Skip to main content

Refine your search

Seksuaali- ja sukupuolivähemmistöt sosiaali- ja terveydenhuollossa

Doctoral defence of Lisa Gohlke, M.Soc.Sc, 19 April: The multi-scalar interdependencies between diverse sexual norms in geopolitical, populist, and everyday spatial imaginaries in the Republic of Moldova

The doctoral dissertation in the field of Human Geography will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies at Joensuu campus.

What is the topic of your doctoral research? Why is it important to study the topic?

The topic of my research is the interdependencies between sexual norms at the core of spatial imaginaries on the international scale, on the national scale, and in everyday life in the Republic of Moldova. Over the past decade, sexual norms have increasingly informed the spatial imaginaries of political, religious, and civil society actors of their “own” community and “others” worldwide. On the international scale, for instance, Russia has portrayed the value of the “traditional family” as threatened by morally depraved “Gayropa”, while the European Union continues to uphold proclaimed sexual norms governing LGBTQ rights. 

In the ex-Soviet space, such notions of sexual norms are also incorporated into the spatial imaginaries of national populist actors. For example, the Polish politician Jarosław Kaczyński and the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova have depicted sexual minorities and LGBTQ rights as a threat to their nation, their country’s statehood, and the family. As several populist actors in ex-Soviet countries merge their populist rhetoric with notions of sexual norms on the international scale, their spatial imaginaries can significantly shape the construction of sexual norms in everyday life. Using the example of the Republic of Moldova, my research therefore examines how the employment of declared European sexual norms governing LGBTQ rights and Russian traditional sexual norms by Moldovan populist parties influences sexual norms in everyday life.

What are the key findings or observations of your doctoral research?

The research findings demonstrate the diversity of sexual norms circulating in the country, their multi-scalar interdependencies, and their roots in various past and present global, regional, and national socio-political developments. In everyday life, the identified hegemonic and three alternative sexual norms are shaped by the taboo surrounding “non-heterosexuality” during Soviet times and derived from both social conservative and liberal-democratic values. However, they are hardly influenced by the five notions of sexual norms at the core of the spatial imaginaries of six Moldovan populist parties on the national scale. Instead, the parties tailor their notions of sexual norms to the dominant norms, values, and popular narratives in Moldovan society to mobilise support. To this end, they are derived from both new social conservative and liberal-democratic values. They are also shaped by previous nationalist and geopolitical mobilisation strategies and the significant role of the (Orthodox) church as a moral authority in the country. Additionally, they “borrow” several constituting components of the EU’s and Russia’s avowedly opposing sexual norms on the international scale. 

The EU’s notion of sexual norms governing LGBTQ rights and Russia’s understanding of traditional sexual norms are central to both actors’ normative power struggle in the ex-Soviet space and the international political system. Derived from either present or past hegemonic norms, values, concepts and ideologies, their declared sexual norms serve to summarise the “properness” of the individual components used to construct uniting territorial identities for their political communities. They also legitimise their political projects and help them to portray themselves as major political actors in the international political system. Overall, the research findings demonstrate the versatility of sexual norm at the core of spatial imaginaries at different scales as well as their interdependencies.

How can the results of your doctoral research be utilised in practice?

My research proposes a theoretical framework and data collection method to study the versatile and interdependent use of sexual norms in spatial imaginaries. It suggests, first, that their multi-scalar relations and central role in political communication can be studied by combining the concept of spatial imaginaries with additional theoretical approaches, such as to nationalism, populism, or geopolitical discourses. 

In my research, for example, I have used the critical approach to everyday life, the discursive-theoretical approach to populism, and the concept of normative power to examine the mobilising aspects of spatial imaginaries at the core of political communication in everyday life. Secondly, my research suggests that the Method of Empathy-Based Stories can serve as a very useful qualitative data collection method for studying sensitive key components of spatial imaginaries such as sexual norms. In addition, the findings underline that sexual norms often play a central role in the self-portrayal of political actors as “charismatic strongmen”, their denigration of political opponents, and/or their depiction of perceived ontological security. 

These depictions can elicit strong reactions in everyday life and negatively affect perceptions of sexual minorities. Therefore, my research findings emphasise the necessity for future research to investigate how new social conservative, populist, nationalist, and international political actors worldwide adapt their notions of sexual norms to key norms, values, and familiar narratives in different societies as well as their impact in everyday life.

What are the key research methods and materials used in your doctoral research?

In my research, I examine the promotion of sexual norms at different scales from the perspective of Critical Border Studies and based on the situated intersectional approach to bordering practices. To explore the impacts and multiscalar co-construction of sexual norms, the theoretical framework is grounded in the concept of spatial imaginaries. Moreover, I use the concept of normative power and the discursive-theoretical approach to populism to examine the role of sexual norms in the spatial imaginaries of the EU, Russia, and Moldovan political parties. The additional critical approach to everyday life makes it possible to study the construction of sexual norms in everyday life under the impact of spatial imaginaries on the same or higher scales. This overall theoretical framework is combined with qualitative narrative research methods. 

Sexual norms at the core of everyday spatial imaginaries are analysed through personal experience-centred narratives of Moldovan inhabitants, which I collected in 2020 using the Method of Empathy-Based Stories. They are compared with the sexual norms promoted in the formal political narratives of Moldovan populist parties and the EU and Russia. In the case of Moldovan populist parties, I identified sexual norms based on the parties’ official electoral programmes and statements published during their four electoral campaigns in 2018-2020. In turn, the sexual norms of the EU and Russia are identified through their official foreign policy documents, resolutions, programmes, and speeches published since the EU’s enlargement rounds of 2004/07 or Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 and until December 2020. The collected narratives are analysed using the genealogical approach to narrative analysis.

Further information:

Lisa Gohlke,

The doctoral dissertation of Lisa Gohlke, M.Soc.Sc, entitled Beyond LGBTQ Rights vs. the Traditional Family: Diverse Sexual Norms in Geopolitical, Populist, and Everyday Spatial Imaginaries in the Republic of Moldova will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The Opponent in the public examination will be Associate Professor Oana-Ramona Ilovan of Babeş-Bolyai University, and the Custos will be Adjunct Professor Paul Fryer of the University of Eastern Finland.