Benita Heiskanen profile picture
Professor, John Morton Center
Professor of North American Studies
Uni Turku Collegiate Council (2022-2025); Advisory Board of the European Journal of American Studies (2021-2029); PI of REPRO (Research Council of Finland) and CUBAFLUX (Kone Foundation).


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Areas of expertise

Transnational American Studies
U.S. history, society, politics, and culture
race and ethnicity in the United States
U.S.-Mexico border region
U.S.-Cuba politics and culture
U.S. gun politics and culture
U.S. popular culture and sport. Transdisciplinary research methods
ethnography, oral history, interviewing
space, place, and the body
the ethics of looking
politics of visual culture
and race, class, and gender formations.


I have worked in North American Studies my entire academic career, from the undergraduate level, through doctoral studies, up until the present. I received my Ph.D. in American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and have held research, teaching, and administrative positions at the University of Turku, the University of Southern Denmark, University College Dublin, the University of Helsinki, and the University of Tampere. I am  Docent of North American Studies  at University of Helsinki and Docent of American Studies at the University of Turku. I  served as a full-time Director of the John Morton Center for North American Studies (JMC) from 2014 to 2019. In January 2019, I was promoted to Professor of North American Studies. As a part of the Center’s activities, I direct the international JMC Research Network, which organizes seminars, symposia, and writing workshops for junior and senior scholars, and the 25-60 ECTS point undergraduate program (see below). Before joining the JMC, my main research appointments included Collegium Researcher at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS), Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, and Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin.


I direct the North American Studies program, which falls within Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Turku. The North American Studies prgram provides students with an opportunity to assess from a variety of perspectives the societies, cultures, and politics of North American nations, communities, and phenomena. As an alternative to conventional disciplinary teaching, the program uses phenomenon-based and participatory learning as its principal study methods. The geographical focus of the program is on the United States and Canada, but it also includes discussions of transnational relations with Mexico and the Caribbean. The program is open to both degree students and exchange students at the University of Turku.

My classes include "Introduction to North American Studies," "Racial Relations in the United States," "Theory and Methods in American Studies," "Cultures of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands," "U.S. Latinos and Popular Culture," and "U.S. Presidential Election." My teaching is based on transdisciplinary and multi- methodological approaches and I particularly emphasize phenomenon-based, participatory learning. The geographical starting point for my classes is the United States, but I also include discussions of interactions, liaisons, and networks that explicate transnational connections. My approach to teaching is pluralistic, by which I mean that I challenge students to question fixed preconceived notions of "American-ness" and to consider how identities, nationhood, and citizenship are understood in relation to different socio-historical contexts, political discourses, cultural representations, and ideological mechanisms.


I currently direct a research project funded by the Kone Foundation, which examines processes of urban transformation in Havana in the period after the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement on December 17, 2014, with a particular focus on spatial and visual aspects. Conducted by an international team of scholars, the project makes connections between policy-making, everyday experiences, and cultural expressions, demonstrating various parallel discourses that result from changes in Cuba. By way of  original fieldwork data and cutting-edge transdisciplinary analysis, we seek to understand how Cuba is experiencing, negotiating and
representing urban transformation presently.The project includes a documentary by Cuban filmmakers.

In 2021, I completed a four-year study funded by the Academy of Finland, which studied the implications of the Texas state "Campus Carry" gun legislation (SB 11) that came into effect on August 1, 2016. Through qualitative and quantitative research, the transdisciplinary project focused on campus communities’ experiences of the law. To do this, the research team gathered a wide array of data, comprising a survey, focus group interviews, personal interviews, ethnographic fieldwork, and participant-created materials. 

My prior project examined experiences and representations of violence on the El Paso, Texas-Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua border between the United States and Mexico. Based on fieldwork and interviews with community members operating on both sides of the border, the project focused on the everyday ramifications of violence during the height of the so-called "drug war" in the border region. In particular, the project explored how various strata of society conceptualize, represent, and commemorate violence in urban public space, as well as how these multiple perspectives contribute to understanding the social aspects, everyday functioning, and personal mobility of members of the transnational border community.

My early career work in American Studies dealt with the relationship between ethnic/racial identity formation (especially U.S. Latinx) and popular culture in the United States. My Ph.D. dissertation, "Fighting Identities: The Body in Space and Place" (American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, August 2004; supervisor Neil F. Foley; committee members Janet M. Davis, Steven D. Hoelscher, Jeffrey L. Meikle, and Samuel C. Watkins), combines historical, theoretical, and ethnographic approaches to examine professional boxing as a locus of ethnoracial, class, and gender formations. The study is contextualized within the ethnic/racial history of U.S. prizefighting, while the bulk of the research is based on fieldwork and life story interviews with a community of Latino boxers who began their careers in Texas from the 1970s onward.

An important aspect of my work includes mentoring post-doctoral researchers, as well as supervising doctoral students and undergdaduate students.

I am a frequent commentator in Finnish media about U.S. history, society, politics, and culture and served as columnist for Suomen Kuvalehti from January 2019 to June 2021.


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Up in Arms: Gun Imaginaries in Texas (2022)

Heiskanen Benita, Butters Albion M., Kolehmainen Pekka M.
(Toimitustyö tieteelliselle lehdelle, kokoomateokselle tai konferenssijulkaisulle (C2))