Accepted paper:

Desire and the front row: Icelandic identity in the light of the economic collapse


Kristín Loftsdóttir (University of Iceland)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on how desire is a key component in understanding the events leading to the economic collapse in Iceland. This relates especially to Icelandic historical anxieties of being misrecognized by other Europeans and the desire to be seen as modern.

Paper long abstract:

One of the leaders of the Icelandic nationalistic movement stated in the beginning of the 20th century that Iceland will eventually be recognized as belonging in the 'front row of nations.' Iceland was then a Danish dependency attempting to gain independence, in addition to having a history of being presented in Europe as semi-savage. His comment expresses a deep desire for Iceland to be recognized by other European nations. In my paper, I position this desire of recognition as one of the key components in understanding the economic collapse in Iceland in 2008 and the extensive public support that the economic adventure had until the fall. The Icelandic economic collapse was unprecedented in history; multiplying the State's foreign debt, in addition to enormous losses of individuals and foreign creditors. Wider crisis of market capitalism at the time constituted an important factor, but the intensive destructiveness of the crash was primarily the result of internal factors. In this paper, I focus on how this desire of recognition can be seen as having being revitalized within the economic boom period, discourses from that time reflecting the significance placed on 'finally' showing other nations the importance of Icelanders internationally. My discussion thus emphasizes the importance of linking economic dynamics to notions of national identity and desire, and how the economics are embedded in cultural and historical discourses of belonging. Furthermore, Icelandic identity and desire is placed within a global and historical imagination of civilizations and modernity.

panel IW007
Desire and the ethnography of economic and political change