Money, Money, Money! Finnish Conference Cashing-In on the Work of Mershon, Gordon, and Simons

May 24, 2016

Why do songs about money always repeat money, money, money? But I digress.


Carol Mershon, Geoff Gordon, Jennifer Simons will be presenting at the Institutions in Context workshop at the University of Tampere in Tampere, Finland. The theme of the conference is The Role of Money in Politics and that is on everyone’s minds in this election year. Apparently money is always on the minds of politicians—it’s all about the Benjamins, the baht, the peso, the lira,  the euro, and soon the Tubmans. :)


For her first time in Finland, Carol Mershon will present Chiefs in South Africa: What Role in Upholding or Undermining Inequalities? The research, part of a larger work, (a DPU—discrete publishable unit), is being presented to garner feedback from the conference participants whom she trusts based on the reputation the conference has built over the years. Her co-authors have lauded the workshop. Mershon also uses the roster of past participants when deciding to where to present. A researcher of Mershon’s reputation can be choosy where she expends her service and outreach; “It’s the people who make a conference,” she says.


Two UVA Ph.D. graduate students will also present. Encouraged by Mershon, Geoff Gordon and Jenifer Simons submitted topics. The conference is selective about who attends.  


“Geoff Gordon and Jennifer Simons submitted strong applications,” conference organizer Katri Seiberg writes. “Each of them had a research theme that corresponded nicely with the general theme—from Gordon’s work on inequality and elites, which fit with a sub theme on inequality, to Simon’s work on the radical right, which has a nice overlap with several other papers.”


Geoff Gordon, 4th year grad student is a Jefferson Scholar and concentrates on the fascinating topic of democratic backsliding in new democracies. Lately he has been looking at oligarchs in Chile, Thailand, and Turkey, all featured largely in the news; the presidents of each country have been maneuvering power positions, buying up media, rewriting laws to secure and cement their power, and generally bending democratic methods to support their needs. Gordon will present on Inequality, Elite Bias, and Democratic Breakdown at the panel on inequality, 2016. The presentation is based on his dissertation work.


Jennifer Simons presents Radical-Right Backlash in Europe: Church-State Relations, Individual Religiosity, and Party Success, on the relationship between church-state relations, tolerance, and the success of the Radical Right in Europe. She argues that states that have pursued strict policies of secularism in public life have paradoxically fueled intolerance in their broader population. This intolerance is what fuels the support for Radical Right-wing parties.


The conference organizer, Katri Sieberg, has known Mershon for years through her research and notes “This year’s theme had a nice overlap with her work, so I invited her to participate.” Sieberg also co-authors with Charles Holt, University of Virginia Economics, and she occasionally visits UVA to run experiments. Also presenting, UVA Alum A.J. Bostian (UVA Economics, Ph.D. 2008) previously a lecturer at UVA and now a Fulbright Professor in the North American Studies program at the University of Tampere, has taught a number of classes in the Master’s Degree Program in Public Choice. He will teach future courses in the program and serves as a mentor for many of the students. The complete workshop program can be found here.


Sieberg says “We have no official relationship between our schools, but we welcome cooperation and would be interested in developing more cooperation.” Mershon notes that Sieberg builds a creative environment for conversation and relationships, an evening boat ride in Tampere’s Pyhäjärvi lake and potential saunas (!). Past participants have co-authored successful papers as a result of the conference, so it’s best not to question Sieberg’s methods.


Directly after Finland Mershon will head far, far south (9,017 miles/14,512 km) to the University of Venda, South Africa, to present Advancing Women’s Research in Higher Education at an invited lecture at the School of Human and Social Sciences. 


Tampere is in southern Finland, close to the water. Geoff Gordon has indicated there may be an exploration across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia. Simons will also go to Estonia and add Latvia, and St. Petersburg, Russia as well.