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Friday, April 8 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
Immigration and Alienation: The Largely Missing Finns of Kiruna, Sweden

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A free movement of labor across European national borders? It is a contemporary European battle of major proportions made more conflictual with the current, great surges of refugees and migrants from war-torn areas in the Middle East. This is “the largest movement of people that Europe has seen since 1945,” according to Financial Times in September 2015. In my project, too, I am concerned with a movement of people in Europe, but the time, place, economic and political conditions, and prevailing ideology and practices are of a different sort. I focus on the “the jewel in the Nordic cooperation” after WW II, the 1954 agreement on a joint Nordic labor market – a free movement of labor across the Nordic borders -- between Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and with Finland joining in 1955. This joint labor market “became a success with citizens,” the Nordic Labour Journal wrote as late as in 2014, with its “greatest impact on the relationship between Finland and Sweden.” True? I look at Finns who migrated to work at the Kiruna iron mine in northern Sweden beginning in the mid-1950s. These were unskilled laborers who moved from a fairly similar economy and language environment with many Kiruna natives speaking Meiänkieli, a Finnish-Swedish cognate language. Did, as some researchers claim about the close connection between cultural-linguistic similarities and better immigrant adjustments into “host countries,” these Finnish-speaking immigrants adjust better to a northern Swedish environment that included Meänkieli speakers and culture? No. My Kiruna case study of these Finns and their lesser cultural-linguistic distance points instead to their becoming a largely socially isolated and unnoticed ethnic group of Kiruna, Sweden.


Ruth Bjorkenwall

Assistant lecturer, University of Wyoming
Ruth Bjorkenwall, a sociologist with the UW Global and Area Studies program, studies labor migration, state power, agency, and the social safety net in the Nordic countries of Europe.

Friday April 8, 2016 3:00pm - 3:30pm
Ballroom East UW Student Union

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