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PANEL 3: "Rethinking the Colonial North"


Rethinking the Colonial North

- Sápmi in History, Literature and Society

  • Dr. Linda Andersson Burnett, Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University;
  • Dr. Johan Höglund, Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University;
  • Ina Knobblock, PhD Candidate, Department of Gender Studies, Lund University

Focus of the panel: Following work by Gutorm Gjessing, Magnus Mörner, and Gunlög Fur, in the 1970s and 1980s, the concept of Scandinavian colonialism has earned considerable scholarly attention during the past ten years. This research notes, for instance, that Sweden participated in the early colonisation of North America (Fur 2006), that Denmark had a small but geographically widely dispersed set of colonies in Africa, Asia, the West Indies, and Greenland (Pedersen 2013), and that they also participated in the slave trade. It further notes that virtually all the Scandinavian nations were complicit in the pan-European colonial project during the nineteenth century by investing in the colonies, supplying labour, or by helping to build the ideological and discursive context that the colonial project depended on (Keskinen et al 2009). In addition to this, nations and territories such as Finland, Sapmi, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands were colonised by other Nordic nations and/or by extra-European empires (Körber and Volquardsen 2014). This panel focuses the situation of the Sámi during this long history. This indigenous population has lived in the Nordic region since long before the current geographical boundaries of Scandinavian were draw. Despite this, the Sámi have historically often been excluded from the mental mapping of the region since their cultural and alleged racial identities have been perceived as fundamentally different from other Scandinavian citizens. This panel will explore how the Sámi and Sápmi have been imagined historically, how they are represented in literature today, and the work that Sámi feminists have done and are doing to resist the still on-going exploitation of Sápmi.



Paper 1: Indigenous and Other: The Image of the Sámi in the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries

Presenter: Dr Linda Andersson Burnett, Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University

This paper will analyse how the Sámi, the indigenous people of Scandinavia, have historically been excluded from a Scandinavian identity by both Scandinavian and Continental writers. Starting with an analysis of the othering of the Sámi in Johannes Schefferus’s influential book Lapponia (1673), it will chart how Scandinavian ministers and scholars represented Sámi people as the other during the colonisation of Sápmi in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Colonialism, as Edward Said has defined it, is not “only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings” (Culture and Imperialism, p. 7). The paper will in particular explore how Scandinavian ideas about the Sámi’s identity circulated in Europe. It will focus on the image of the Sámi in Britain, since the Sámi featured in a large variety of British sources ranging from philosophical tracts, travelogues, poems, songs, and natural history books. These texts tended to speculate on the origin of the Sámi and to discuss the colonial conditions in Sápmi. By analysing the circulation of the Scandinavian cultural construction of the Sámi in conjunction with the reception of Scandinavian colonialism by British commentators, the paper will pose a challenge to the image of Scandinavia as a region ‘untarnished’ by colonialism.



Paper 2: Sápmi and the Questions of Scandinavian Postcolonial Literature

Presenter: Dr. Johan Höglund, Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University

The field known as postcolonial studies partly grew out of a number of literary projects in the late 1970s and 1980s. Work by such as Edward Said and Bill Ashcroft focused both the large body of work that was produced inside the European empires during the nineteenth century, and a competing number of texts produced since the 1950s by indigenous populations reacting to the experience of colonisation. The focus of this field has primarily been Anglophone literature, although postcolonial scholars also paid attention to texts written in languages such as French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

Because mainstream historiography of Scandinavia has typically perceived the Nordic nations as unrelated and untarnished by the pan-European colonial project of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Scandinavian literature has not been theorized as colonial or postcolonial. Following the slow emergence in the 1970s and 1980s of a historiography that did recognize Scandinavia as complicit in the colonisation of Africa, Asia and America, and as active colonisers of Sápmi, this perception began to shift. Recently, the publication of a number of historical and sociological texts, including Fur’s Colonialism in the Margins (2006); Keskinen et al’s Complying with Colonialism (2009); Naum and Nordin’s Scandinavian Colonialism and the Rise of Modernity (2013) and Körber and Volquardsen’s The Postcolonial North Atlantic (2014), has continued to revise the role Scandinavia played in colonial enterprises.

In the wake of this work, it is necessary to revise the predominant understanding of Nordic literature as unrelated to matters of empire, and to explore the ways in which it may be both colonial and postcolonial. With this in mind, this paper investigates Mattias Hagbergs’s novel Rekviem för en vanskapt (2012). This text concerns the historical destiny of the indigenous Saami Kristina Katarina Larsdotter who was exhibited internationally due to her unusual height. After her death, her body was exhumed by phrenologists from Karolinska institutet. The proposed paper discusses Hagberg’s novel as an attempt to write a Swedish postcolonial novel about Swedish-Sápmi relations and speculates on the viability of this category for Scandinavian literature.



Paper 3: Sámi Feminists against Mines

Presenter: Ina Knobblock, Doctoral candidate, Department of Gender Studies, Lund University

Contrary to constructions of Nordic "colonial innocence" within historiographies and lines of popular thinking, a departure from the perspectives of Indigenous peoples positions Scandinavia within the larger European colonial project (Fur 2013, Kuokkanen 2007, Lindmark 2013). In relation to this project, Sámi women have occupied and continue to play an important role in the struggle for decolonization (Hirvonen 2008). Already in 1904, Elsa Laula, the foremother to the Sámi women's movement, wrote the political manifesto Inför Lif eller Död? Sanningsord i de Lappska förhållandena (Faced with Life and Death? True Words about the Conditions of the Lapps) (2003 [1904]), in which she discussed and critiqued issues of land-ownership and the conditions of her people. Today, Sámi feminisms have, through an intersectional analysis, identified the complex ways through which colonialism and racism have shaped and continue to shape the positions and social realities of Indigenous women in Scandinavia (Kuokkanen 2007, Eikjok 2007). This paper focuses contemporary Sámi feminist resistance against the on-going industrial exploitation and extraction of natural resources, especially minerals, on Sámi land. Taking the narratives of Sámi feminists as its point of departure the paper explores the ways in which Sámi women name the struggle against mines, as women, as feminists and as members of the Sámi community. The themes evolving from women's narratives grasp Sámi feminists’ resistance against mines as an engagement at the cross-roads of Indigeneity and gender, working against colonialism and towards social justice. The paper concludes by exploring the implications of Sámi and Indigenous feminisms, particularly in relation to processes of Nordic colonialism.

Biographical information:

Johan Höglund is Associate Professor of English literature at Linnaeus University, Sweden and Director of the Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies. He holds degrees from Brown University, Rhode Island and Uppsala University, Sweden. His research focuses on the relationship between imperialism and popular culture as it manifests in a number of different historical and national settings. He has published extensively on the late-Victorian era, the long history of US global expansion and the often unrecognized cultures of Nordic colonialism.

Linda Andersson Burnett is Assisting Professor in History at Linnaeus University where she convenes a cluster on Nordic Colonialism. She holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and her research focuses on the relationship between natural history and colonialism during the eighteenth century. She has published extensively on Linnaean natural history, Sami history and colonial exhibitions and collecting.

Ina Knobblock is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Gender Studies, Lund University, Sweden. Her research explores the contribution of Indigenous feminism to social theory in general and to feminist theory in particular. She has published in Sámi feminist perspectives (Knobblock & Kuokkanen 2015) and central to her research is an effort to bridge, in critical dialogue with Indigenous feminists movements, the symbolic with the material.


Earlier Event: June 15
Lars Jensen, Roskilde University