Law and Society Blog

Külliki Tafel-Viia: the sense of obligation originating from childhood is beneficial for writing a doctoral thesis

Külliki Tafel-Viia of the School of Governance, Law and Society, researched creative industries and policy changes of various European cities in her doctoral thesis. She believes that changes in the topics researched by social scientists happen gradually and are the outcome of many small shifts – one specific thing will not cause drastic change, rather an issue is being nudged a little in a certain direction.


How did you come up with this topic during your studies?

I found my research topic through my job. I started working at the Estonian Institute for Future Studies when the creative industries topic reached Estonia through the British Council in Estonia. I happened to be in a research team that was trying to make the term ‘creative industries’ more palatable to Estonians, and I also participated in the first research being done on this topic in Estonia. The priority was understanding creative industries in general, as well as setting up the basis for policy-making in regard to this topic. As time passed, the focus shifted towards various sub-sectors within the creative industries and then to the cooperation between different sectors in the creative industries and sectors of other fields. Additionally, this change reflects the evolution of the creative industries subject matter through time, which is also articulated in my doctoral thesis.

Writing a doctoral thesis is a huge task and definitely needs constant self-motivation. What’s your trick? How were you able to consistently work on it to achieve a successful final result?

If you have an answer to the question “why?”, or “why is it important for me to complete this doctorate?”, then that will keep you on the right path. The sense of obligation most likely originating from my childhood was certainly beneficial, as was the desire to finish what I started no matter what. Even though I was not always consistent on the journey and it took longer than average, that sense of obligation always brought me back on the right path.

Another helpful aspect was that I decided to write an article-based doctoral thesis. This made it easier to divide the thesis into stages and reach certain milestones, like the publication of the articles.

Please describe a memorable or funny event that happened while you were writing your thesis.

Most funny events occurred during field work, especially on trips abroad. An instance from the most recent study instantly springs to mind, during which I went to Aarhus in Denmark to conduct interviews. It all began with a classic travel problem – my luggage never arrived at baggage claim... and shortly after I found out that it would not be arriving at all. I asked the airport workers when my luggage might arrive and they said they had no clue. However, shortly after that I received a joyous text message saying that my luggage would arrive with the evening flight. That happy moment was short-lived, because the next text message stated that I could not go and pick up my luggage as there was nobody in the airport at that time to accept it!

After all this fuss regarding my luggage, I essentially missed the only bus that took people from the airport to the city centre. This resulted in me needing to cancel my first interview, as the taxi was unable to get me there either – the taxi arrived, but the driver was not in it. The airport only had one taxi in total (by the way, Bolt and Uber were not available for selection).

After that I found out that the bus would be arriving, but after an hour of waiting, it was clear that the bus would not be arriving on time. This resulted in me not making it to my second interview either. All of this makes it seem like it was some sort of exotic country, as opposed to Denmark and Aarhus. The famous sentence “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark...” perfectly summed up the situation.

It must be said that I eventually did make it to the second interview, because the taxi driver turned up. My luggage also arrived in the hotel that evening via an unscheduled flight. In short, the trip ended up being quite terrific. In the end, I also managed to conduct the first interview that I had originally missed.

How is your research going to change the world?

As I am a social scientist, I can express the standpoint that changes in (social) phenomena – the areas social scientists are constantly researching – are gradual and are the result of a number of small shifts. That is why you can’t say that one specific thing has caused some drastic change; it is more likely that the issue has been nudged a little in a certain direction.

I am hopeful that my work can nudge understandings of policy-making practices to consider instruments and approaches that support the adoption of policies in the creative industries as well as other areas. My doctoral thesis also clearly indicated how important the cross-disciplinary approach is in the analysis of social phenomena. This created the opportunity to bring in new topics on a theoretical discussion level, and from a practical standpoint, it confirmed the importance of supporting collaboration between fields on a policy level, because new things can only arise from the contact points between various fields.

How much are the voices of scientists and young researchers heard in our society?

My opinion is that it primarily depends on how much you want your voice to be heard.

It is mainly an issue of science communication. Do you try to put yourself in the position of the listener/reader and consider what might interest them about your topic and what words might speak to them? Are you able to think of ways to make your research topic important to different groups in society and how your thesis could be useful in various fields? Communication is a time-consuming activity and often you will need to repeat things to get your message across. There’s a principle in communication that says the writer must choose whether to take the time to write a concise and accessible text or make the reader take the time to read their long text and fully understand it. That is the question – which side will make the effort?

What are the most important values and beliefs that you live by?

Be open – to new experiences, opinions, people, circumstances and to other theoretical standpoints. This allows you to maintain a child-like sense of discovery and improve your life, giving way to fortunate coincidences among other things. This creates the potential to live a more diverse life; not only a more interesting life, but an increased ability to see the big picture and the connections between things.

Be consistent and results-driven. The journey of becoming a doctor is one of those instances where the need for this is quite evident. After all is said and done, the main thing is the ability to pull yourself together and see things to the end.

Pay attention to other people. That is a value I appreciate more every single day and certainly need to keep continuously learning. Being attentive means that you have the ability to listen, ask questions and say things that make people happy. Essentially, it is an investment into creating and maintaining great interpersonal relationships. The time invested on this is returned in spades, because people will remember it and if you ever need advice or help, people will always make time for you.

Please tell us about a book you recently read and would recommend to others. Why would you recommend it?

I usually read several books at a time. One of the books I am reading at the moment is written by a Scandinavian brand strategist, Bård Annweiler, entitled “Point of purpose: How purposeful brands attract top employees, seduce customers & fuel profit“. The book deals with the importance for an organisation to have a meaningful objective that speaks to the organisation as well as the greater public, and how to achieve that objective. Several book recommendations can be carried over to daily life.

Another book I am currently reading is Rosa Liksom’s “Compartment No. 6”. I have not seen the film adaptation of the book, but the text is quite visual and might work better in film than prose.

The third book I am currently reading is Michel Houellebecq’s book “Atomised”. I strongly suggest reading Houellebecq’s works, because he is a master of describing social processes in a sensitive and anticipatory way. “Atomised” is not my favourite work by the writer; instead I would highlight the book I read years ago entitled “The Map and the Territory”, which was the book that led me to read all of his other writings.

The fourth book on my agenda is Anneli Urge’s "Šokiterapeut" (“Shock Therapist”), a book that my friends gifted to me when I received my doctorate, as they believed that I should read anything other than complex, scientific literature. This is the kind of easy and digestible read your brain needs to rest every once in a while.