Accepted paper:

Land and belonging in Iceland


Mary Hawkins (University of Western Sydney)

Paper short abstract:

Land, as birthright, memory and belonging, is central to Icelandic identity. The recent increase in tourist numbers, however, has disrupted the connection to land, and disturbed the landscape of memory and belonging. This paper explores the nature of this disruption.

Paper long abstract:

Land is central to Icelandic identity. It is birthright, heritage, a site of memory and belonging; mountains, waterfalls, pastures and fjords are the stuff on which Icelandic dreams are made. However, in recent years Icelandic land has been invaded, by foreign capital, in the form of overseas firms seeking to exploit Iceland's rich energy resources, and by tourists. While the former has in the main been resisted, the latter has not. Icelanders are opening their homes, via websites such as AirBnB, and their land to tourists, whose numbers have doubled since 2007. While tourists are welcomed for the money they bring, and most stay for only a short time, Icelandic people are somewhat ambivalent as to the impact of tourism on the Icelandic landscape, both the physical landscape and the landscape of memory and belonging. Older people of Reykjavik comment that the language they hear most often in the streets during summer is American English, and the topic of a tourist tax, and fencing parts of Iceland off, are debated on the Net and in coffee shops. Something about their land, and their sense of themselves in it, seems to be slipping away. This paper explores the Icelandic connection to land, and assesses to what extent that connection is changing as Iceland becomes a 'hot' tourist destination.

panel Land02
Moral horizons of land and place