Abusive Sexuality and Sexual Violence in Contemporary Culture (2012-2016)

The research project, funded by Kone Foundation, examines representations of abusive sexuality and sexual violence, such as commodification of sexuality, prostitution, trafficking, rape, incest and pedophilia, in contemporary culture: literature and visual media. The studied representations of sexuality raise theoretical and social questions concerning intersectionality of knowledge production and power, sometimes even violence, and the ways in which these intersections are connected to the development of culture and society, cultural knowledge production of genders and sexualities, and the social orders of their cultural and historical contexts. In other words, the research project asks how, and which, contextual and societal situations and circumstances produce these representations, how these representations depict the situations and circumstances, and how they firstly symptomize, secondly diagnose and thirdly negotiate the cultural meanings produced by them.

The research project examines representations of abusive sexuality and sexual violence in contemporary literature and media culture, and the ways these representations are connected to the development of culture, society and the social order of our time. The hypothesis is that on many occasions, representations of sexuality appear in order to react on a cultural change or a crisis. The political and societal changes of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century do not only involve the constantly increasing visibility of global liberation movements of, for example, gays and lesbians, and elaborations of gay, lesbian and queer studies, the queer chic phenomenon in media representations, and the changes in the legislations concerning the marital and adoption rights of the same-sex couples and the rise of the rainbow families. They also involve rapid pornification of culture and its images, legitimization of certain forms of gendered and sexually motivated abuse and violence, globalization of sex business (due to the powerful spreading of the Internet and media convergence), and rejuvenation of the objects of the pornificated representations in media entertainment, advertising, popular music industry and on the Internet, and the impacts these changes and ruptures have had.

The literary works and media representations are analyzed in this context of the contemporary cultural change, in which sexuality has become a visible part of cultural representations of identities and an active constituent of culture and society as a whole. The research project considers the varieties of gendered and sexual meanings manifested in literature and media, and the ways this meaning production participates in the formation and cultural understanding of sexuality and gender. The interest lies in the ways the representations participate in the cultural changes, and their ways of discussing and processing the changes through engaging with the critical questions of gender, sexuality and the body politics. The project discusses how literary and audiovisual representations negotiate the intersectional discourses of gender, sexuality, the body and corporality, “race”, ethnicity, nationality, and age as well as social and economical power structures, while also examining the cultural contexts, phenomena and media representations in which these discourses become actualized and articulated.

The research material of the research project consists of a whole range of contemporary Finnish literature such as works of, f.e., Pirjo Hassinen, Kari Hotakainen, Anna-Leena Härkönen, Anja Kauranen/Snellman, Marja Kyllönen, Sofi Oksanen, Maria Peura, Riikka Pulkkinen, Ritva Ruotsalainen, Asko Sahlberg, Helena Sinervo and Jari Tervo. In addition to literary texts, the project analyzes the ways violence gets gendered and sexualized in audiovisual media culture, especially North American television (drama and science fiction television series such as Battlestar Galactica (2003–2009), Bionic Woman (2007–2008), Cold Case (2003–), Gilmore Girls (2000–2007), True Blood (2008–), and V (2009–2011), which arguably has had a strong effect also on Finnish culture at large.


Responsible leader: professor Sanna Karkulehto


  • Dr. Satu Koho
  • MA Aino-Kaisa Koistinen
  • Docent Leena-Maija Rossi
  • MA Myry Voipio

Advisory Board:

  • Professor Feona Attwood (Sheffield Hallam University; Onscenity - Sex, Commerce, Media and Technology in Contemporary Society Network
  • Professor Rosemary Hennessy (Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, Rice University, Houston, USA)
  • Associate Professor Andrew Nestingen (University of Washington, Seattle, USA)
  • Professor Vera Nünning (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Germany)
  • Professor Susanna Paasonen (University of Turku, Finland)
  • Associate Professor Andrea Peto (Central European University, Budapest, Hungary)
  • Professor Suvi Ronkainen (University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland)
  • Associate Professor Vappu Sunnari (University of Oulu; the Violence Research Group at the University of Oulu, the Gender Studies Network at the University of Oulu, Finland)