Research at the Department of Comparative Literature

The Department of Comparative Literature is a vibrant hub for research that features several major multidisciplinary research projects as well as a wide range of individual researchers. We run the SELMA research centre, which focuses on storytelling, experientiality and cultural memory, as well as the international research network Narrative and Memory. The Department is research-oriented, and its research profile is wide-ranging both in its theoretical scope and geographic and temporal reach. Our focus is on contextual approaches to literature.

Research profile

The historical range of the research areas at the Department of Comparative Literature spans from the seventeenth century to the present. Geographically and culturally, they range from British, French, German, Russian, Scandinavian, Italian and Spanish literature to American, Caribbean and Latin American literature. The theoretical scope of the department ranges from theoretical, aesthetical and philosophical literary research to narrative and cultural memory studies and research on subjectivity, identity and temporality. Our research topics include teaching literature, gender and postcolonial issues, the history and theory of the novel, and issues of modernity and postmodernity.

All of these approaches share the common view that literature functions as a part of society and culture, expressing the historically conditioned human experience, while also critically engaging with and problematising it. Instead of a purely intrinsic perspective towards literature, the discipline emphasises a contextual approach to the study of literature. This does not entail neglecting rigorous structural analysis of literary works, but it does mean seeing literary structures as part of social, historical and literary contexts as well.

International research centre and research networks

The Department of Comparative Literature is host to SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory, which focuses on the study of the interrelations between experience, narrative and cultural memory from both a historical and theoretical perspective.

The Department is also host to the international research network Narrative and Memory: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics and is a co-organiser of the NOS-HS project Interpreting Violence: Narrative, Ethics and Hermeneutics (2018–2019).

Research projects

The Changing Environment of the North: Cultural Representations and Uses of Water (CEN)

The North, including the Arctic, has been regarded as a periphery upon which the centre has reflected itself. In the age of climate change and the exploitation of natural resources it has become a new centre. The project contends that both human experiences and natural spaces are part of the Arctic reality, and both should be analysed with the tools and methods provided by interdisciplinary humanist studies (history, literary theory, linguistics, and environmental studies). The project covers the area between the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean. It highlights questions of power and representation, the relationship between real and imaginary spaces, and utopian and dystopian visions concerning the North. The project asks what the North and the Arctic look like when we investigate them through water rather than land. The project makes use of the concept of aquagraphy, which includes an analytical means of exploring multiple northern waters turned into glaciers, ice, snow, and floods.

PI of the consortium: Markku Lehtimäki (PI of the subproject: Arja Rosenholm, Tampere University)

Funded by the Academy of Finland, 2017–2021

More information on the project’s website

Instrumental Narratives: The Limits of Storytelling and New Story-Critical Narrative Theory (consortium)

Instrumental Narratives: The Limits of Storytelling and New Story-Critical Narrative Theory develops ideas and analytical instruments that help researchers, professional groups and non-academic audiences navigate today’s social and textual environments that are dominated by storytelling. We put contemporary literary fiction in dialogue with manipulative stories that are spread on the internet, in order to reveal the dubious relationship that some narratives have with identity, truth, politics, and complex phenomena such as climate change. In order to confront these issues, we reveal the sophisticated story-critical ideas and techniques offered by works of contemporary fiction.

The team in Turku focuses on the uses and abuses of narrative in the construction of lives and identities. Over the past few decades, the notion of “finding one’s own narrative” has pervaded the culture at large. In response, contemporary narrative fiction has increasingly come to reflect on the problematic uses of narrative in identity work. Our team brings into dialogue contemporary story-critical fiction and the broader uses of narrative in contemporary consumer culture in which narrative identity is often understood in narrow, limiting, and commercially motivated ways. It examines the relationship between narrative and identity from two interlaced perspectives: in relation to 1) metanarrativity and 2) the uses of narrative in promoting wellbeing.

The PI of the team in Turku: Hanna Meretoja (other PIs in the consortium: Maria Mäkelä, University of Tampere, and Merja Polvinen, University of Helsinki)

Funded by the Academy of Finland, 2018–2022

> More information on the project's website

#NeverAgain: Teaching Transmission of Trauma and Remembrance through Experiential Learning

This Europe-wide initiative aims to address the concealed hatreds, prejudices and normalised oppressions that are learned through the unhealed and transmitted traumas perpetuated in our everyday lives through seemingly harmless everyday practices. The project’s partners from Finland, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and Italy will develop and deliver four clusters of local events within their communities. These events will be used to test experiential learning tools (ELTs) and experiential methods to help explain the harmful effects of transmitted collective traumas and how they impact the continued propagation of hatred and vengeance today. The project will develop a transnational blended education platform, offering different experiential and didactic in-class methods and online webinars and didactic videogames. 

Project Leader: Hanna Meretoja

Project Coordinator: Nena Mocnik

Funded by European Commission (Europe for Citizens Programme – European Remembrance Strand), 2018–2019

How to Read? Forms of Reading in Teaching Literature in the Upper Secondary School

The research project “How to Read? Forms of Reading in Teaching Literature in the Upper Secondary School” explores new ways of reading and teaching literature in classrooms in order to make reading fiction more tempting to adolescents. The research group studies both the theories of reading and the practicalities of teaching literature. The objective is to find new tools for the improvement of how pupils experience their relationship with reading  and to survey new approaches to be used in the instruction of literature.  The project’s purpose is to explore how ways of reading based on contextual, affective and intersectional theories would work in classroom teaching. The project produces new theoretical knowledge about reading and teaching literature.  

PI: Aino Mäkikalli

Funded by the Kone Foundation, 2018–2020

Recent publications