Finland for sale : Contesting imaginaries of competitiveness in knowledge branding by Business Finland

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http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202005282473
Title: Finland for sale : Contesting imaginaries of competitiveness in knowledge branding by Business Finland
Author: Ahtokari-Lummi, Frida
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political and Economic Studies (2010-2017)
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2020
Language: eng
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202005282473
http://hdl.handle.net/10138/315573
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Yleinen valtio-oppi, hallinnon ja organisaatioiden tutkimuksen linja
Political Science, Administration and Organisations
Allmän statslära, förvaltnings- och organisationsforskning
Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to explore how the Finnish state has adopted knowledge branding as a way to improve Finland’s competitiveness during the 21st century, and simultaneously examine what contesting imaginaries of competitiveness are underlying its work due to challenges posed by climate change. In policy spheres, knowledge branding refers to the act of knowledge being packaged into saleable and user-friendly “toolkits”, i.e. knowledge brands, by renowned consultants, policy experts and academics. These knowledge brands are manifested through international ranking institutions, which are assessing countries according to various performance areas. This has only enhanced the global competition between nations. Today, the long predominance of market-liberal imaginaries around globalization, competitiveness and the knowledge-based economy has been seriously contested due to the climate crisis demanding a greener economy. These green ideas have translated into new knowledge brands such as ’sustainability’, ’carbon neutrality’ and ‘circular economy’. However, despite the apparent clash of two contradictory sets of beliefs, capitalist growth aims have continued to thrive, showing flexible adaptation in the form of hybridization. As a result we see phenomena such as climate capitalism, carbon compensation and carbon trading. Since I find that the CPE field lacks a collective notion describing different degrees of such hybridization of ideas, I introduce the concept of ‘hybrid imaginary’ to denote the dynamic alignment of traditional capitalist, consumerist ideas with the more altruistic worldview of global responsibility and environmental sustainability. Theoretically, I support myself on the cultural political economy (CPE) approach, which regards imaginaries as necessary for us to be able to structure and make sense of the complexity of the world. More recently, CPE has explored the adoption of knowledge brands in public policy spheres. Considering the fact that Finland, branding itself as “A land of solutions”, has received much positive attention in recent years due to its success in international rankings, and today also aspires to be the world’s first fossil-fuel free country by 2035, I find my home country to be an interesting case to examine in terms of increased use of knowledge branding in the state sector. Methodologically, I approach this topic by conducting a combined qualitative content and discourse analysis on the fairly new state operator Business Finland and its predecessor Finpro (1999-2017). The operator promotes Finnish competitiveness in the fields of internationalization of enterprises, investments and the travel industry by the help of its huge network of consultants, thus making it fit for knowledge branding. Hence, my research question is as follows: “How has Business Finland adopted knowledge branding as a way to improve Finland's competitiveness during the 21st century and what contesting imaginaries of competitiveness are underlying its work?”. The analysis consists of three dimensions: 1) organizational reforms during the 21st century enabling knowledge branding; 2) nation branding as an example of a knowledge brand applied by the travel promotion unit Visit Finland; and 3) Business Finland’s use of hybrid imaginaries in response to the climate crisis. The results of the analysis show that Business Finland has become increasingly dynamic in response to global pressure, while the operator’s current focus on climate innovations shows how ‘responsibility’ and ‘sustainability’ are treated as competitive factors. Thus, my main conclusive argument is that when environmental values are utilised for national competitiveness purposes, their morally good nature may become distorted. This observation resonates with the fact that sustainability and responsibility have become performances measured through global indexes. So, paradoxically, the good intentions of government strategies for mitigating climate change are in danger of being held back due to the excessive focus on individual performance, instead of finding ways to join forces for more collaborative transnational efforts. Ultimately, hybrid imaginaries in combination with an increased commercialization of knowledge raises concerns for the long-term effects on our human ability to imagine alternative futures in writing the narrative of climate change.
Subject: climate crisis
competitiveness
economic imaginary
green economy
innovation
knowledge-based economy
knowledge brand
knowledge branding
nation branding


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