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Reviewed by:
  • Performing Nordic Heritage: Everyday Practices and Institutional Culture by Ed. Peter Aronsson and Lizette Gradén
  • Timothy R. Tangherlini
Performing Nordic Heritage: Everyday Practices and Institutional Culture. Ed. Peter Aronsson and Lizette Gradén. The Nordic Experience, 1. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2013. Pp. xvii + 348.

This recent collection of essays exploring aspects of cultural heritage, its display, and, as the editors frame it, its “performance,” provides an interesting series of case studies, all interrogating the idea of Norden and examining how different institutions, groups, and individuals across the region have engaged this idea, either explicitly or implicitly, as part of their representational activities. The introduction to the volume attempts to clearly demarcate the area of Norden, at the same time as it struggles with the contingent and shifting notions of Norden and the differential investment in the concept across the Nordic region. Ultimately, the editors and their contributors recognize that Norden as a concept is riven with dissension, contradiction, and outright rejection.

The stated goal of the volume, to “investigate how images of Norden (as the five Nordic countries are referred to in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) as a supranational identity have provided, and continue to provide, arenas for negotiating cultural understandings of community in specific public contexts” (p. 1) is an interesting one, yet one that never quite comes to fruition over the course of the ten case studies that comprise the main contents of the collection. Rather, what becomes apparent is that Norden is not a universally functional category and that, rather than acting as a central conceptual cultural category that organizes the region, the concept of Norden is deployed rhetorically as [End Page 98] part of specific ideological projects. Even “belonging” in or to Norden, as the chapters that include considerations of the Baltic countries make clear, is subject to debate. The case studies, each written by scholars from across the region and from a broad range of disciplines, do an excellent job of exploring the particularities of a series of these ideological projects, highlighting along the way the importance of nation (as opposed to region) as an organizing trope, even when these projects ostensibly gesture at region and eschew nation.

The case studies are interesting each in their own right, but do not always cohere as a group; indeed, the organizational principles of the volume suggest that the editors and the contributors had difficulty devising a general organizing principle for the volume and settled on “performance” as a means for bridging the two projects, “Nordic Spaces in the North and North America” and “National History—Nordic Culture: Negotiating Identity in the Museum,” which are the basis for these essays. That aside, the chapters are fascinating explorations of how cultural heritage is constructed and displayed, both in Norden and outside of Norden (particularly North America), and the inherent contradictions or deliberate lacuna that emerge from these projects.

In the first chapter, Susanne Österlund-Pötsch provides a history of the emergence of the relatively obscure sport of “Nordic Walking,” linking its emergence to an interesting discussion of the concept of allemansrätten (freedom to roam; right of public access to the wilderness). Subsequently, she is able to tie it into the history of folklore collection in the Nordic region. Folklore collection, as she accurately points out, relied on intensive walking tours, a physical engagement with the space of the emerging nation. She uses these practices to open up the concept of the environment and the varying types of engagement with the environment that characterize the Nordic countries. While the paean to Nordic walking that comprises part of the chapter is slightly odd, Österlund-Pötsch moves on to a thought-provoking discussion of the recent popularity of “pilgrimage.” What I found missing was a discussion of the popular sport of orienteering, as that would have made a clear bridge between pole-walking and pilgrimage.

In the next chapter, by Katla Kjartansdóttir and Kristinn Schramm, the focus shifts to Icelanders “abroad” and how they negotiate their positionality as slightly exotic outsiders even in other Nordic countries such as Denmark. The discussions of food and the practice of navigation in the urban/suburban environment...


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pp. 98-102
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