Building Finnishness through the Internet

Social Psychology graduate and HIIT research assistant Iris Summanen examines how Finnish emigrants build Finnishness through blog writing.

Building Finnishness through the Internet

It was ten years ago that Iris Summanen spent time as an exchange student in Chile.

“Back then, my only contact with Finland were a few e-mails and a telephone call with my parents once a month,” she remembers. “The Internet, on the other hand, offers amazing opportunities for staying in touch.”

Besides offering frequent and diverse communication, Summanen’s research shows that the Internet also enables people to construct national identity while being abroad.

“Some social psychologists say that national identity is a construct, and you are blind to it as long as you stay inside the country,” says Summanen. “Think for instance of the separation of newspapers into domestic and international news, or Finland located in the centre of the map when watching the weather forecast.”

Summanen follows the footsteps of anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen, who assumes that, in order to identify with a nation, it is not necessary to live in the same place, because the Internet is a perfect forum for re-enforcing national identity. This assumption challenges views from the birth of the Internet when researchers predicted that it would rather lead to building ‘global identity’.

“Finnishness in blogs is constructed by the use of language,” explains Summanen. While analysing the language of altogether 9 blogs and 276 blog posts, Summanen found that people constructed their national identity in four major ways:

“The most obvious way is to actually do Finnishness,” says Summanen, “for instance by listening to Finnish music or eating Finnish food. A second way of building Finnish identity would be to apply your own cultural values when evaluating everyday phenomena abroad.” She mentions a Finnish blogger living in China, to whom the Chinese way of handling things appeared rather illogical.

A third way of re-enforcing national identity is done through emotional experience. Summanen quotes a blogger who remembers running her hand across a Finnish-made wooden staircase with tears in her eyes.

“Last but not least, I came across what I call ‘Finland through different eyes’,” as Summanen summarizes her fourth point. “Returning to Finland, a Finnish emigrant praised for instance the clean toilets at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, but at the same time her experiences in France suddenly made her aware of the ‘stupefying silence’ when waiting for the plane amidst a group of Finns."

“With my research, I hope to help understand immigrants coming to Finland,” she states. “If we become aware how much how much nationality is part of our lives, we will also understand those who come to Finland and strive to keep up their own traditions and culture.”

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Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: 123rf
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