned to her position as Executive Officer of the Foundation for the Finnish Institute in the Middle East, which she also held between 2008-2019. During that time she also worked for four years as the coordinator of the Finnish Network of the Anna Lindh Foundation.

Päivi Miettunen

Päivi Miettunen

Päivi Miettunen worked as the Institute’s researcher and coordinator between 2017-2018. She conducted research on the role of information behaviour in the construction of social identities among both Bedouin and immigrant communities in the Middle East.

Päivi’s Master’s thesis in Semitic Studies (University of Helsinki) focused on the local rituals and beliefs connected to the shrine of Aaron near Petra, Jordan. Between 2000 and 2008 she was a member in the Finnish Jabal Haroun Project, participating in the excavations and specializing in the ethnoarchaeology of the Mountain of Aaron. In 2003 Päivi worked as an intern in Damascus, at the Finnish Institute in the Middle East. Her minor subjects have included archaeology, computer science and information studies.

In 2014 Päivi received her PhD degree in the Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Helsinki. In her dissertation she studied the effects of modernization on the religious and cultural identity of Southern Jordanian Bedouins. The case study focused on the holy sites of the region. In her field research she mapped and surveyed the sites, many of them uncharted until today. She also used participant observation and interviews to familiarize herself with local Bedouin culture, traditions and dialects. In 2016 Päivi was a visiting researcher at CMES in Lund University, Sweden.

Page updated 5.10.2023.