Authenticity and interconnectedness in an artificial and divided world

Chair: Christine Namdar, University of Helsinki

Nov 11th, 4.15-6.00 pm online/hybrid

Mental health has shown to be a major crisis amongst our younger generations. Living in a wealthy country is no guarantee for health or well-being. Whilst our technologies allow for more forms of communication, youth still feel alone and unheard. It seems that social media platforms, as well as traditional media are contributing to divisiveness and polarisation in society. This in turn becomes a breeding ground for racialisation and indifference, yet on the other hand one of global solidarity which perhaps are signs that transformation is in process, such as Swedish activist Greta Thunberg or collectively through initiatives such as Youth for Climate Change, forcing the world to pay attention to the problems surrounding us all, asking for us to radically transform our words into action.

The UN report (UNESCO, 2021) shows that mental health in youth is linked to a lack of meaning within themselves and now knowing their place in society. Perhaps what we perceive as mental health issues are linked to virtues such as purposefulness. Youth seem to be in search for meaning and authenticity and "real" connectedness knowing what their role in society is, not a waiting room, waiting for adulthood.

We need to completely reevaluate our educational discourse. The roles of our schools and the ways in which we teach children about how to relate to each other, ways of understanding how to approach different problems in society, preparing them for life! And further our "Institutional approaches can directly impact student retention, mental health, self-esteem and community well-being" (UNESCO, 2021).


Oona Myllyntaus (Nuorisotutkimusseura): Public art pedagogy in expanding learning environments

Jaana Suontausta (Tampere University): Meaningfulness on the margins of society – Perceptions of meaning in life among young adults not in employment or education

Christine Namdar (Helsinki University / Åbo Akademi): The Crisis of Meaning


Public art pedagogy in expanding learning environments

Oona Myllyntaus (Nuorisotutkimusseura)

As the final sub-study of my doctoral dissertation in Art Education (University of Helsinki) I completed the questionnaire in 2017–2018 for visual arts teachers (n=45) about public art. I surveyed the dimensions of knowledge and the skills to be developed through public art situated in educational facilities in primary, secondary, and tertiary education in Finland in the 2010s. Worthy of attention in the views of the studied visual arts teachers were the practice of aesthetic perception of the environment and cultural knowledge through the engagement with and making of public art, and by implementing that, learning to see actively. According to the results, public art in learning environments above all offers an opportunity for discussion, presenting an opinion, and a dialogical relationship with the world. The importance of public art in school context concerns the knowledge of experience that could not have been obtained without participation in the perception of art or the making of it. In the same way, Martha Nussbaum states that a democratic citizen does not get a sufficient understanding of, for example, social stigma and inequality with the help of information alone. It also requires experience that sheds light on the status of the stigmatized. Further, I argue that institutional work towards preventing marginalisation and students’ ability to evaluate the human experience responsibly demands visual arts education in different educational levels. The visual art teachers defined public art in their teaching not only as a cultural resource of civic education, but also as an independent and useful teaching tool and learning material. Thus, I reinforce the idea that the results of people's intellectual processes appear specifically in works of public art, not solely in books or online education databases and virtual networks.

Meaningfulness on the margins of society – Perceptions of meaning in life among young adults not in employment or education

Jaana Suontausta (Tampere University)

In the presentation I will discuss the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of my PhD study which aims to study the perceptions of meaning in life among young adults who are not in employment or education. The purpose of the study is to collaborate with young adults, aged 18-29 years, and to engage them in a co-research process to explore their thoughts on how the institutions of the Finnish society have influenced their perceptions of meaning in life.

The methodological starting points of the study have been inspired by the ideas of co-research as presented in the Pedagogy of the oppressed by Paulo Freire. Freire’s concept of praxis is the key concept, meaning in the context of this research joint action to reflect young adults’ realities and to promote their agenda in the society. The aim is to help the young adults make their stories visible, and to strengthen and support their capabilities to societal participation in their own terms.

The background of the study lies in my experience as a school social worker. Two of my former clients have already expressed their interest in participating in the study as co-researchers. The data collection of the study will consist of participatory peer interviews, short narratives written after the interviews and group meetings with the participants willing to attend.

The Crisis of Meaning

Christine Namdar (Helsinki University / Åbo Akademi)

In this day and age of global and technical interconnectedness, with unique possibilities for us to practice our solidarity, we should be utilising this large group of potential and capacity of our youth for the betterment of society. However youth are often overlooked or seen as a problem.

A large group of young people are becoming radicalised and some extremists. It is too simplistic to think that these youths are reacting due to being victims of poverty or because they don't have good qualifications (OECD, 2021). Authenticity is emerging as one of the central challenges of our society. The younger generations are living in this superposition between two worlds, one that is digital and connected and the other physical yet polarised. Youth are in search of meaning, wanting to know their place in society (UNE SCO, 2021). But when one's self image is fragmented and there is a lack of trust in adults and the institutions around them, then it should come as no wonder that we have a large pandemic of mentally unwell young people and those who are becoming radicalised or criminals.However if we look at these unwell, radical youth in a different light we can see that they are acting as a catalyst in human consciousness and transformation. Their radical agency (albeit negative at times) has made us question our institutions and inequalities in society (Namdar, 2022). Youth like Greta Thunberg or Malala and all their millions of followers are taking matters into their own hands, demanding change. Our schools together with our teachers and educators should be developing the next generation of engaged citizens, who clearly want to use their agency towards something. Let us give them that something, before it's too late, so that they can help tackle the problems out there, equipping them with authenticty so that they can build spiritual capital, “wealth we can live by” (Zohar and Marshall 2005). The kind you cannot steal from someone. The act of deep meaning, our deepest values and purpose expressed through service to our communities, should be based on the great capacity of our younger generation. Youth have already a lot to offer, especially those who are marginalised, equipped with the abundance of transformative potentials who are not willing to sit down and accept the status quo as is.Schools should encourage and empower through practices and projects which do not need to be on a grand scale in order to have a positive impact on society. As long as it's something greater than themselves that helps others, then happiness and meaning will be a byproduct result of their actions (Frankl, 1984, Zohar, 2009, Bhatnagar, 2009).

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