Migrations on the Edge of Whiteness: Young Russian-speaking Migrants in Helsinki, Finland

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


This dissertation examines young Russian-speakers’ quest for ’Europeanness’ through migration to Helsinki, and their lives in pursuit of this dream. The promised ‘transition’ to capitalist modernity has not recognised them as fully modern subjects who still have to be assisted on their way to full-fledged Europeanness. Migration to the ‘West’, embodied by Finland and Helsinki, is seen by young Russian-speakers as an attempt to emancipate themselves as modern and cosmopolitan subjects, and dis-identify from failed socialist modernity that lacks the futures presumably achieved in the ‘West’. Within finely-graded, spatialised hierarchies of the modern world, Finland has become part of the global ‘West’, having a complex history of ‘Europeanness’ and an in-between position between the East and West, with its historically precarious relation to whiteness and the need to emphasise own belonging to the European cultural tradition vis-à-vis Russianness. Young Russian-speakers’ attempts to re-inscribe themselves into modern time and space, as well as their claims to whiteness following migration thus take place not in the heart of Western global modernity, but on its edge, and also on the edge of whiteness. This is a new context, wherein to analyse the production and racialisation of whiteness beyond the context of global metropoles, which nevertheless points to the very mode of connection to the global structures of race and whiteness in the geopolitical context that tends to escape post/decolonial critique. The thesis consists of four peer-reviewed articles and the summary chapter, and draws on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork done in Helsinki in 2014–2016. I conducted participant observation in integration, language and CV courses, and youth career counselling, and did interviews with 54 young people (aged 22 to 32), mainly from Russia and Estonia, the two largest migrant groups in Finland, but also other post-Soviet countries. Through the concept of connected sociologies (Bhambra, 2014), the thesis brings research on postcoloniality and postsocialism into conversation. The analysis departs from the analytical division of the world into either postcolonial or postsocialist and draws on the intertwined relations of the spatially constructed world with race and coloniality being foundational to modernity and capitalism. I demonstrate how Russian-speakers’ perception of their place in the global racial formation are constructed through the legacies of racial colonial projects that define the meaning of Europeanness itself. The analysis further argues that despite the persistence of whiteness and Europeanness in their claims to belonging to the ‘West’ after migration, these claims are continuously questioned through the relations of labour, challenged via the border regime, neoliberal workfare devices and day-to-day experiences of gendered racialisation. The study thus shows the workings of coloniality, labour and whiteness beyond North versus South constellations, and argues for thinking beyond the geographical boundaries of those places that are straightforwardly ‘post-colonial’.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
  • Näre, Lena , Supervisor
Award date31 Aug 2019
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-951-51-3400-4
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-3399-1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2019
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology

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