Review: Palmberg, Mai. The Nordic Colonial Mind.

Review: Palmberg, Mai. The Nordic Colonial Mind.

Mai Palmberg begins her essay with the observation of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden seemingly being in an exceptional position in the post-colonial Western world (35). The Nordic countries are often seen as more humane than other countries and count as idols in terms of development aid (35–36). These beliefs aren’t entirely untrue since Sweden, for instance, made a significant contribution to the liberation movements (36).

Palmberg wants to analyze the truth behind this exceptionalism and observes, based on an examination of Africa’s representation in different schoolbooks in Sweden, various old and new prejudices against Africa such as biological racism or the belief of Africans being uncivilized (37). The old prejudices can be traced back to colonialism meanwhile the new ones could be seen as “post-independence forms of dependence” (37). Interestingly all old prejudices except biological racism seem to be still present today, albeit in a different way (37–38).

Through a brief overview Palmberg shows in which ways the Nordic countries were involved in colonialism and demonstrates that the term “Nordic exceptionalism” isn’t justified but rather a myth (40–44). The Nordic people were involved in colonialism in three main ways: They gained wealth from colonialism, they took part in colonial enterprises and they spread European ideas through missionary movements (40). Palmberg takes a look on at each of these aspects and then discusses the Nordic contributions to race biology and eugenics and suggests that the Nordic colonial mind isn’t the result of an involvement in colonialism but the other way around (40–46).

Palmberg states, that the roots of a shared cultural outlook towards a distinction between “them” and “us” can be found in the time of Enlightenment within the evolutionary theory and the slave trade which was then at its peak (47). Moreover, she notes that even today there can be found traces of development theory. She ends the essay with the request to reconsider the Nordic colonial mind (47–48).

The essay The Nordic Colonial Mind is a good overview over the Nordic colonial past and it shows that the term “Nordic exceptionalism” is not justified for many different reasons. Palmberg demonstrates that the Nordic countries participated in the colonial movements and even played a big role in eugenics. The remarks on the roots of the shared cultural perspective of “them” and “us” are very interesting and illuminating and could be more detailed. In this context it would also have been interesting to read more on the suggestion, that the Nordic colonial mind isn’t the result of an involvement in colonialism but its cause. However, the essay is well structured; one can easily follow the argumentation and it provides a good foundation for further discussion on colonialism, post-colonialism and the Nordic countries.

Bibliography: Palmberg, Mai. “The Nordic Colonial Mind.” Complying with Colonialism. Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Nordic Region. Edited by Suvi Keskinen et al, Farnham and Burlington 2009, pp. 35–50.

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