Review: Vuorela, Ulla. Colonial Complicity: The ‚Postcolonial‘ in a Nordic Context

Review: Vuorela, Ulla. Colonial Complicity: The ‚Postcolonial‘ in a Nordic Context

In her essay Colonial Complicity: The ‘Postcolonial‘ in a Nordic Context Ulla Vuorela talks about the ‘colonial complicity’ in relation to Finland’s role in the colonial power structures. She writes that Finland wasn’t one of the colonial centres in Europe but wasn’t an ‘innocent victim’ either (19) and argues, that in order to gain power, one is, in the meantime, subjected to that power (20). She claims that if one wants to be heard in the hegemonic Western discourses, one is exposed to a danger of being ‘seduced’ by universal thinking and practices of domination and that this ‘seduction’ can lead to colonial complicity (20).

Vuorela gives examples for Finnish complicity and demonstrates, that even if Finland never was a colonial subject, there was a way to ‘colonise’ the Finish minds into an acceptance of colonial practices and ‘universally’ structures of truth (21). She gives examples of children’s books like A Little Princess and Pippi Longstocking which to some point normalize colonial orders (24). Vuorela’s arguments are quite convincing and they show how the acceptance of certain worldviews can lead, without much awareness, to colonial complicity. The example with the children’s books could also have been applied to other countries. Vuorela also observes that the schools in 1950 didn’t provide any information to counter the colonial understanding (25). This too, could have been applied to other countries.

Further, Vuorela demonstrates how the Finish contribution in the formation of anthropological theory and in the development cooperation can be seen as colonial complicity (26–29). With these examples she raises awareness of the, perhaps not so obvious, participation of Finland in the postcolonial discourse. Then she talks about the consequences of Finland’s entry into the EU and discusses, as a conclusion, Spivaks question whether the notion of the postcolonial can travel (29–32). The following sentences sum up Vuorela’s findings quite well:

On a more general note, hegemonic relations of ruling also give rise to hegemonic understandings of the ways in which ‘things are’ i. e. what is considered as universal truth at any point in time. […] Even for the most abstract and apolitical scholar, getting access to the dominant fields of knowledge is a temptation and a seduction. […] Yet, getting access to power is not only about being hailed to power-holding subject positions, but also about becoming subjected to it (31).

To conclude, one could say that Vuorela’s rather short essay is a bit overloaded and her main goal isn’t always clear. While she focuses on the problems and the demonstration of colonial complicity, it would also have been very interesting to read about alternatives or solutions to the problems. (Even though this wasn’t the main goal.) The essay is, however, a good overview of Finland’s engagement in the colonial structures and it shows the dangers of complicity in everyday life.

Bibliography: Vuorela, Ulla. “Colonial Complicity: The ‘Postcolonial’ in a Nordic Context.” Complying with Colonialism. Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Nordic Region. Edited by Suvi Keskinen et al, Farnham and Burlington 2009, pp. 19–34.

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