It is important to discuss research critically, and if researchers can’t do it, who will?
Jonny Helm asks the rhetorical question on the phone from Umeå University in Sweden. The university includes the Research Center Várdduo, a center for Sami research, which has been in conflict with Professor Hjelm for nearly five years.
Now the conflict has made its way across national borders. Many people reacted when the Swedish professor gave a talk in November 2022 during the National Social Science Network in Teacher Education conference in ALTA.
“It violates scientific standards of collegiality and fairness when it excludes individuals and makes such outrageous claims without being able to ground them in sources, arguments or facts,” says Christine Gregers Eriksen, associate professor at the University of Southeastern Norway.
In the conference programme, Hjelm was introduced as someone who has written “many submissions that believe Sami’s research should meet the same quality standards as other research”.
– One of the main problems is that the search for the Sami as a starting point must always support their struggle for self-determination. Rather, it is a common starting point that research on the Sami is preferred to be conducted only by those who identify themselves as Sami, or by those who, through their research, act as an ally of the Sami. Helm says this is deeply problematic from a scientific perspective.
It all started when, in 2018, he read a report on anti-Sami racism, commissioned by the Swedish government.
– I wrote a critical text about the report that you sent internally. The report was riddled with methodological errors, there was foul language and a lot of slackness. At first I thought it was a one-off incident, but as I read more and more research being done on Sami, I saw huge gaps in the research.
The criticism has also been published in several Swedish newspapers, as well as in The journal Resp. The lecture at ALTA was based on a text that will soon be published as part of an anthology on how to approach science, values, and commitment in scholarly articles.
– I’m afraid that the academic community will lose the confidence that we have. If we are only offering completely politicized texts, which have significant flaws in methodology and source criticism, how can the average taxpayer who finances us trust us?
The article led to Hjlam being called a racist and Sami a hater on social media.
In addition, an official notice was delivered against him by the staff at Várdduo. Some researchers thought it was an ergonomics problem, but the college dismissed the warning.
says Lena Maria Nilsson, who delivered the notice Västerbotten-Kuriren It is not Hjelm as a person or the actual criticism he put forward that is the reason for the warning.
The problem is the way the criticism is presented.
“It goes without saying that you feel comfortable having these kinds of discussions in public,” Nelson tells the paper.
Hjelm continues to hold discussions publicly, including at a conference in Alta on the eve of last year.
– I noticed that some of those sitting in front did not like what I said, which was also confirmed when it came time for questions. As I understood, there were some who felt uncomfortable, and thought of leaving the hall on the way. It’s not common to have this kind of reaction in an academic context, to say the least.
He says he spoke of how the Sami was sought again as strangely as it was in the nineteenth century with a patriotic romantic vision.
There is one people, one history, one religion, one experience. I find that disturbing. Although there are similarities, there are also differences. In addition, talking about certain people as a core group fuels the far right, says the professor.
It leads to an “us versus them” attitude. Are you with or against? Evil or good? Positions get locked fairly quickly. There are many who make themselves interpreters of what the Sublime wants, thinks and knows. More modesty was appropriate. Sammy is found everywhere and they live life like everyone else. There is only a small part that deals with reindeer, especially in Sweden.
It contradicts scientific norms
Associate Professor Eriksen says she reacted to criticism of the research and the relationship between the Sámi movement and Nazism.
Basically, Helm and I disagree on a number of things, and that’s good enough, of course. But what I responded to was that he had left out two recently contested PhDs by name and surname, without academic justification, and that he had linked the Sami movement and Sami research on the Swedish side to the far right And the Nazi ideology.You say, I think that argument is lame.
Eriksen says she herself has a distant history in Sami’s family, but she is not known as Sami. Indigenous research is a weak area of research, she says, which makes Helm’s remarks all the more serious.
— especially since we know so much about how research has been a dangerous field for Aboriginal people throughout history. This is an important arena for advancing their perspective and access to research.
Eriksen himself gave a talk during the conference. She believes Helm falls in love with his criticism of the way he delivers criticism.
– It violates the scientific rules of fellowship and honesty when it excludes individuals and makes such gross allegations without being able to establish them in sources, arguments, or facts.
In addition, she thinks it is unmusical for Hjelm to be invited to the conference to talk about it.
It is perfectly legitimate to argue against the Sami being an indigenous people with collective rights, but I think it is superfluous to dwell on that here. It’s about understanding the context and being professional, says Eriksen:
– This was a conference on social studies in preparing teachers. This year’s theme was minorities, indigenous peoples and diversity, and the conference was held in Alta. in sapmi. In this context, I think it is difficult to give someone who advocates for the abolition of Sami rights, without this being a professional field, that space as a speaker.
Diversity required about diversity
Associate Professor Helge Kristian Pedersen of the University of Tromsø, one of the people responsible for the event in Alta, says Johnny Helm’s invitation was met with criticism before, during and after the event.
– When we received a request to hold the conference, we naturally thought that there should be a conference specifically related to the Northern Diversity. In addition, we believe it is important that a diversity conference is also open to diverse perspectives on diversity. He says holding a diversity conference where you only invite like-minded voices would be counterproductive.
– We wanted two main lectures that could attack the topic from different angles. who works within what one might call Indigenous perspectives, and who stands outside and criticizes what he believes are problematic aspects of these. Hjelm has developed a reputation as a sort of anti-Semi on the Swedish side of the Sápmi, and that’s really a symptom of the whole controversy, says Pedersen.
For him, it is as if the critics on Sapmi’s Norwegian side did not understand what Helm wrote and what he actually meant, but they proceed from some of the stories they heard from other scholars.
As we read it in the panel, it presents an important academic discussion about some of the theoretical and methodological trends that dominate research on Sami relationships in a number of research settings. I find it difficult to read this as a criticism of the Sami people. If you cannot discuss the different concepts of research theories and methodologies in Indigenous research, we are on the wrong track. Helge Christian Pedersen says the research needs differences of opinion and a diversity of perspectives to be pushed forward.
Lack of research criticism
Helm says he referenced at the beginning of the lecture an existing peer-reviewed text, as well as one soon to be published as part of the anthology, for complete references and reasoning.
As for scientific standards, he says they can look different, in the same way that a fellowship view can.
Helm believes that today there is very little criticism of research in Sweden, and this does not apply only to Sami’s research. He also saw a lot of strange things in sports history research, he says, and it struck a chord with the old days:
I probably belong to an ancient historical materialist tradition in which we were both critical and examining each other’s texts. Today there are very few criticisms, and I think there is something wrong with the system. Everyone is encouraged to write many articles, and scientific articles have become a mass-produced commodity, but very few take the time to read the texts carefully and critically. Today’s university does not support open critical debate, and the result is that there is too much too much too little to be approved of, he says.
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