“Borealism” or northern orientalism

History of a notion. Ah, the Far North, its fjords and its snow-capped plains, its blond and slender inhabitants, its furniture with clean lines, its finished model of social democracy.

Everything in Scandinavian societies as imagined from Europe seems to lend itself to daydreaming: a bonanza of images that many companies have not shied away from using, from travel agencies to outerwear brands. ”, Passing, of course, by the manufacturers of furniture. This, in its broadest sense, is what “borealism” is: a set of representations forged by the West and taking the North as its subject, whether in the field of the arts, literature or tourism.

Read also this column by Bruno Latour: Who’s speaking ? The Perils of Occidentalism

The term is generally attributed to the Swedish historian Gunnar Broberg, who used it as early as the 1980s, in a more restricted sense. And more political: we are only a few years after the publication of the founding work of Edward Saïd, Orientalism (Vintage Books). Si Saïd describes the way in which Western literary and political representations portray certain Eastern populations as ” others “ – from ” others “ submissive, exotic, primitive and profoundly different from the European white body – Gunnar Broberg, for his part, takes up this approach by applying it to the North, to qualify the exotic representations of Lapland and the Sami people in Western speeches.

“Whatever term we use borealism or northern orientalism – it must be thought of as one of the components of a colonial and racist system of thought, itself a stakeholder in imperialist and modernist projects ”, explains Kristin Loftsdottir, professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland, Reykjavik. The fascination of European intellectuals for Scandinavian societies, which dates back to the 19th centurye century, would therefore have a dark side?

Two-speed mechanism

“What is interesting in the case of Borealism is that, unlike Orientalism, where we construct another irrational, mystical, ungovernable, the myth of a Nordic political example is created here, the idea that these societies would constitute models to be reached, an ideal of perfection at the same time as the spread of scientific racism in which the Nordic race comes to place itself at the top of the hierarchy of human populations ”, analysis Lionel Cordier, political science researcher at the University of Paris-VIII.

Borealism is therefore a two-speed mechanism: while it idealizes certain Nordic populations perceived as white, it also relegates certain populations to the side of savagery. A state of affairs linked to the long history of power relations even within the Nordic space.

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