Lammassaari path / Helsinki / 10 Apr 2016

Lammassaari path / Helsinki / 10 Apr 2016






Kolmen Ristin Kirkko designed by Alvar Aalto /   Vuoksenniska,  Imatra  / 27 Feb 2016

Kolmen Ristin Kirkko designed by Alvar Aalto / Vuoksenniska, Imatra / 27 Feb 2016


“National identity,” Giroux (1995) says, “like nationalism itself, is a social construction that is built on a series of inclusions and exclusions regarding history, citizenship, and national belonging” (46).

This is even truer for a country like Finland, whose democratic foundations were spun anew in the early parts of the 20th century, for a people who were for so long a part of much larger empires. Because for much of Finland’s history, the idea of being a “Finn” was considered both a part of and apart from the larger imperial identity, the Finnish national identity has an inherent flexibility to it.

In particular, Finnish political identity – the sense of community, loyalty, and identification – is actually a nested set of various affiliations. Many Finns, both those born in Finland and immigrants, identified a sense of cosmopolitan, international identity. Beneath that was what seemed to be national identity proper, a sense of nationalist sentiment that Finnish citizens and residents felt towards their country, its government, and public institutions. There was also a surprisingly vigorous community identity, a loyalty to one’s town or municipality that doesn’t quite have an equally strong present in the United States. Finns also have a robust individual identity, partially because Finland has historically valued personal independence and autonomy – and the sheer distance between residents outside of the urban hubs.

There are bonds between each of these nested – or, alternately, if you prefer, intersectional – identities, some stronger than others. The bond between international identity and Finnish political identity, for example, is quite strong, and works both ways. International political developments in particular had a significant impact on how Finns define their national identity, both in terms of positive or negative examples. In interviews, community and individual identity seem to be more important to average Finns than their national identity. Community identity exists mostly independent from national and international identity but has a weak influence over individual identity. As expected, individual identity is the most important. However, most Finns recognized the continuous feedback of the other nested identities much more explicitly than their American peers. 

Closed for winter / Turku / 22 Jan 2016

Closed for winter / Turku / 22 Jan 2016


That Finns possess an ambitious international identity is unsurprising. Considering that it moved towards European unity early, and that internationalism was a counter to the back-and-forth diplomacy between Russia and Sweden, using a broad conception of international identity makes sense. Associating Finnish identity with a broader global identity serves a few key functions. It permits Finns to construct a symbolic foil for the regional powers, to put themselves in a larger community of countries. It also reinvents what is considered “Finnish” as elements from other cultures and countries become incorporated into their rapidly diversifying population.

Global identity seems to be more important to younger Finns, who tend to embrace it more completely, partially as a rejection of the older generation’s ideology. For those older Finns, international identity matters far less and is secondary to national identity. Throughout Finland, people are able to articulate ways in which this global identity, specifically a need to be directly engaged with and responsible for global affairs, manifest in practical ways in day-to-day life.

Understandably, much of what younger Finns consider “global” is actually “American.” Much the media, products, and cultural signifiers they adopt are, if not originally American creations, already co-opted by American culture. Regardless of its actual contents, the function was vital: Finns feel a sense of duty to and awareness of the world as a whole. They consider themselves important members of a global society

Cosmopolitans can be understood as essentially ‘citizens of the world’ with a broad internationalist outlook--for example, those who are equally comfortable living and working in different countries, who are familiar with travel well beyond their national and regional boundaries, and who are fluent in languages.” Norris (1999), 1

I was thinking about that. I think I'm pretty much both Finnish and Russian at the same time. Because I live in Finland, I think that makes the Finnish side a little bit more powerful. If I would live in Russia, it would be the opposite. I notice that if someone says like, "I don't think you're Russian", it gets me. I was like, "Who are you to say that I'm not Russian?" Can I speak fluent Russian? I do. Do I find the Russian culture as mine? I do. It's like, why do you say that? That's not something to say. I have, so why would someone say like, "You don't look Russian in my eyes"? I'm like, "Why is that?" – Reeta, 18, Helsinki

If I could, I would. I'd move to the States. That's why I'm saying that ... You beat the Soviet Union. You spread your culture all over the world. Everybody want it, you know, American things. Coca Cola. McDonald's. American movies. And I listen to American music every day like that. – Mikko, 15, Helsinki

M: I would like to move abroad, actually.

Q: Where would you like to move?

M: I'm not quite sure. I'd like to travel a bit, the world, and find my place, where I feel at home because I don't feel it here. This isn't the place I feel I'm supposed to be.

E: Me either.

Q: Can you explain that?

M: Maybe it's just I'm always wishing for something more, maybe I just don't get the feeling. It's hard to explain.

E: I don't know. I've lived here for so long and it's such a small place. I actually would like to go somewhere like ... I don't know, it's such a small place, so I would like to meet new people, deeper views of the world. – Maria, 17 and Eetu, 17, Joensuu

“Projects do not have to be coordinated to contribute to the commons. Since we are not solitary or monastic entities, our experiences are not closed onto themselves, and hence are partially communicable; however, the particularity of our situations means that our experiences are never wholly accessible. But this should not deter communication, or efforts at understanding. Working or acting together involves temporary identification without the presumption that we are identical or that we will be fully realized in a larger community.” (Stavro (2007), 446

Young people are actually pretty open, not that they talk a lot, but they know they could be the best in the world and they want to fulfill that dream and be good at something. But I also hear that we want to go away from Finland very often. That "It doesn't fit me," or "I don't like this," and I'm not sure what the problem is there. Maybe because the older generations now ruling Finland they way they have used to but at the same time there should be some changes and the younger people are frustrated with the fact that there's no changes. They feel like they don't belong here so much anymore, or don't have the ability to progress here, so they have to go somewhere else. That's a bad thing. – Timofei, 18, Helsinki

“If social studies is seen only as a tool for socialization, it may have the character of a rather conservative subject, with teaching mainly about structures, norms and formal channels. However, it is no longer sufficient only to pay attention to the citizenship of a nation state, but to that of the global community, and of civil society.” Virta (2005), 481

We are probably even more international. I don't know whether that's going to have anything to do with the students, or Finnish people, or whether it's just the fact that we get more foreign people into Finland, but I definitely feel that more and more of them are aiming to study abroad. They're looking at things differently than what students five or ten years ago did. They weren't even looking at the prospect of studying in another country, and now we've got several students who are applying for British colleges for instance, so they've got this kind of international view of life and they want to continue that. They see that, "Finland's not the place where I perhaps will be living or studying, working in." – Annukka, English Teacher, Vantaa

I think we are uncertain because we haven’t really decided whether to join NATO or not because we are sharing so much border line with Russia so if they get mad that we are joining with the United States, they might attack us, and we don’t have any military protection. Other countries thinks its funny because we pretend to be friends with Russia but they can’t do the same themselves because they don’t have the long border line and they don’t have the history with Russia and the independence. The rest of the world doesn’t understand our situation. – Girl, 14, Helsinki

“When the I switches to the third person descriptive, or to We, the reference is to the larger metanarrative of social relations. As individuals construct an identity through narrative by using past experience to think about the present, so does the community.” Armstrong (2000), 595

I think we're going to be voting more for the people that want to have better relations with the rest of Europe. Be more international. I think it's going to be a lot different what we're going to start voting, because that will be the first time ever, you know, some kind of big changing thing for our whole country. – Adam, 15, Helsinki


  1. What are the benefits or risks of developing a robust sense of international identity?
  2. American audiences: How does American distance from the "world" make cosmopolitanism of the sort Norris describes difficult?
  3. Finnish audiences: In what way does this sort of "international identity" appear in the daily live of normal Finns?
  4. In what way does the Finnish movement towards international identity appear motivated by geography? Or is it caused by something else?
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this section complement or relate to the text?
Traditional cabin /   Sodankylä, Lapland / 24 Mar 2016

Traditional cabin / Sodankylä, Lapland / 24 Mar 2016


The most common manifestation of Finnish national identity is as civic pride. For many Finns, this was a “soft nationalism,” a sense of Finnish exceptionalism that Americans are familiar with. They also identified a pride in their government and its institutions as a manifestation of the people. I imagine because the public sector is such a large part of the economy and domestic employment, that the population and its government can sometimes seem one and the same. National identity in terms of Finland as a place or territory operated more as a symbol, rather than a strict demarcation of what was strictly “Finnish.” Put another way, the geography of the nation seems separate from and less immediately important than the ideology of the nation. Finland’s complicated history in terms of sovereign territory might explain this.  

Also at work was a type of dialectical national identity described by Moore and Kimmerling (in Arts and Halman 2005-6). They suggest that identity produces “social boundaries allowing individuals as well as groups and collectivities, in action or desired, existing or imaginary communities, to make sense of us versus them” (76). For much of its history, Finland has been imaginary – there were Finns before there was Finland. Determining what Finnish national identity required much in the way of determining what Finland wasn’t. Finland wasn’t Russia, wasn’t Sweden, wasn’t Scandinavian, but Nordic, not Estonian, but close in terms of language. ‘Finland’ became an exclusionary category, determined only through elimination. Finland became the negative space of northeastern Europe.

Today, Finns and Finland are trying to assemble a positive form of national identity. Partially, I think this explains the turn toward international and global economic spaces. The reasoning seems to be that in a global context, Finland can in some way gain a sense of sovereign sense it lacks regionally. Furthermore, Finnish national identity for those under the age of 50 seems to be much less about familial and ethnic origins, rather than a voluntary constituency. Finnish national identity, for many of these people, seems to almost only require a deep dedication of the land, traditions, and institutions. 

“As Finland had already assumed its territorial shape during the metropolitan rule, it was more the imagined and social unity of the territory that had to emerge, rather than the territory as the state’s domain which, in fact, had already been established by the inherited state apparatus. This is why in Finland the territory produced in and through the nation-building process was more a symbolic unit (and community) than a result of political and military attempts to demarcate and control space. The task that the elites aspiring for national self-determination faced was the production of 'Finland' both as a field of knowledge tied to governmental activities, and as a symbolic landscape in the popular realm.” Jouni (1999), 129

What I'm proud in Finland is you can trust other people. You can trust the government, you can trust the police. For example, I forgot a photo camera in a metro station. A tourist she came back after two hours, it was still there. Nobody touched it. Nobody took it. People were like, "It's someone else's, why should I take it?" People just trust each other and the society they have built, it relies on trust between people. It's like something I have not seen anywhere else. When the government respects citizens, and citizens respect government, then there's a connection with them, then the whole country works smoothly. Because, for example when I go to Russia I can see the difference. The people don't trust the government because the government doesn't respect, or certain authorities, the citizens. There's no contact between them which resolves corruption and stuff like that. The fact that Finland was able to build in only one hundred years a society and this wealth they have now, that's what I'm proud of. – Timofei, 18, Helsinki

“Identity can, from these perspectives of nationalism, be seen to have two distinctive connotations: one of ‘being the same as others’ and having a continuity with them, and the other being an identity that brings with it the sense of being different from the other. But the categorization of groups and identities is not necessary deep and fundamental in all cases – putting oneself into a group does not in itself mean one feels a fundamental affinity with others who may put themselves in the same group.” Ross (2007), 292

Democracy in this country is falling asleep. It’s becoming more unpopular every year, less people are voting. Actually it’s like that, because they really don’t care if you could say that’s it. They really don’t want to express their selves … We just think everything is fine and … Move on. We don’t need to do anything; we don’t need to change anything. - Venny, 15, Joensuu

They don’t see that there are poor people in Finland and they just think that we have rich people here and everybody has money to buy something, but that’s not the situation. Eino, 15, Joensuu

I think we have very strong culture in which I'm proud of. Our ways of making things is superior. I find it good. Finnish people are worth protecting, I think. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

I think one problem is that we don't think as one. I don't know. We are not together enough, maybe not making decisions together. It feels like that's a problem here, too. Finnish people are known for being quiet and not expressing themselves that much, so maybe if people will talk through ... I think it would help. – Tuomas, 18, Joensuu

I think that I am an international teenager. My parents want me to grow up as an international person, and for example, we have exchange students living in our house. And I’ve been abroad quite a lot compared to some of my friends. But still, I know this word doesn’t sound the same in English, but patriotism? It sounds different in Finnish. But its a weird feeling, because I don’t think that I’m that patriotic but, for example, when I was in Greenland in the summer of 2013, and one of my friends was started actually singing the Finnish national anthem in the middle of a big, big hall where there were a lot of foreign people and just a little Finns. And all the other Finns started singing it too. It was a weird moment, because I think that’s kind of silly and stupid, but I still felt like, that feeling, like these people are like me. And, for example, it is Finnish to feel joy in quiet space. Like, for example, for a lot of Finns, the country cottage is the most important place in the whole world. And for me, too. It feels so much more like home than my actual home which is weird because I’ve lived there for eighteen years. But still, going there on a Friday evening and heating up the sauna and walking across the bridge, just sitting on the bridge and watching the quiet, quiet lake and the forest, it makes me happy in a really weird way. Kind of like a quiet happiness. And even though I was born in Helsinki and I’ve lived here for eighteen years, I still have the same feeling that maybe my great grandfather would have had or something like that. I’m really into nature. I think that nature makes me the most patriotic. And also like, I do appreciate the freedom that we have. Maintaining that freedom and like the values is important. – Helmi, 18, Helsinki

“The Finnish, or Nordic, ideology rather emphasizes human dignity in a relatively communal framework. A balance has existed between self-determination and the protection of privacy on the one hand and public support and help for individuals in different life situations on the other hand.” Pylkkänen (2007), 337

From a Finnish point of view, don't break the law. Finnish are very law abiding, so they tend to never break rules. It's a very strong feeling in there and a good quality actually. Pay taxes and stuff like that. They respect authority, that's why they also abide law, it works very smoothly. In other countries, people don't trust, the government authorities or police or something like that. Finland has nothing like that. There's almost no corruption. People trust, and if people trust the government, the police and stuff, if they say don't do stuff like that, people won't say, "Why not?" They will just do it. – Timofei, 18, Helsinki

I'm not going to say, going to work. Contributing something to your own closest friends, family and maybe someone you don't even know. Doing things that affects all people that makes everyone's lives better. Yeah. Being normal, in our own way. Not being one of the mass, doing things you're expected to do in your own way. If you like to do music, then do music. If you like to work, work. Do whatever you like. Don't hurt others with you being stubborn, not doing ... Obey the law. I guess a better thing in society is 'What's going on in the society?' not being ignorant of things going on. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

P: If you're asking me, I think that we feel less threatened by our neighbor, maybe. Or that we feel ... if we were more threatened, our unity was more threatened, than we would probably unite more. Now that we feel pretty safe, and also exposure to other cultures, other ways of living, we're becoming more wealthy or have become more wealthy in the last 30 years.

S: Now that's kind of crumbling away.

P: A lot has happened in Europe, in the last 20 years. With the EU and everything.

S: Global economy meltdown. The Russian developments there have changed. You mentioned that we don't feel threatened or have not felt threatened in a long time, and now the situation is kind of tightening. It depends really on the world politics as well, as what happens within the country. – Paulina and Saara, Student Teachers, Joensuu

“With an emphasis on the interests of the nation, and the overall aim of a good life for each and every citizen, the Nordic welfare state enhanced substantive equality, especially between social groups. However, it failed to fully recognize individual rights, including the right to self-determination, the right to personal integrity, the right to privacy, and the right not to be discriminated against. Rather, the 1960s version of the welfare state focused on societal goals without a strong rights framework. Consequently, the attributes attached to persons were, in a legal sense, relatively insignificant, as was the recognition of difference and disadvantage. Today, as the welfare state is increasingly being adapted to a liberal rights framework and market orientation, many neo-conservative attributes are also being attached to legal persons.” Pylkkänen (2007), 336

What responsibilities do I have? First of all, a good education, opportunity to learn and to get a job. It’s important. I think if you really want to be successful in a working life in Finland, we have great opportunities to study well. It’s free. I’m not sure how far you can educate yourself before you have to pay something. – Ville, 16, Helsinki

I think that my duty is to stay in Finland and work here, because of everything that this country has given me for free. I think it's my duty to kind of give back and defend it, and ... Pay for myself. Yeah. My dad said ... I asked him a similar question. He just said, "Taxes." That's what keeps this country rolling. Be profitable. Definitely getting a job and also just appreciate it. The things they give us ... I think it might be fun to work in some other country than here, but it's good to at least appreciate what we've got here. Like free education. – Kasper, 15, Helsinki

“Finnish public opinion is led by elite opinion. There is a tradition that wisdom comes from above – from Swedish kings, Russian czars, and from ‘people who know about these things.’” Rinehart (2002), 438.

The government, like in many other countries too, doesn’t say anything, it’s all corrupt but they’re not really saying anything about the situation, so just talk and talk but no one really. You have to be a doctor of some sort, a brilliant man to understand what they’re really saying. What they’re really saying is that things are not going well and we’re just trying to cover ourselves up. Often, being more open is very important for the country. – Elvi, 15, Joensuu

“In order to promote democracy, Finland supports the development of functioning and transparent political and economic institutions (e.g. free elections), political participation, the evolvement of civil society and freedom of speech and expression. In addition, local democracy is highly supported. This enables people to participate in decision-making at every level.” Gissler and Vuori (2005), 75

“The political community is defined by unity, commonality, and consensus, and an expressed devotion and service to local, state, and national communities. Although civic republicanism recognizes the growing multiculturalism and diversity within societies, it is characterized by a shared patriotic identity, and draws sharp delineations of inclusion and exclusion in terms of political membership (Abowitz & Harnish, 2006). The civic republican model of government rests on the assumption that democracy thrives through civic engagement that is geared toward the achievement of the common good. Participation is not a right, but a duty borne by each citizen.” Alviar-Martin (2010/2011), 40

I think equality, the fact that we've got very equal schools, no matter where in Finland you live, where you study. We have some top schools, but I think that's about it. We don't have a lot of schools that have really bad reputations, or even if they have bad reputations you still get the same education. I think that's the important thing. We're all equal in terms of education, and then what you do with that, it's your own choice then ... I think that's the important thing. – Annukka, English Teacher, Vantaa

Q: What do you think makes someone Finnish?

E1: I think it's important to at least know some of words, and so that you can do your regular things like go shop. I think it's important to know how to speak Finnish. I was thinking another one that I forgot.

M: History and culture, culture is important.

E2: You need to know about Finnish culture and history. I think that's important.

E1: I think it's not that black and white anymore. I think earlier you were Finnish if you were born here, and your parents were Finnish, and you spoke Finnish, and it was black and white. I think.

E2: You can't say what makes someone Finnish, it's a lot of things. If you feel that you're Finnish, then you kind of are. So if you feel strongly enough, then you might become one.

Q: Do you feel Finnish?

E1: Yeah, and I'm proud of it. We're just…we're good people.

M: I think there is an attitude, if you're a Finn, before I was like, "Why am I so quiet, I don't like this." But then I understood that there's some kind of Finnish attitude. I personally feel it. – Eevi, 17, Mirja, 17, Emmi 17, Tampere

“Nation, nationalism, and national identity are not only inextricably entwined in historical reality and therefore difficult to disentangle analytically, but also came to have different meanings from one country to another. The distinct road that countries followed to modernity had consequences for their specific notions of what being a nation meant and the forms of nationalism they adopted.” Arts and Halman (2005/2006), 72

Well, all the men have something in common. They have gone through the same thing. It's a thing that makes people more together I'd say. It brings more coming together feeling that we are the same. We are Finnish. Even if you live in Ivalo, for example ... We don't have much in common with Helsinki and Ivalo; but that's one thing we have in common. Maybe it's that feeling of being Finland. It's a feeling. I'm not sure the thing that could be pointed out, but the feeling. ... and also the values of. Everybody answers. Nature ... I don't know if that's a value. Independency is first. Yeah. Tough question. Oh. Of course you should know some of the language. You can pronounce Finnish very well. Learning the language at understandable level. That doesn't drop you out if you don't know very well. At least communicating with people and behaving like Finns do. Maybe being introverted and like that. What else could I say? Knowing things about Finland, being able to discuss Finland. Having certain opinions align the same way ... maybe not exactly the same way; but democracy and things like that being same. What else is there? Can't say. Also hard question. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

“Nationalism in Finland was not a liberating force typical Eastern European Way. Rather it displayed strong elements of a civil religion for a territorially organized, centralized state, for a Finland was a state for decades before any nationalism existed.” Passi (1997), 46

We have a responsibility to be a good citizen. If you look back in history, I think it's still there, thinking that we have to be good and we have to be good for the other people. Everyone has to do their job in society. Being responsible in society. That could be something... Maybe even the reason is not that important in Finland right now, but it has been the past 50 years we can still see Lutheran ethics, I think it can still be seen somehow. But that's not the most important thing behind it. – Vuokko, Religions Teacher, Tampere

“Welfare state policies in Finland have created functioning systems of public education, health care and day care. These policies grant free of charge or cheap access to services for all residents. The ideal of the Nordic Welfare State has, however, become less evident in the recent years. A traditional model may not exist any more, but rather a mix of welfare state and free-market ideologies. Public support for individual subsistence coexists with private services. The efficiency of future policies on providing support and services may be essential in the near future.” Gissler and Vuori (2005), 82

We are coming to think about this in a Kennedyan way here right now. Actually, it was like a year ago one of the prime ministers said that we should quote Kennedy, that you are always asking from the government to give it something. The thing is that what we are expected to give is obedience, following the rules, which is very important here. Conscription is one of the major cultural things here. Culturally, it's a much bigger thing than it actually looks like in everyday life. Eighty-five percent of men go through this system. What we have to give, pay our taxes. One thing I stretch in my teaching is why we pay these high taxes, because taxes are horrible. We just get our taxation card. It's horrible. In Finland, you can earn this four thousand a month. It's a good salary here. The average is about two thousand five hundred. Four thousand is good, teachers make here. You can make that. It's a decent living, you know house, dog, two cars and older one and new one, trips to Mediterranean and so on. If you make twice the money, you pay something like sixty percent tax. You can do that, but then there's a gap. You can't get well to do or better to do with working. You need to be an entrepreneur to break the ceiling. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

“There is thus an important Hegelian relation at work here, a dialectic of the whole and its parts. Without grasping this dialectic, we can understand neither of its polar terms—nation and individual. We are also especially apt to be misled into seeing them as opposites, rather than terms that are complicit with each other. But in fact, the ideas of nation and individual developed together in Western history and continue to inform each other. Far from being an objective distinction of collective from singular, the opposition of nation and individual reflects a relation laden with tension. Nations are themselves treated as individuals— by ideologues, of course, but also by diplomats, lawyers, and comparative sociologists. Moreover, the relation between human persons and nations is commonly constructed as immediate, so that intermediate associations and subsidiary identities—family, region, trade—are displaced by it. In this way, nations commonly appear in rhetorical practice as categories of similar individuals as well as organic wholes.” Calhoun (2002), 154

Even if the odds are against you, you keep going. – Juhani, 14, Helsinki

What are we good at? I think we do- I mean we value education, I think that's one thing. The whole system we have, I think is good. Even though I haven't done as much research as you have and I haven't compared to other countries. I don't really know how other countries work, I just read about them. But I do think our system works and it's good. I'm proud of it, I really am. Other than that, what values do we have? I think we are quite so serious people. I don't think we are as patriotic as Americans, as you probably noticed. But then again, once a year on Independence Day, we're very patriotic. Once a year. Or when we have Finnish competing against another country- hopefully Swedish, or Sweden, like a Swedish team, then we're very patriotic of Finland. – Katariina, English Teacher, Helsinki

If it's hard you just keep going and trust that it's going to be better, it's going to be better. – Lauri, 15, Helsinki

Equality, gender equality especially. Equality among citizens, that's the most important thing, I think. Work comes from Martin Luther: work is worship. It still works, not in these words of course, but hard work, being honest, do not bother anybody, do your job, and be equal. The equality is the thing that females are considered equal to men, and that in everyday life this equal between citizens comes in a way that you shouldn't show your wealth that much. If you're well to do, you should hide it a little bit and do it with your friends somewhere else. Yeah, privately, yes. Even millionaires here travel in trams just to show off "I can do this." Over here, it's considered tacky. People who are rich who show off, they lack something in their spirit. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

“Nation and nationalism mean different things to different people. Despite their universality and common dimensions, they are contextual and contested categories.” Passi (1997), 42

Q: Do you feel Finnish?

M2: I feel Finnish, yes.

T: More than anything else. Yeah, it's Finnish, lots of European ... Finnish comes first.

M2: Before being Karelian, I'd say Finnish above all.

M1: I don't really think I’m Finnish, because I want to move abroad as I said earlier, and I don't know what I feel, but it's not Finnish. I don't really like many Finnish things, I don't really like Finnish music or the weather.

T: No one likes the weather.

M2: The same thing with me as well, I don't know. I feel, yes, as she said before, I feel more of a Finn than other nationalities but I'm not a patriot or anything like that. I don't know. That's a bit hard question, because I feel like I'm a Finn, but then on the other hand I don't really relate that much on every single thing.

Q: You're a Finn, but you're also something else?

M2: Yeah. Like a world citizen.

Q: what is "being Finnish"?

M2: I don't know.

M1: Of course, I like some of the stereotypical things-

T: I would just answer that it's a combination of being a biological Finn and then liking the things, maybe, and of course, the feeling, which she mentioned, not feeling like a Finn.

M1: I don't think the biological thing is that important. I believe that although people who come from other countries, Finland, I believe they can feel Finnish and if they feel Finnish, they are Finnish, as I am Finnish by my biological ground, but I just don't feel Finnish myself. I think that someone who has come from a different country can be more Finnish than I am.

M2: That's my opinion, but if you're from Sweden, it's easier to feel Finnish, like if you're from Brazil or Africa, something where there is completely different culture, different food, and I'm not sure could someone love all the things you can make yourself, however, I have to be Finnish. That climb at the schools, that lifestyle, even, that's Finnish speaking, that's something that you can't give to someone.

T: You can't learn being Finnish.

M2: Yeah, you just have to become Finnish. Because I was thinking, okay, if I love all the things that are Finnish and I move to Finland, I'm not Finnish; I'm just still an American who likes Finnish things, living in Finland, but if I learn the language, am I still Finnish, and it's still no. There's something that has to change to become ... I don't know, to feel Finnish.

M1: Your logical thinking may be different, some expressed feelings. Of course, that's different people, but society makes people, too. Finland's not ... maybe to everyone, "I feel great, I'm feeling good, now I have lots of money and I'm successful", like saying you'll reach that something to shame here, in some countries that's a great thing. You mess up, "Oh, I reach hell".

M2: They're showing their wealth, but ... my point here, that's a hard thing to be completely Finnish and think like Finnish. I'm feeling very comfortable thinking of myself as a Fin. I love the education, I love society and everything, all those Finnish things, and I guess I am a Finnish mindset. It just feels like the right thing to think of myself as a Finn. – Maria, 17, Miska, 17, and Tuomas, 18, Joensuu

Basically Finnish culture is Finnish culture and you see certain characteristics wherever you go, of course regional differences exist. – Saara, Student Teacher, Joensuu

Q: What do you think makes someone Finnish?

T: It would be simple to say if they're born here, but I think if you move here and you live here and you know... If you feel that you're Finnish then you're Finnish.

E: I'm really Finnish and I'm going to say that if you're born in Finland then you're a Finnish person.

A1: ...Our way to live and some cultural things...

T: Respect the history and the culture, live by it.

A2: I think that you're Finnish.

T: I think, what I said earlier, when you feel like you are a Finn then you basically are. But that means that you have lived here and you live like other Finns, the habits, and our way of doing things.

A1: It takes time, but...

E: I don't think it's... If you come here and you live here for a year and you just want to say "I'm Finnish" because it's cool, then no, you're not Finnish.

A1: Now that I think of it my dad has lived here for 20 years but I still don't think of him as being Finnish. He's really a Finn..

E: Maybe it's because my family, because we're all Finnish and my dad always talk about how "We're Finnish and it's our country." I don't think like that, because I've listened to him so many years, I've got the point from him. I think to be Finnish you have to be born in Finland.

T: Now that I think about your dad, maybe if he would say that he is Finnish...

A1: I think of him as Finnish, but not like a Finn ... Which one is it...

T: Like a Finnish citizen, and actually been born here.

E: Well, it is true, maybe. You can become a Finnish citizen.

A1: Yeah he's the weird guy who goes downhill skiing in his shorts.

Q: Do you think of yourself as Finnish?

A1: …Yeah I do.

Q: That was a hesitation. - Anni, 17, Taru, 16, Emma, 17, and Annika, 17, Tampere

We are not as patriotic as the older generations, just because of their past is on their mind more than ours because we didn’t live to see, we weren’t just what the other countries, what happened. I think older people are more normal than we are, they don’t have blue hair like weird cloths and stuff. They’re like all the same and they enjoy it, but our generation, they just want to be different and I think it’s weird. – Ville, 15, Joensuu


  1. What is the relationship between individuals and larger, collective, national identities?
  2. American audiences: In what was is American national identity similar to and different from Finnish national identity?
  3. Finnish audiences: How is Finnish national identity changing with the population and the times?
  4. How does the point that there were Finns before there was Finland affect interpretations of Finnish national identity?
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this section complement or relate to the text?
Yellow and black on a white incline / Porvoo / 4 Feb 2016

Yellow and black on a white incline / Porvoo / 4 Feb 2016


Throughout much of the country beyond the capital area – Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, and some cities ringing those three – loyalty to the municipality is almost more important that national identity. Where national identity is a historical fact that frames political engagement, climate, and policy decisions, community identity is immediate and visible every day. Because Finland as a national construct is so new, in many instances, the local allegiance is far older and probably a far more important one. At this level, relationships with the state became less interactions with institutions and instead became familial and personal histories.

This allegiance to community doesn’t quite translate to the American experience. Of course, the cross-town or inter-city rivalries still stand, and are, like the United States, often manifest in sports loyalties. However, residents often also make a few distinctions between their community and the rest of Finland that are somewhat foreign in the United States. First, outside of the capital area, there is a feeling that Helsinki is “not really Finnish,” that its cosmopolitan tendencies make it more “European” and global rather than a strictly Finnish city. Secondly, people tend to feel that their communities are the most representative of Finland. I found this all across the country. Everywhere, people live in the best possible example of what a Finnish community is like. Third, there was an almost universal refrain emphasizing how small and close-knit the communities were. As the draw of the urban capital reduces population almost everywhere else in the country, refiguring size and closeness as the primary advantages is an effective strategy.

There are a number of problems facing community identity outside of the capital area. A grand hollowing out of communities, especially those in the north and the east of Finland, is leaving municipalities with shrinking and generally older populations. Young people, leaving for university study or technology-based jobs, never return to these communities for whom internal, organic growth is the only option. Additionally, the influx of immigrants, as in all other aspects of Finnish society, are impacting the smaller communities much quicker and more dramatically, causing them to need to reconsider what membership entails and how to reconcile this new population with a need for consensus. And economically, these communities, especially those further away, struggle with reinventing how they participate in the national and international marketplace. Some, like Oulu and Tampere, traditionally larger cities, are pivoting away from manufacturing and towards tech and design. Others emphasize education. Some market cheap property as their primary advantage. Either way, community strength and identity in Finland is in a period of uncertainty. 

“Knowledge often takes shape more effectively and enjoyably when individuals sharing common goal of study form small, active groups. In this way knowledge acquisition and learning processes becomes, in effect, a social activity.” Kimonen (2001), 6

At least Helsinki's quite different from Joensuu. I think it's just such a small place, really. I think our school is more modern, even. If you look different, you are not judged here, very much like ... this school is made for people who ... or their personalities, there are people and I think it's great in here, as a place. – Maria, 17, Joensuu

I don't know. I've lived here for so long and it's such a small place. I actually would like to go somewhere like ... I don't know, it's such a small place, so I would like to meet new people, deeper views of the world. At least Helsinki's quite different from Joensuu. I think it's just such a small place, really. I think our school is more modern, even. If you look different, you are not judged here, very much like ... this school is made for people who ... or their personalities, there are people and I think it's great in here, as a place. – Maria, 17, Joensuu

P: People are a lot nicer. People are a lot more friendlier than, for instance, in Helsinki. I would not want to live in Helsinki again. There's nice people there, as well, but for instance ...

S: But here, strangers talk to each other a lot. The shortest and the nicest conversations I've had is like going to the other side on a zebra. Usually, some old lady, I think it was an old lady, she was commenting on the weather. I was like, "Yeah, it's pretty bad." Then she went away, and I went to my ... came to the university. It was over, but it was like, tiny moment.

P: People seem happier here, so it's a lot nicer to be here. At the same, I think the suicide rates here are ... kind of not so high. I haven't seen any recent studies. But it's a nice place. I do like it. I wouldn't necessarily stay here, because the unemployment rates. It's not really a place you can stay.

S: University is essential to the area. Without it, this town would die. Definitely, the university has made it possible for it to grow and develop. – Paulina and Saara, Student Teachers, Joensuu

“Insofar is a civic national identity is grounded and a commitment to political ideals and principles that are accessible to members of all ethnic groups, immigrants arguably need not abandon their native cultural practices in order to adopt it.” Wilcox (2004), 570

“The ethnic nation, exemplified by Germany and Japan, defines itself on the principle of descent; the nation is a marriage of blood and soil. Objective and ascriptive criteria define whether one is considered a ‘national’ or not, and citizenship is in turn accorded along jus sanguinis principles. By contrast, the boundaries of the civic nation, exemplified by France and the United States, are permeable; in principle, anyone can belong provided he or she accepts certain fundamental values and institutions. Civic nations thus are often characterized as voluntarist and inclusive, and citizen- ship is accorded based on jus soli principles.” Wright et al (2012), 470-1

“People's sense of identity is revealed not only in their statement that they belong first of all to a specific geographical unit such as Europe, their country as a whole, their region, and so on, but also in their identification with and attachments to other people.” Arts and Halman (2005/2006), 77

My parents used to live in Lapland, my father still lives there. Yes, there are less people there now. People have- the sort of movement is southwards. It's a lot smaller, the schools I went to are smaller, class sizes are smaller. And when I graduated, I think there were 60 of us in that graduating class in high school. And now I think it's half the size. People have moved away. But that has to do with the economy as well. Jobs, job markets, so on. I don't know, it's just normal, small-town stuff. That town particularly, we have the Defense Forces, base men, what do you call it, is there. So that attracts some movement, and there are jobs there. Then nearby, nowadays, there's a big mine. I don't really know what they do there but that has some jobs as well. Then, I don't know, shopkeepers, local people working in their businesses and whatnot. – Katariina, English Teacher, Helsinki

“Like group-based social identities, the concept of collective identity involves shared representations of the group based on common interests and experiences, but it also refers to an active process of shaping and forging an image of what the group stands for and how it wishes to be viewed by others. Thus, collective identities represent an achievement of collective efforts, above and beyond what category members have in common to begin with.” Brewer (2001), 119

There aren't that many opportunities in here to ... we have the conservatory but that's also.... Obviously, Joensuu is a nice place, it has its good sides but I want something bigger, more people and more opportunities. – Leena, 17, Joensuu

I don't think Tampere is anyhow special. The only thing I've heard about Tampere is that ... Some guy said, half a joke, but still, that people in Tampere are the nicest people in Finland that he ever met... – Anni, 18, Tampere

But Helsinki is the most central thing in whole Finland. There's nothing else. Well, there's Oulu but it's so very small. – Anna, 15, Helsinki

Some people say that Tampere is the Paris of Finland. I don't know where that comes from. – Taru, 16, Tampere

Well I think the best thing about Finland is that we've got Helsinki. I love Helsinki. – Johannes, 15, Helsinki

My map of Finland is like, okay I know its something like that. We've got Helsinki and everything else is forest, forest, forest, forest. Reindeer, Reindeer. – Henrik, 16, Helsinki

“Amongst ‘educated’ Finnish speakers, however, there was evidence of a further consumption division that involved creating an ‘other.’ This was most obvious with regard to the term porvari. Perhaps comparable, though only imprecisely so, to English terms such as ‘Yuppie’ or the loan term ‘nouveau riche,’ the term ‘porvari’ was used to describe a wealthy, educated, Finnish speaker and usually one who engaged in certain consumption practices.” Dutton (2010), 102

“Citizen participation, several decades ago, usually meant programs contrived by government to provide opportunities for citizens to have input into the public policy process. Now, there is more initiative from the grassroots and more attention to collaboration and deliberation.” Cooper (2005), 535.

Well, I think there's always place for well-educated people in a society. I think the government pays back with free health care, free school, free school food, and so on. And reliable police sometimes. – Lauri, 15, Helsinki

“[T]he narratives of the identities of territories may remain even when the territorial identities of their inhabitants change. Thus collective identities are not static, even though their main function is to create continuity. Tradition and the collective memory allow events, things and symbols from the past to accumulate and merge with the present. Each generation gives its own interpretations to them, and identities change. Collective identities are therefore socially constructed and historically contingent.” Passi (1997), 43

I am citizen of Finland. In Finland, we have so many, many different parts. I’ve lived in Helsinki for a few years and I’ve lived in Oulu and I’ve lived in north Karelia but I’m from Imatra. Somebody asked me where I’m coming from and first, I must say I am coming from nothing because Enso is not … it’s across the border. If I must be coming from somewhere, I am from Imatra. – Ritva, 77, Imatra

For teenage people it's the worst because these villages, they are so small that there are no activities, nothing. I think now the city of Roykka, it's a small village, it tries to do something that gets teenagers to stay there. They have programs. I think they even have this thing that with one euro you could buy the property to build a house. For one euro. Tampere it would be like 200 something euros. There's a difference, North Finland is a little bit different. There's Helsinki, and then south. - Lari, History Teacher, Tampere


  1. How can community or local identity exert a greater influence over an individual than national (or international) identity?
  2. American audiences: How does community or regional identity manifest in the United States?
  3. Finnish audiences: What kinds of loyalty or affinity do you feel towards your region or community? What causes this affinity?
  4. Why does the idea of a strong community identity fit in the schema created by Finland's unique history and geography?
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this section complement or relate to the text?
Space for students at Martinlaakson lukio / Vantaa / 13 Jan 2016

Space for students at Martinlaakson lukio / Vantaa / 13 Jan 2016


In my conversations with American students, individual identity has been the most robust. Moreover, it was defined in teenagers often as a contrarian active rejection of their parents’ or communities’ ideology and values.  

In Finland, however, the sense of an explicitly separate individual identity was weaker. Finnish students emphasized instead a duty to the community. They felt that the most important display of individual agency was to determine the best way to positively impact their community – and, secondarily, country. In this way, individual identity seems to be a particular manifestation of family, community, and national identity. This construction seems in concert with Finland’s historical experience as a colonized territory as well as its World War I and II mindset. Also, because social identities are more immediate and reinforced more fully in schools, individual identity – or at least expressions of it – are less deliberate until later on.

The direct impact of international identity on individuals is actually pretty weak. Finns may consume a large amount of global media, American media in particular, it seems to have little effect on their self-definition. The same is true for international political identity. Global politics is something that Finnish young people feel that participate in but not something that directly or noticeably impacts their self-definition.  Some did recognize that this latter aspect might be changing. 

Overall, the sense is that the most meaningful facets of individual identity in Finland revolve around personal values and their expression, usually socially liberal positions and opinions on governmental policy and decisions. 

“National identity contributes to a person's social identity. It has a positive effect on his or her self-esteem if the nation is evaluated positively and a negative effect if the evaluation is negative. The identification and attachment a person feels to ward his or her nation are based on the social and cultural representations he or she has formed of that nation. National pride can be defined as the positive affective bond to specific national achievements and symbols.” Arts and Halman (2005/2006), 74

“Liberal theory looks at fundamentally political questions from the perspective of the individual rather than that of the group or culture or community. Such collectives matter only because they are essential for the well being of the individual. If the condition of the community or the culture made no difference to the life of any individual, then the condition of the collective would not matter. None of this implies that there is such a thing as ‘the individual’ in the abstract. Individuals do not exist in the abstract any more than interests do. But interests matter only because individuals do. Thus, while groups or cultures or communities have a character or nature which is not reducible to the nature of the individuals who inhabit them, their moral claims have weight only to the extent that this bears on the lives of actual individuals now, or in the future. Liberal political theories rest on the assumption that while the interests give expression in groups, cultural communities, or other such collectives, they matter ultimately, only to the extent that they affect actual individuals.” Kukathas (1992), 112

“[F]or young people, social shaping is not always profound...individual adolescents often sought to resist attempts to categorize their identities, claiming that, far from being distinct members of particular youth sub-cultures, they saw themselves as ‘normal’ and as individuals, and their badges of youth identities were heuristic and casual.” Ross (2007), 292

Sisu is courage. And it’s this greater feeling that makes you do things that you wouldn’t do without sisu. Like, for example, actually this morning I was listening to Shakira’s song, that says something like, “I want to try everything even though I know I could lose. If I lose, I’ll still come back to the same situation,” or something like that. And, “I’ll come back, and I’ll try again.” That’s sisu. It’s like, I know this sounds so weird, but, in Finland, not nowadays, but sometimes, it shows that you are brave if you went and sat on an ant nest naked. Which sounds terrible and I would never do that, but some people thought that was sisu. But I don’t think so, I think sisu is, not doing crazy, stupid stuff to prove that you are “brave”, but sisu is doing things, like maybe knowing that you might now have enough to do that, but still doing them. – Helmi, 18, Helsinki

“The modern state defines differential spheres of action. People interact under conditions of relative legal autonomy from one another’s claims. They benefit from the structures of participation available in each sphere while not being required always to suppress their particularity because of the imperatives of a participatory idea. This is the distinguishing feature of the modern state is the absence of citizens, in the sense sanctioned by classical political thought. Classical republican political thought offers a picture of citizens recognizing each other through their deeds as performed against the background tribunal of the mandatory assembly. From the perspective of the liberal tradition, this forging of a personal/political identity within the framework of a common and face-to-face set of judgments is thought to be too coercive a model to respond to the multifaceted ways men and women in modern society are capable of self-expression.” Mosher (1983), 123

“The concept of multiplicity has attained prominence largely through the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995). Deleuze developed the concept and explored its political ramifications most relentlessly with Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. A multiplicity is an entity that originates from a folding or twisting of simple elements. Like a sand dune, a multiplicity is in constant flux, though it attains some consistency for a short or long duration. A multiplicity has porous boundaries and is defined provisionally by its variations and dimensions. Deleuze and Guattari redefine as multiplicities many of the key terms of Western political theory—including race, class, gender, language, state, society, person, and party. Their method aims to render political thinking more nuanced and generous toward difference.” Tampio (2010)

“Subjects gain meaning through membership only when they can conceptualize themselves as beings who also exist independently of their membership and who can therefore stand the loss of membership. Thus the condition of meaningfulness (full awareness as contrasted to the happy partial awareness of those sunk in communities) is the loss of the ability to fully identify with what one ‘means’ by one’s membership, bodily acts, and deeds. A dialectical oscillation between two polar acts of commitment and withdrawal sustains the actor’s self-identity.” Mosher (1983), 122

“The identity of ‘national’ may be dominant in certain contexts (and in certain periods), but at other times local identities (of city or region) may become more significant, and supranational identities – such as that of being European, being Muslim, or part of a globalized youth culture – may have greater significance for the individual.” Ross (2007), 293

I really don't belong to Finland, I think. I think I would be so much like outgoing and socialize if I go to the states. . I love people who are like socialize, they got a social life. I like talking to people. You can't do that in Finland. If you smile at someone in the subway, they'll look like you are like a monster. They'll be like, "Oh, my God. Why is she smiling to me?" – Minka, 16, Vantaa

“[S]ociety is seen as a mosaic of relatively durable patterned interactions and relationships, differentiated yet organized, embedded in an array of groups, organizations, communities, and institutions, and intersected by crosscutting boundaries of class, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, and other variables. In addition, persons are seen as living their lives in relatively small and specialized networks of social relationships, through roles that support their participation in such networks.” Stryker and Burke (2000), 285

I'm all the time talking like people in Helsinki. When we go 60 kilometers north, I think people think so differently. All the immigrants are ... Most of the immigrants are here in Helsinki or southern Finland. I don't know. Probably they are not as open as people here. We are always talking about teaching religion in Finland. I think all the teachers, almost all the teachers in Helsinki don't like that at all because it's very difficult today and nowadays. Of course, there's many problems because there is four million people in the other parts of Finland. We can't change a thing. They still prefer more traditional values and so on. – Mona, 23, Student Teacher, Helsinki


  1. Discuss and explain the weak emphasis on individual identity among the Finnish students or teachers interviewed.
  2. American audiences: What part of your individual identity do you feel you constructed yourself and what parts are inherited or acquired from your surroundings?
  3. Finnish audiences: What do you feel are the constituent parts of your Finnish national identity?
  4. Explain Mosher's theory of "dialectical oscillation" in terms of individual identity?
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this section complement or relate to the text?
Icebreaking on the way to Suomenlinna / Helsinki / 24 Jan 2016 / Photo: Jenna Grimley

Icebreaking on the way to Suomenlinna / Helsinki / 24 Jan 2016 / Photo: Jenna Grimley