Amalgams of identity become increasingly common

Finland, too, has become more culturally varied. Multiculturalism is helping us to understand diversity, but is also teaching us more about the meaning of being Finnish.

Emma Nortio is working on a doctoral dissertation on multiculturalism, for which she has interviewed both native Finns and immigrants to the country.

"When talking about multiculturalism, Finns often – and perhaps surprisingly – begin by defining Finnishness and the characteristics of Finns," Nortio says. "Multiculturalism is, of course, always determined in relation to one’s own culture."

Reflection is needed to define a world view

"It is often said that multiculturalism helps us understand diversity, but it also illuminates our own culture and identity," Nortio explains. "It’s important to define your own world view."

Immigrants often bring up the topic of Finnishness as well.

"Many say it is impossible for them to become Finnish for one reason or another. Nevertheless, everyone wants to find their own place here – without giving up their ‘own culture’."

Nortio hopes the multiculturalism discussion will take on new tones.

"Certain mantras keep popping up also when talking about Finnishness. We should stop to think about their actual significance," Nortio points out. "For instance, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. What does that really mean?"

The same background does not make us identical

We keep building our identities throughout life. Living among two or more cultures creates ‘slash identities’, which blur the boundaries of one’s own culture and maintain the sense of being different, even if the country or surrounding culture changes.

Says Nortio: "An identity of this type can also be a strength, because it enables you to combine the best aspects of different cultures."

However, a shared nationality, ethnic origin or culture do not necessarily make us identical.

For example, not all of those who grow up in Finland share the same experiences.

"I doubt whether anyone these days would place people in a specific slot simply because they were Finnish," Nortio adds.

In March and April 2015, researchers and other experts will take us on journeys into different world views. Read more about the New World View science programme and join the conversation (#maailmankuva).

New World View 16 March – 12 April 2015

Think Corner