Exploring Social Boundaries From Below: Class, Ideology and Writing Practices in Nineteenth Century Finland

  • Kuismin, Anna (PI)

    Project Details

    Description (abstract)

    The research project explores new territory in social, cultural and literary history, as the primary sources mostly consist of texts produced people whom the act of writing itself was an object of wonder. The team of researchers represents different disciplines (Finnish literature, social history, comparative religion and folklore studies), but seeks to develop a methodology to analyse the archived writings produced by self-taught, non-elite people in a semi-literate society. The researchers are united by the emphasis of contextualisation and the approach from below, an orientation originating from the ‘new social history’ movement. In this research project, the from below perspective indicates that that the emphasis is on non-privileged people, their experiences, writing practices and points of view. The project will attend to aspects which have largely been marginalised and it thus calls for the revision of social, cultural and literary history, calling attention on the power relations and boundaries between and within classes.

    Different types of writings, such as hymns, letters, diaries, life stories and folklore texts, drawn from the collections of the Finnish Literature Society, the National Library, the National Archives and The Lexical Archive of Finnish Dialects open up vistas into power relations in various spheres. The project tests the following hypotheses:

    • Texts produced by self-taught common people open up new vistas into power relations in both social and cultural spheres.
    • The contacts and conflicts between the ‘Fennoman’ cultural elite and the common people have had an important impact on cultural and local history.
    • There were various kinds of boundaries within the broad category of the common people. These complex boundaries were challenged and interpreted in many ways.
    • The common people contributed to development of Finnish literature and the literary institutions, including the formation of the conceptions of poetry and poetics.
    • By expressing, challenging and contesting social boundaries in their texts, self-taught writers found a way to engage in the processes through which the Finnish society moved from the hierarchical estate system towards a civic society.

    Each scholar, in her own way, strives to understand the role of symbolic resources – conceptual distinctions, cultural traditions and interpretive strategies – in creating, maintaining, contesting or even dissolving social differences, which tend to settle along a continuum as overlapping alternatives rather than strict opposites.

    The newly discovered archival data used in this project will reveal the complexity of phenomena which have previously been seen as unproblematic and homogenous. As this approach resonates well with trends in recent research, the individual studies of the project will yield results of international importance. The project will show how the analysis of individual writers’ texts can contribute to the study of literacy in the 19th century and alter the notions previously held. Collaboration with other networks and research projects will enhance theoretical discussion and methodological innovation and advance the plan to form a larger European research project on vernacular writing and historical literacy. The efforts of Finnish and Nordic scholars have already been recognised in international conferences and given as inspiring models for research.

    Effective start/end date01/08/2011 → …