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Chapter 1: National Identites?

What do I mean by "national identity"?

Drawing upon the characterizations of nationalism as discussed in the Motives section, I understand national identity as a distinctiveness of a nation, wherein you can describe the people who belong to this identity with those markers of heritage and culture which have come to be associated with the nation to which they apply. In a way, the identity becomes synonymous with the nation, and when speaking of the nation, whether as a whole or at an individual from the nation, certain images and associations come to mind that are specifically associated with that nation. To put it simply – national identity are those things which make a nation and its people unique and distinct from others. They consist of markers, defined by the people who hold communal belonging to the nation, which are identified with the nation, and simply saying the name of the nation conjures up those markers and their meanings that have come to define that nation (Anderson 2006 [1983]). One of the interesting yet problematic pieces of national identity concerns its relationships with citizenship, nationality, and ethnicity. All of these pieces play a large part in one's belongingness to the national identity, and in fact can be complicating factors in determining a national identity and what constitutes it. That is why I have named this chapter National Identities? – can there be more than one? What does this entail? This is why I have included not only "national identity" in my searches in this category, but also those terms related to ethnicity and nationality, to see what I can find. So this chapter is the starting point of exploring national identity in Norway, and how it actually shows up as a term in connection to terms of citizenship, ethnicity, and nationality.

  • To view the markers individually or see them in comparison to each other, click on the lines next to the marker name in the key to toggle it on or off on the chart. Hover over the bubbles to see the counts of the marker for that year. Check out the Glossary to get more information on the translations/meanings of each marker!

Markers of National Identity explored in the literature:

  • nasjonal identitet
  • norskhet
  • norsk
  • samisk
  • innvandring
  • innvandrere
  • innvandrer
  • Lapp
  • Sami

What interesting things do I see from this chart?

The first thing I needed to do was not include "norsk" in this chart – of course this is a very populous concept in the literature, given the fact that we are looking at Norwegian literature? So the inclusion of this marker was a bit difficult to interpret, since at one peak there were over 180,000 counts of the marker in one year (in 1997). It also made viewing the other results a bit more difficult, so I chose to leave it out of the chart. However, some interesting things can be seen with the other markers on this chart. We see several instances of the term "Lapp" being used as early as 1835, with the term steadily increasing in numbers beginning in the early 1900s-1910s. The use of "Sami" and "samisk" does not really start to pick up until the late 1940s. However, in the 1960s, around the time of the beginning of Sami revitalization efforts (Smith 2009: 43), we see the number of times "Sami" and "samisk" increase, with a bit of a decrease in the use of the term "Lapp". This becomes even more apparent in the 2000s, where the use of "Sami" and "samisk" overtakes "Lapp". Addtionally, we start to see the use of "innvandring", or the Norwegian word for immigration and its related terms, pick up in the 1910s-1920s, with jumps in use in the 1950s and especially in the 1990s.

Why is this group of markers important to national identity?

Nationalism, and by extension national identity, contributes in ways to regimes of power and the inevitable creation of hierarchal infrastructures of cultural authenticity and belonging. It is through these discourses of nationalism that material culture, tangible and intangible heritage, and cultural history can derive meaning, whether through relationships of inclusion and representation, or through associations of exclusion and silence. How does nationalism affect processes of meaning-making? I consider how several aspects of these nationalist ideologies are defined to understand the powerful role of nationalism in the consequential narratives of inclusion, exclusion, marginalization, and valorization that occur within literature. It is important to understand the relationship between national identity and one’s sense of belongingness to this identity, because it can have a profound effect upon one’s classification as "in" or "out" within Norwegian society (Gellner 1983, Chatterjee 1993a,b). In some cases, markers of national identity that become so synonymous with being authentic within that society can affect your status with regards to citizenship acquisition and rights, the ability to find work, and one’s general acceptance versus being “Other” within the society.

A note on the "Other": when representations of the nation influenced by a nationalist ideology include internal Othering within their narratives, it is important to acknowledge those internal Others and their place as within the nation. In the case of Norway, a collective group affected by this nationalist ideology are the Sami, particularly those situated in the country of Finnmark in northern Norway. The Sami are the indigenous population of Scandinavia, occupying a territory that stretches across the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and a small part of Northwestern Russia (Smith 2009:19). They inhabit an area they call Sápmi, comprised of territories of all four countries in the area of the Arctic Circle (Smith 2009:19; Derry 1979). Although Dr. Rauna Kuokkanen, a scholar of Sami Studies at the University of Toronto, has claimed that colonization of the Sami lands began as early as 800 AD (coincidentally, during the Viking Age) at the hands of chieftains from the coastal areas, a noticeable influx of European influence arrived in the hands of Lutheran missionaries in the seventeenth century (Kuokkanen 2003: 701; Smith 2009:19). The primary goal of these missionaries centered upon introducing the Sami to their languages, notably Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish, and to educate the Sami about Christianity and save them from their "heathen ways" (Smith 2009:19-20). Another early goal for the establishment of missions was "viewed as an effective way to consolidate nation building", or in other words, cultural homogeneity (Kuokkanen 2003:704). The missionaries also encouraged the training of young men in the doctrines and rituals of Christianity so that they could bring these teachings back to their homes and families. This process of change, through missionaries, continued throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In the nineteenth century the Norwegian government also established boarding schools with the intention of assimilating the Sami population into the dominant culture, through the eradication of their "language, culture, and in their overall view of themselves" (Todal 1998). Particularly in Norway, these schools targeted the children as an agents of assimilation, where they forbade them to speak Sami and punished them if they did. The Sami children were made to feel ashamed of their own culture, and were forced to adopt Norwegian cultural practices and Christian religious practices. Since these boarding schools also included Norwegian children who lived on the fringes of the Arctic, the Sami children experienced bullying, racism, and were made to feel inferior by their Norwegian classmates, all resulting in "cultural alienation, loss of language, and self-esteem issues" (Blix et al. 2013:270; Smith 2009:20). It was in the latter half of the nineteenth century, around the year 1850, that the consolidation of territory and the people within it increased, and with this consolidation, the need to assimilate the Sami into the dominant Norwegian culture. This process of acculturation of Sami culture and language, and simultaneous assimilation into Norwegian society, continued until the 1960s, when there was a revival in the Sami consciousness at the hands of domestic and international recognition as an indigenous population with rights to their home territories in northern Norway (Smith 2009: 43). This also marked the beginning of a resurgence in publication and availability of Sami literature in an effort to preserve the oral histories and traditions scarred by the efforts of erasure.

Where can you read about national identity in Norway?

  • Bø, Gudleiv 2011 Nation Building and Folklore in Norway 1840-1905. Forum for World Literature Studies 3(2): 173-183.
  • Eriksen, Anne 2011 From Ethnology and Folklore studies to Cultural History in Scandinavia. In Cultural history in Europe: Institutions-themes-perspectives, Jörg Rogge, ed. Pp. 31–44. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag.
  • Eriksen, Thomas Hylland 1993 Being Norwegian in a Shrinking World: Reflections on Norwegian Identity. In Continuity and Change: Aspects of Contemporary Norway, Anne Cohen Kiel eds. Pp.11-37. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press.
  • Eriksen, Thomas Hylland 2013 Immigration and National Identity in Norway. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.
  • Falch, Torvald, and Marianne Skandfer 2004 Sámi Cultural Heritage in Norway: Between Local Knowledge and the Power of the State. In Northern Ethnographic Landscapes: Perspectives from Circumpolar Nations. Igor Krupnik, Rachel Mason, and Tonia W. Horton, eds. Pp. 356–375. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Fuglerud, Oivind 2005 Inside Out: The Reorganization of National Identity in Norway. In Sovereign Bodies: Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World. Edited by Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Gaski, Harald, ed. 1996 In the Shadow of the Midnight Sun: Contemporary Sami Prose and Poetry. Alta, Norway: Davvi Girji.