This project investigates the practices, behaviours and beliefs of Karelian immigrants and their descendants in Finland that create bonds with their lost homeland, culture and kin. It sets out to develop an understanding of immigrants’ losses and their responses to them. Karelians present an exceptionally rich case because it is possible to examine three major waves of immigration to Finland under different historical circumstances across the past century. The arriving population of each wave or their descendants also appear to employ different major strategies for creating and maintaining continuing bonds with their heritage and families. This project will make a vital contribution to the increasingly volatile discussion about immigration that is ongoing in Finland and in the Western world more generally. The central aim of this study is to provide knowledge about the tensions and identities of immigrants and the social strategies that they use to establish and maintain connections to the past, to places, and to their ancestors. My project is set apart from other research on immigration by focusing on verbal and performative communication that conveys meanings about perceived losses and belongingness to a group. Approaches from Folklore Studies and Social Linguistics will be applied to primary data consisting of interviews, public on-line discussions and the activities of Karelian cultural organizations.
I use ethnographic methods including observation, participation, interviews and self-reflection (as a Karelian immigrant) in conjunction with methods of analysis of texts and traditional expression from Folklore Studies. Key theoretical concepts of my study are continuing bonds and registers of communication. “Continuing bonds” was introduced in psychology and death studies in 1996 as a new model for bereavement. This model contested the long-standing hegemonic view in Western psychotherapy and psychology which asserted that successful mourning required the bereaved to emotionally detach from the deceased or object of loss. “Continuing bonds” postulates the maintenance of a relationship with the dead or object of loss instead of “letting it go”. (Klass et al. 1996.) “Registers of communication” emerged in social linguistics to address varieties of language associated with recurrent types of situations (Halliday 1978), later adapted to Folklore Studies (Foley 1995) and gradually extended to the semiotics of varieties of behaviour more generally (Agha 2007). This project advances from my doctoral research on Karelian lament, a register of verbal art and practice used to maintain continuing bonds with deceased kin (Stepanova 2014), by applying those insights and methods to modern registers of speaking about Karelia, Karelian culture and ancestral kin by immigrants to identify their perceptions, beliefs, and imaginal constructs in which they live.
I postulate that Karelian traditional culture impacts the way Karelian immigrants and their descendants today meaningfully construct and maintain continuing bonds with their deceased and lost homeland. I further postulate that immigrant networks from each wave of immigration have mobilized aspects of traditional culture differently in relation to the circumstances of immigration, and this has produced different strategies for continuing bonds, such as emphasizing place, genealogies, attending courses of Karelian language or learning traditions of food and lament poetry, or attending festivals and events celebrating ‘Karelianness’.
This project is at the intersection of a variety of ongoing academic discussions in different disciplines. The outcome of this project will present a valuable contribution that benefits research on death and bereavement, folklore studies, immigration and acculturation, social linguistics and linguistic anthropology, and theories of registers of communication.
Relevant fields of research: Folklore Studies; Linguistic Anthropology; Ethnology