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Multi­discipli­nary & Innovative Courses


Post-Foundational Discourse Theory in Humanities and Social Science Research


Department of Political and Economic Studies


Related Degree Programmes:

Master’s Programme in Global Politics and Communication

Master’s Programme in European and Nordic Studies







990-1490 EUR Learn more




Emilia Palonen

Taavi Sundell

Target students

Advanced bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral students. No prerequisites but previous studies in social sciences or humanities are recommended.


In these turbulent times, it is important to focus on the founding processes and foundations of our social and political existence. Many structures, identities and ideas we have taken for granted, from democracy and equality to the very idea of truth itself, have been contested over the last years. Through theoretical discussions and empirical examples, this course explores the ways in which post-foundational thought can be of use in the social sciences and humanities to tackle such phenomena. A focus on discourse and meaning-making is a contemporary megatrend within the social sciences and humanities. Within this larger trend, post-foundational discourse theory forms a critical framework through which to understand the political and contested nature of various phenomena. By shifting the focus from taking political, economic and social concepts at their face value to the ways in which meaning-making always takes place through contingent concepts, discourses and structures we inhabit, post-foundational discourse theory will provide the students a distinct and a productive perspective from which to approach their topics of interest. The course discusses different approaches to post-foundationalism and allows students to develop their own perspective within this emerging field.

Learning objectives

The course will introduce to the students the basics of post-foundational discourse theory and selected related perspectives within the post-foundational tradition in social sciences and humanities. The students will be introduced to deconstruction, rhetoric, and psychoanalysis, particularly drawing on authors such as Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe, as central to this tradition. The students will be able to establish the differences between these different approaches and authors’ work within the field of post-foundational theory, and assess their usefulness for particular research purposes. The broader aim of the course is to learn to engage in theoretical discussions within the social sciences and humanities and to connect these with empirical research within these fields. Through engagements with the teachers throughout the course, as well as work done on the group presentations, the course will also provide the students a chance to accumulate more in-depth knowledge on their chosen approach and topic as well as to gain valuable skills in preparing and commenting on academic presentations.

Course format and teaching methods

The course consists of lectures and workshops given by Finnish and international experts on post-foundational theory, keynote lectures by distinguished scholars, mini-conferences and panel discussions built around specific theoretical and topical (e.g., populism, economy, democracy) themes, excursions and social activities, as well as group work and final group presentations by the students. Participating doctoral students can present papers on their ongoing research in the mini-conferences.

During the course the main form of learning will be a lecture in the morning followed by a workshop in the afternoon by an expert on a specific approach within the post-foundational tradition, such as deconstruction, psychoanalysis, discourse theory or conceptual history. During the lecture the teacher will provide a general introduction to a particular strand of post-foundational tradition, situate it in relation to other theoretical approaches, and discuss its added value for the analysis of particular topics. The workshop in turn will focus on students’ reflections on the lecture and the reading materials assigned in relation to it, as well as on the ways in which they might learn more from their own topics through this approach.

Before the course begins in Helsinki, two pre-course assignments will be completed by the participants. They will write (i) a 500 word motivational letter introducing themselves and the topics of interest on which they would like to reflect upon within the context of the course; explain why they have chosen these topics and this course; and provide an overview of their previous knowledge of post-foundational theory. As the second pre-course assignment, the students will be provided with a compiled bibliography of post-foundational theory from which they will select a text to reflect upon in the form of (ii) a 500 word mini essay.

Based on these pre-course assignments, the students will be assigned to small thematic groups for group work and final presentations during the course. The groups will work on a presentation on a selected topic from a particular post-foundational perspective throughout the course and present it by the end of the course. They will be given feedback on the presentations by their peers and teachers from the course.

The students will also write individually short papers during the course on topics assigned by the organizers.

Guest speakers and teachers for the course confirmed so far:

  • Mark Devenney, University of Brighton
  • Allan Dreyer Hansen, Roskilde University
  • Charlotte Fridolfsson, Linköping University
  • Jenny Gunnarson-Payne, Södertörn University
  • Kari Palonen, University of Jyväskylä
  • Oliver Marchart, University of Vienna
  • Thomas Marttila, LMU Munich


Means and criteria of assessment

Pass/fail based on participation during lectures, workshops, and other activities; individual assignments; and group work.


Course Schedule

Location: City Centre Campus

Week I

Monday August 7, 2017 
Arrival in Helsinki

Tuesday August 8, 2017 
HSS Opening ceremony & Welcome Party (afternoon)

10–12 Introduction to the course, Taavi Sundell
13–15 KEYNOTE: Fortuna & chance: Why contingency matters, Kari Palonen
15–18 Welcome meeting

11–13 Introduction to post-foundationalism & Group work assignment, Taavi Sundell
14–16/16.30  Film afternoon

11/8   FRIDAY
10–11 Lecture: “Concepts, Ideas and (Post) Foundations: Historical Perspectives, MartinBurke          12–13 Lecture: Post-foundationalism in Laclau and Oakeshott, Halil Gürhanli
14–16 Lecture & Workshop: Power of Think Tanks: An example of the use of discourse analysis and nodal points as a method, Laura Nordström
16– World Political City Walk, Teivo Teivainen

Week II

14/8   MONDAY
10–12 Lecture: Foundations of post-foundationalism: rhetoric, deconstruction and psychoanalysis, Emilia Palonen
13–14 Workshop
15–17 KEYNOTE: On post-foundationalism, Oliver Marchart* – public lecture, UH Main building, Aud IV

15/8   TUESDAY
10–11.30 KEYNOTE: Post-foundational Discourse Analysis: Theoretical Premises and Methodical Options of Relational Discourse Research, Tomas Marttila – public lecture, UH Main building, Aud IV
13.30–14.30 Lecture: Discourse theory and deconstruction in political analysis, Charlotte Fridolfsson – public lecture, UH Main building, Aud IV
15-17 Workshop with the lecturers from Monday and Tuesday

10–11 Lecture: Capitalism and Contingency: A post-Marxist Critique of the Logics of Capital, Mark Devenney – public lecture, UH Main building, Aud IV
11.30–12.30 Workshop
14–15 Lecture: Affect, discourse and political mobilisation from an ethnographic approach, Jenny Gunnarsson Payne – public lecture, UH Main building, Aud IV
15.30–16.30  Workshop

10–12 Lecture: Populism, Oliver Marchart*
14–16 Panel with the lecturers: The whys and whats of post-foundationalism? Public panel discussion, UH Main building, Aud IV

18/8   FRIDAY
11–13 Workshop with students presenting on their own MA/PhD/postdoc or course work
14– Excursion and picnic*

Week III

21/8   MONDAY
10.30–12 Reflections on the previous weeks’ sessions, Emilia Palonen & Taavi Sundell
13–16 Workshop: Finalization of student projects

22/8   TUESDAY
10–12 Presentations of student projects
13-15 Presentations of student projects

10–12 Populism and post-foundationalism, Halil Gürhanli
14–16 Radical democracy and what next? Emilia Palonen

11–14 Wrap-up session, feedback and commentary, Emilia Palonen & Taavi Sundell
15–  Farewell drinks


* Co-organized with the HSS course Populism in Europe & Beyond


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