Vektorikuvitus. Megafoni.

Yrjö Haila Master’s thesis award 2022

The Finnish Society for Environmental Social Science (YHYS) organizes annually a competition to award outstanding Master’s thesis. The prize has been named after the society’s long-term chair and Finland’s first environmental policy professor, Yrjö Haila. The aim of the competition is to find and reward distinguished thesis from the field of environmental social sciences, understood in broad terms. The selected high-quality thesis should address a multidisciplinary research audience and produce new environmental social scientific knowledge. Furthermore, the awarded thesis is expected to be societally important, oriented towards providing solutions to problems, and develop good societal practices regarding environmental issues.
The awarded thesis is nominated by the board of the Society, based on the decision of an annually changing jury. This year, the members of the jury were doctoral researcher Erkki-Jussi Nylén from Tampere University and project researcher Minna Santaoja from the University of Eastern Finland.
This year, nine theses were submitted to the contest: four from the University of Helsinki, two from the University of Eastern Finland, two from LUT University, and one from Aalto University. The number was surprising, as last year 20 Master’s theses participated in the award. We can only speculate the reasons for the lower number of participants. The lower number was not, however, reflected in the quality of the participating theses. All of them were well done, highly interesting, and each had their own strengths. While one of them clearly stood out, this year the jury decided to award also honorary recognitions, in addition to the winner, to highlight the diversity of excellent master’s theses written in environmental social sciences.
This year, eight of the submitted theses were written in English and one in Finnish. In some cases the jury wondered, whether the choice of language was thought through. If the thesis addresses a Finnish case study or wishes to communicate, for example, to Finnish small and medium-size enterprises, it is not obvious that the use of English language is necessary or optimal. In the jury’s view, writing in English does not have inherent value over writing in Finnish (or Swedish, for that matter) in thesis evaluation, which could be addressed in supervising Master’s theses.
Another remark the jury made after reading the theses is that some of the Master’s students seem to feel the need to somewhat exaggerate the scientific contribution made in their thesis. This is a slippery slope for any junior or senior researcher. The jury was wondering whether this kind of hybris comes with the English language or whether it is overcompensation of the students’ insecurity. It is unfortunate if the kind of “elbow tactics” sometimes seen in academia are making their way into the Master’s thesis writing processes as well. These are issues to be discussed among thesis supervisors and the broader scientific community.
The first honorary mention goes to Katja Kontturi’s thesis “Accelerating circular textile sector through consumer targeted sustainability assessment instruments –a company perspective”. The thesis is done in the Degree Programme in Environmental Technology in LUT University. The methodologically ambitious work combines survey and interview materials to address the sustainability work done in SMEs. Kontturi takes the heavy apparatus of Multi-Level Perspective from sustainability transitions research as the theoretical framing of the work and manages to apply it in the analysis in a way that seems effortless. The results reveal interestingly how a sustainability application targeted at consumers is used for learning and motivating sustainability work in the companies.
The second honorary mention goes to Kamilla Kuna from the University of Helsinki, Master’s programme in Urban Studies and Planning. The thesis is titled “Aesthetics of Boredom in post-soviet neighborhoods. Multisensory experience of Laumas microdistrict in Liepaja, Latvia”. In the adequately personal and historically rooted work, Kuna combines the methods of photovoice and interviews to bring the residents’ views to bear in the development and maintenance of eroding post-soviet microdistricts. In the timely work Kuna participates in redefining the aesthetics of the overlooked residential areas.
The third honorary mention is awarded to Sirkku Järvelä from University of Helsinki, Social and Public policy, for the thesis “Terrafamen akkuhuuma –Akkukemikaalitehtaan kehykset sanomalehdissä vuosina 2018–2020”. Järvelä executes beautifully a media analysis on the justifications of a battery mineral factory situated in Northeastern Finland. The analysis is exceptionally carefully described and transparent, and the thesis is written in excellent Finnish from beginning to end.
The winning thesis addresses a timely topic in global climate change policy and law, namely the conceptual history of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, or SLCPs, and what kind of impact the concept has had in global environmental governance. Mitigation of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, including methane, hydrofluorocarbons, black carbon and tropospheric ozone, has been highlighted as a promising path to slow down climate change in the short term, but SLCPs have been unevenly legalized, and the topic is understudied. The thesis examines how did SLCPs emerge as a policy concept in global environmental governance through massive empirical work. The analysis is carried out using research literature, policy documents and complementary interviews with actors involved in the policy processes. Furthermore, the thesis is methodologically ambitious as it sets out to develop an analysis framework combining the theories of conceptual innovations, science-policy interfaces, and epistemic communities.
The thesis is visionary, as the political importance of regulating SLCPs is likely to grow in the future. The work sets out bravely into uncharted areas and thus the thesis includes several interesting findings and interpretations, the most important being the low legalization of global SLCP governance. The thesis provides a genuinely fruitful approach to environmental policy analysis. The thesis has some shortcomings, for example it is not very clearly described how the analysis is executed, and the methodological framework remains underdeveloped. Regardless, the extensiveness of the work and the results make scholarly contributions rare for a Master’s thesis. The winner of the Yrjö Haila Master’s thesis award 2022 is Niklas Löther from the University of Eastern Finland, Department of Geographical and Historical Studies, with the thesis The Long Debate Around Short-Lived Climate Pollutants: History of a Policy Concept and Its Impacts on Global Environmental Governance”.