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Research project The project examines Tornedalian identity construction and enactments of Meänmaa in modern imaginative writing. Theories emphasizing that places are in the making and that they can be seen as embodied emotions, narratives and memories are central. The outcome will be articles and a book.

The project examines Tornedalian identity construction and enactments of Meänmaa. The primary material consists of contemporary imaginative literature by Swedish Tornedalian writers. The project uses theoretical perspectives from the fields of cultural and social geography which emphasize that places are always in the making and that they can be seen as embodied emotions, narratives and memories. Furthermore, theoretical perspectives from rural studies which emphasise the complexity and fluidity of rural otherness are central. This research is relevant for the project’s focus upon how the (re)bordering of Meänmaa is enacted in imaginative writing. The results will be disseminated in articles and a book.

Head of project

Anne Heith
Other position

Project overview

Project period:

2016-02-02 2019-12-31


The Swedish Research Council, 2016-2018: SEK 2,025,000

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Culture and Media Studies, Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Research area

General literary studies

Project description


Purpose and aims

The project will examine intersections between Tornedalian identity constructions and enactments of Meänmaa (lit. Our land) in modern, Tornedalian, imaginative literature. Meänmaa is the traditional homeland of the Tornedalians in the Swedish-Finnish borderlands. Furthermore, narratives of place-making will be examined in relation to a discourse of tourism aiming at creating attractions for visitors and job opportunities for locals. The outcome will be articles, and a volume in English.

The scientific aim of the project is to produce new knowledge based on analysis of imaginative literature by using theoretical perspectives from Cultural, Human and Social Geography and Rural Studies. These perspectives will be used in order to develop the applicant’s previous research on Tornedalian literature within the field of Postcolonial Literature Studies. The project will have a strong focus upon the creation of a specific northern space, Meänmaa, and its multiple meanings in: 1) Swedish nation building, 2) Tornedalian cultural mobilisation which was intensified in the 1970s, 3) feminist critique of patriarchal structures, and 4) the branding of Meänmaa as an attraction for tourists.

Survey of the field

Connections between Finno-Ugric ethnicity, exclusion and nation-building is a theme explored by Niemi (Niemi 1981). Niemi’s investigation of relations between bordering processes, place and ethnicity introduced new perspectives to the analysis of complexity and dynamics in the history of the Cultural Geography of Northern Scandinavia. Within the field of literature studies Mai has proposed new perspectives for the writing of the history of literature by suggesting that place is used instead of time as the organising, narrative priciple (Mai 2010, Mai 2011). A strong focus on place is manifest in research in various forms of Geography. Studies within the fields of Planning and Community Studies, Rural Studies and Cultural, Human and Social Geography with a specific focus upon Nortern Scandinavia have explored the complexity of northern peripheries and processes of othering the people of the northern region (Bærenholdt & Granås 2008). The Norwegian cross-disciplinary projects Globalization from Below and CEPIN, Citizenship, Encounters and Place Enactment in the North, use theoretical perspectives which provide a vantage point for analysing the complexity of the idea of a northern periphery and processes of othering (Bærenholdt & Granås eds 2008). This research relies on international research on connections between rural areas, the making of peripheries and the othering of categories seen as peripheral (Little 1999, Philo 1992). The Finnish project RELATE, The Relational and Territorial Politics of Borders, Identities and Transnationalization, represents ongoing research which investigates the complexities between place-making, identity formation and processes of (re)bordering, themes discussed in the research of Paasi (Paasi 2002, Paasi 2003, Paasi 2009, Paasi 2011, Paasi 2012, Paasi 2013).

The themes of constructing a rural periphery and the othering of its people are explored in a study of popular representations of the Swedish north in the field of Social and Economic Geography (Eriksson 2010a, Eriksson 2010b). Using perspectives from Postcolonial Theory Eriksson’s dissertation explores how the region Norrland is construted as a periphery in news media and popular film. Similar theoretical perspectives are used in discussions of a couple of texts by the Swedish Tornedalian writer Mikael Niemi (Ridanpää 2011). Ridanpää’s analyses of Niemi’s texts are produced within the fields of Cultural Geography and Rural Studies. Ridanpää suggests that the Torne Valley is a region with no identity (Ridanpää 2014). In the applicant’s research project Poetics of Contemporary Borderlands: Tornedalian Textual Landscapes, carried out between 2008-2011, the perspective is different as the Swedish Torne Valley is seen in the contexts of Swedish nation building and the cultural mobilisation of the Tornedalian minority in Sweden which was enhanced in the 1970s. The theoretical vantage point is Postcolonial Studies and perspectives from Ethnography which focus upon the role of borders for identity construction (Thiong’o 1986, Bhabha 2008, Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin 2009, Barth 1998). This research proposes that a Tornedalian identity connected with feelings of shame and inferiority has evolved due to internal colonialism and nation-building which has marginalised the Tornedalian Finnish minority. Furthermore that this form of marginalisation is challenged in present day cultural mobilisation (Heith 2007, Heith 2008, Heith 2009a, Heith 2009b, 2009c, Heith 2009d, Heith 2012a, Heith 2012b, Heith 2012c, Heith 2013). The planned project will include texts by a selection of writers and use perspectives from disciplines within the Social Sciences.

Project description

The primary material consists of contemporary imaginative literature by mainly Swedish Tornedalian writers. Bengt Pohjanen, a pioneer in the Tornedalian cultural mobilisation, has published extensively, while Mikael Niemi represents a younger generation. Niemi’s great breakthrough was in 2000 with the novel Populärmusik från Vittula. The material includes texts by women writers, and by writers both from Sweden and Finland. The project uses theoretical perspectives from the fields of Cultural and Social Geography which emphasize that places are always in the making and that they can be seen as embodied emotions, narratives and memories (Bærenholdt & Granås 2008). Furthermore, theoretical perspectives from Rural Studies which emphasize the complexity and fluidity of rural otherness are central (Little 1999). According to Little this is of major importance in analyses of the meaning and construction of identity in rural contexts. This theme is also emphasized in Paasi’s research which draws attention to the role of processes of (re)bordering, dynamics and complex relations for place-making and identity formation (Paasi 2013).

The enactment of Meänmaa as a meaningful social space which intersects with Tornedalian identity construction will be examined through close reading and analysis of Tornedalian imaginative literature. Texts by both Swedish and Finnish Tornedalian writers will be included for the purpose of providing a vantage point for analysis of differences related to nationality for the enactment of Meänmaa as a significant, communal place. While the Swedish Tornedalians are an ethnic and linguistic minority in Sweden, Finnish Tornedalians are not seen as a minority in Finland. A central issue is how writers of fiction ’make’ the Torne Valley and how this making of place is related to reproductions of the Swedish North as a periphery (Eriksson 2010a, Eriksson 2010b), and more broadly of the Swedish-Finnish borderlands as a periphery. The following themes will be considered: 1) place and mobility; literary enactments of ”Our land”, 2) literature from the periphery of the periphery, 3) internal colonialism, othering, Ugritude and postcolonialism in the Swedish-Finnish borderlands, 4) transnationalization, hybridity and the enactment of multiple cultural traditions, 5) conflicting narratives - feminist critique of patriarchal structures versus nostalgia, 6) connections between enactments of Meänmaa in imaginative literature and the making of tourist attractions.


The project will produce new knowledge about how imaginative literature contributes to enacting place with a focus on intersections between the production and deconstruction of the Swedish North as a periphery and the making of a traditional homeland and significant communal space by the Tornedalian minority which has been subjected to assimilationist policies and marginalisation during the period of the modernisation of Sweden and the building of the modern welfare state. The project contributes to developing multidisciplinary literature studies by using theoretical perspectives from Cultural and Social Geography and Rural Studies in an investigation of imaginative literature. The project produces new knowledge about intersections between place-making, identity formation and connections between imaginative writing and the making of tourist attractions.

Preliminary results

Preliminary work using theoretical perspectives from Postcolonial Studies in analyses of Tornedalian literature has resulted in articles published in scientific peer review publications. The main body of this research was carried out during the applicant’s employment as a researcher in the Border Poetics Group, Department of Culture and Literature, Tromsø University, Norway.

The preliminary research has been funded by the following foundations and academic institutions:

• 2008: Magnus Bergvall’s foundation, 65000 SEK for the project ”Norrländsk väckelse möter ortodox tradition. Bengt Pohjanens ”Lovsång till Lars Levi Laestadius” (Northern Swedish Revivalism Encounters Orthodox Christian Tradition: Bengt Pohjanen’s Song of Praise to Lars Levi Laestadius”
• 2008: Grant for a week’s all inclusive stay at the Sigtuna Foundation from Harald and Louise Ekman’s foundation; purpose: to collect material about the Korpela movement and Bengt Pohjanen in the foundation’s newspaper archive
• May 2008–August 2011: In international competition the applicant received funding for the three-year research project Poetics of Contemporary Borderlands: Tornedalian Textual Landscapes, Tromsø University
• 2010: The applicant was the main organiser of the international conference ”Challenging Homogenising Modernity: Theory, Methodology and Literary Analysis”. In this context she was the sole applicant for funding, which was granted from Nordisk kulturfond (120 000 SEK), Norsk-finsk kulturfond (12 000 SEK), Clara Lachmanns Stiftelse (25 000 SEK)
• 2011: Two months research in the Border Aesthetics Project funded by the Norwegian Research Council (the Kulver programme; main applicant: Johan Schimanski); the theme of the applicant’s research was the role of bordering in Tornedalian contemporary literature
• 2010 and 2012: in 2010 the applicant was employed as a guest researcher at the Hugo Valentin Centre, Uppsala University for two months, and in 2012 for two periods of two months each; during these periods she examined contemporary Sámi and Tornedalian literature with a focus on ethnicity, minority status and multilingualism

International and national collaboration

The project has advisory researchers who are prominent in research areas of great relevance for the project: professor Anne-Marie Mai, Department for the Study of Culture (Literature), University of Southern Denmark, Professor Einar Niemi, Department of History and Religious Studies, Tromsø University, and the RELATE Centre, University of Oulu. Professor Anssi Paasi, Department of Geography, and the RELATE Centre, University of Oulu has invited the applicant to cooperate with the RELATE Centre.


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Heith, A. (2007) ”Fluid Identities and the Use of History: The Northern Lights Route and the Writings of Bengt Pohjanen”, conference proceedings for “Inter: A European Cultural Studies Conference in Sweden”, 227-241, Linköping University Electronic Press: www.ep.liu.se/ecp/025/.
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Latest update: 2018-06-28