Swedish-speaking Finns: a multi-method qualitative study of belonging and identification

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (not awarded by UHI)


The Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, often described as an ‘elite minority’, holds a special position in the country. With linguistic rights protected by the constitution of Finland, Swedish-speakers, as a minority of only 5.3%, are often described in public discourse and in academic and statistical studies as happier, healthier and more well off economically than the Finnish-speaking majority. As such, the minority is a unique example of language minorities in Europe. Knowledge derived from qualitatively grounded studies on the topic is however lacking, meaning that there is a gap in understanding of the nature and complexity of the minority. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in four different locations in Finland over a period of 12 months, this thesis provides a theoretically grounded and empirically informed rich account of the identifications and sites of belonging of this diverse minority. The thesis makes a contribution to theoretical, methodological and empirical research on the Swedish-speaking minority, debates around identity and belonging, and ethnographic methodological approaches. Making use of novel methodology in studying Swedish-speaking Finns, this thesis moves beyond generalisations and simplifications on its nature and character. Drawing on rich ethnographic empirical material, the thesis interrogates various aspects of the lived experience of Swedish-speaking Finns by combining the concepts of belonging and identification. Some of the issues explored are the way in which belonging can be regionally specific, how Swedish-speakers create Swedish-spaces, how language use is situational and variable and acts as a marker of identity, and finally how identifications and sites of belonging among the minority are extremely varied and complex. The thesis concludes that there are various sites of belonging and identification available to Swedish-speakers, and these need to be studied and considered in order to gain an accurate picture of the lived experience of the minority. It also argues that while identifications are based on collective imagery, this imagery can vary among Swedish-speakers and identifications are multiple and situational. Finally, while language is a key commonality for the minority, the meanings attached to it are not only concerned with ‘Finland Swedishness’, but connected to various other factors, such as the context a person grew up in and the region one lives in. The complex issues affecting the lived experience of Swedish-speaking Finns cannot be understood without the contribution of findings from qualitative research. This thesis therefore points towards a new kind of understanding of Swedish-speaking Finns, moving away from stereotypes and simplifications, shifting our gaze towards a richer perception of the minority.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Glasgow
  • Gibb, Robert, Supervisor, External person
  • Flynn, Moya, Supervisor, External person
Award date26 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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