What has Pippi Longstocking got to do with post-colonialism?

2010-05-27 In the Nordic anthology "Complying with colonialism", the authors address the welfare state from a post-colonial perspective. The book gives examples of how colonial hierarchies are internalized in the Nordic mindset, in fields ranging from politics to children's literature.

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Salla Tuori. Photo: Michael Karlsson/Meddelanden från Åbo Akademi

“The idea behind the concept of colonial complicity is to track the ways in which the colonial projects are included in the Nordic countries”, explains Salla Tuori, one of the editors of Complying with Colonialism. Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Nordic Region. The book came out in 2009 and contributes to the post-colonial feminist discussion about gendered and racialized hierarchies that Tuori sees have become topical in the Nordic countries during recent years.

The articles cover a variety of topics beginning from the ways colonial hierarchies are internalized as a part of the Nordic mindset as in the story of Pippi Loingstocking with a father who is the King of Natives on a distant tropical island. Similar unquestioned logics of knowing better and ruling others are found for example in the histories of Nordic missionary work and in the endeavors to assimilate the Sami and the Roma people to the Nordic nation states.  Moreover, the articles demonstrate different ways in which hierarchal divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are reproduced trough contemporary welfare policies and how gender and sexuality as well as the idea of gender equality function as tools to produce these divisions. For instance, Jaana Vuori’s analyze of guidebooks targeted to migrants in Finland reveals an idealized picture of achieved gender equality that is connected to ethnicity.

According to Tuori the Nordic countries, often understood as homogenous and often forgetting their colonial pasts and presents, form a natural context to examine the possibilities of post-colonial theory.  At the same time it is important to remember the differences between the countries, for instance, when it comes to questions about migration, she stresses.

“Nordic differences in this field are without a doubt worth of researching too.”

Equality for whom?

Both the welfare state and gender equality politics face criticism in the book. According to Tuori is not equality politics as such that is the problem, but the iconic use of gender equality when put in relation to a multicultural society. Tuori also points out that it is important to ask whose equality is promoted with gender equality policies.

Vivid field

While some reviews of the book have longed for a more firm usage of theory, Tuori emphasizes that the aim has not been to build a new theory of Nordic post-colonial feminism, but to demonstrate some of the multiple concrete ways of thinking and researching that post-colonial theory enables.

“The field of post-colonial feminism seems rather vivid, but I hope that the currents in research start to show in policy-making as well”, Tuori concludes.

“The idea behind the concept of colonial complicity is to track the ways in which the colonial projects are included in the Nordic countries”, explains Salla Tuori, one of the editors of Complying with Colonialism. Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Nordic Region. The book came out in 2009 and contributes to the post-colonial feminist discussion about gendered and racialized hierarchies that Tuori sees have become topical in the Nordic countries during recent years.

By Minna Seikkula

Logotyp för Norden Logotype Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research Logotype University of Gothenburg