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Rethinking national temporal orders: the subaltern presence and enactment of the political

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 January 2016

Tarja Väyrynen*
Professor of Peace and Conflict Research and Director of Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI), University of Tampere
* Correspondence to: Tarja Väyrynen, Professor of Peace and Conflict Research and Director of Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI) at the University of Tampere, Finland. Author’s email:


How the past is remembered is fundamental to the production and reproduction of postwar sovereign political power. However, Internation Relations’ (IR) explicit interest in the practices of remembrance, and particularly in time remains a relatively new one. This article seeks to show how Jacques Rancière’s discussion of temporality, subaltern history, and politics – which allows the study of parallel and enmeshing temporal universes – contributes to the IR literature on time. In this view, when speech is acquired by those whose right to speak is not recognised they can produce temporalities that disturb hegemonic representations of time constellations and reorganise the nation’s relationship to its past. The article analyses the moment of Kaisu Lehtimäki’s telling her war story in public, and understands it to be a material and symbolic event that shatters the hegemonic distribution of the Finnish postwar national history and truth.

© British International Studies Association 2016 

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1 Kaisu Lehtimäki in the documentary film by Suutari, Virpi, Auf Wiedersehen Finnland (Helsinki: ForReal Productions, 2010)Google Scholar; Kaisu Lehtimäki in a discussion that followed the release of the documentary, ‘Saksalaissotilaiden matkaan lähteneet avaavat kipeitä muistojaan’, Yle aamu-tv (28 January 2010), available at: {} accessed 12 September 2014; Kaisu Lehtimäki in a major newspaper interview, Anna-Stina Nykänen, ‘Saksalaisten matkaan 1944 lähteneet naiset epäröivät yhä puhua’, Helsingin Sanomat (21 March 2010). Rens van Munster and Casper Sylvest discuss the truth claims documentary films make. In this article I am not interested in the truth claims of Suutari’s film as such, but rather in Kaisu’s corporeal performance. van Munster, Rens and Sylvest, Casper, ‘Documenting international relations: Documentary film and the creative arrangement of perceptibility’, International Studies Perspective, 16:3 (2015), pp. 229245 Google Scholar.

2 Kivimäki, Cf. Ville, ‘Between defeat and victory: Finnish memory culture of the Second World War’, Scandinavian Journal of History, 37:4 (2012), pp. 482504 Google Scholar; Kinnunen, Tiina and Kivimäki, Ville (eds), Finland in World War II: History, Memory, Interpretations (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012)Google Scholar; Meinander, Henrik, ‘A separate story? Interpretations of Finland in the Second World War’, in Henrik Stenius, Mirja Österberg, and Johan Östling (eds), Nordic Narratives of the Second World War: National Histographies Revisited (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2011), pp. 5578 Google Scholar. The consensual view of history has been advanced also by the national core curriculum. The public school system with its highly homogenised national core curriculum has reinforced a widely shared desire for national consensus regarding its history and a belief in the unifying potential of the Second World War. The materials used for teaching history have been published by the major publishers and have been homogenous in their content. The unifying potential is thought to be particularly important in the country that was divided in the bloody civil war in 1918.

3 For the relationship between obsession, power, and dominance see Brivic, Shelly, Joyce Through Lacan and Žižek: Explorations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 6576 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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5 I use the term ‘history writing’ instead of historiography in order to indicate that the consensual view of Finnish history has gone beyond history as an academic discipline.

6 Said, Edward W., Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1993), p. 51 Google Scholar.

7 The term ‘subaltern’ is elaborated in the work of Antonio Gramsci to refer to groups who are outside the established structures of political representation. I am aware of the critique presented, for example, by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak who argues that using the term too loosely is dangerous. For me, the term relates to the Rancièrian understanding of the political, namely, to those who form no part, those who are invisible.

8 Bhabha, Homi, ‘DissemiNation: Time, narrative, and the margins of the modern nation’, in Homi Bhabha (ed.), Nation and Narration (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 148 Google Scholar.

9 Said, Culture and Imperialism, pp. 51–66. For contrapuntal method in IR see Chowdhry, Geeta, ‘Edward Said and contrapuntal reading: Implications for critical interventions in International Relations’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 36:1 (2007), pp. 101116 Google Scholar; Krishna, Sankaran, ‘Race, amnesia and the education of International Relations’, Alternatives, 26:4 (2001), pp. 401424 Google Scholar.

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11 Hom, Andrew, ‘Hegemonic metronome: the ascendancy of Western Standard Time’, Review of International Studies, 36:1 (2010), pp. 145170 Google Scholar. See also Hom, Andrew and Steele, Brent, ‘Open horizons: the temporal visions of reflexive realism’, International Studies Review, 12:2 (2010), pp. 271300 Google Scholar.

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18 Chakrabarty, , Provincializing Europe, p. 108 Google Scholar; Connolly, , Pluralism, pp. 6892 Google Scholar.

19 , Guha, ‘The small voices’, p. 12 Google Scholar.

20 Marshall, Cf. Bill, Quebec National Cinema (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001), p. 9 Google Scholar.

21 Chakrabarty, Cf., Provincializing Europe, p. 107 Google Scholar.

22 Rancière, Jacques, Disagreement (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), pp. 99100 Google Scholar; Rancière, Jacques, ‘A few remarks on the method of Jacques Rancière’, Parallax, 15:3 (2009), p. 116 Google Scholar.

23 Rancière, Jacques, ‘Politics and aesthetics: an interview’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 8:2 (2003), p. 201 Google Scholar; Rancière, Jacques, The Politics of Aesthetics (London: Continuum, 2006), p. 13 Google Scholar.

24 Rancière, Jacques, ‘Ten theses on politics’, Theory and Event, 5:3 (2001)Google Scholar, thesis 7, available at: {} accessed 1 October 2014; Rancière, Disagreement, pp. 28–9.

25 The direct quotations are from the documentary film, although Kaisu repeats their content in her morning TV appearance and newspaper interviews.

26 Butalia, Urvashi, The Other Side of Silence, Voices from the Partition of India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1998)Google Scholar; Ehlstain, Jean Bethke, Women and War (New York: Basic Books, 1987)Google Scholar; Enloe, Cynthia, ‘Womenandchildren: Making feminist sense of the Persian Gulf War’, The Village Voice (25 September 1990)Google Scholar; Yuval-Davis, Nira, Gender and Nation (London: Sage, 1997)Google Scholar; Yuval-Davis, Mira and Anthias, Floya, Women – Nation – State (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2002)Google Scholar; Mostov, Julie and Ivekovic, Rada (eds), From Gender to Nation (New Delhi: Zubaan Books, 2006)Google Scholar.

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29 For the corporeal IR see Puumala, Eeva, Väyrynen, Tarja, Kynsilehto, Anitta, and Pehkonen, Samu, ‘Events of the body politic: A Nancian reading of asylum-seekers’ bodily choreographies and resistance’, Body & Society, 17:4 (2011), pp. 83104 Google Scholar; Puumala, Eeva and Pehkonen, Samu, ‘Corporeal choreographies between politics and the political – failed asylum-seekers moving from body politics to bodyspaces’, International Political Sociology, 4:1 (2010), pp. 5065 Google Scholar; Väyrynen, Tarja, ‘Keeping the trauma of war open in the male body – resisting the hegemonic forms of masculinity and Finnish national identity’, Journal of Gender Studies, 22:2 (2013), pp. 137151 Google Scholar; Väyrynen, Tarja, ‘Corporeal migration’, in Mark B. Salter and Can E. Mutlu (eds), Research Methods in Critical Security Studies (Oxon: Routledge, 2013), pp. 169172 Google Scholar; Väyrynen, Tarja, ‘The Finnish national identity and the sacrificial male body: War, postmemory and resistance’, National Identities (2015)Google Scholar, DOI 10.1080/14608944.2015.1061489.

30 Women’s time refers to female temporality that is devided between cyclical, natural time (for example, repetition, the biological clock) and monumental time (for example, the cult of maternity). They are different from linear national time that is defined by progression and teleology. Kristeva, Julia, Jardine, Alice, and Blake, Harry, ‘Women’s time’, Signs, 7:1 (1981), pp. 1335 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 Rancière, Jacques, ‘The thinking of dissensus: Politics and aesthetics’, in Paul Bowman and Richard Stamp (eds), Reading Rancière (London: Continuum, 2011), pp. 117 Google Scholar; On resistance, agency, and social transformation see Lovell, Terry, ‘Resisting with authority: Historical specificity, agency and the performative self’, Theory Culture Society, 20:1 (2003), pp. 117 Google Scholar. In Finland, the opening has been brought forth both individual calls for recognition from, for example, the children of foreign soldiers and the new generation of Finnish academic historians who have partly answered to this call.

32 Rancière, ‘Ten theses on politics’, thesis 4.

33 Bleiker, Roland and Hutchison, Emma, ‘Fear no more: Emotions and world politics’, Review of International Studies, 34 (2008), pp. 115135 Google Scholar; Burgess, Peter, The Ethical Subject of Security: Geopolitical Reasons and the Threat against Europe (London: Routledge, 2011)Google Scholar; Edkins, Jenny, ‘Forget trauma? Responses to September 11’, International Relations, 16:2 (2002), pp. 243256 Google Scholar; Edkins, Trauma and the Memory of Politics; Edkins, Jenny, ‘Remembering rationality: Trauma time and politics’, in Duncan Bell (ed.), Memory, Trauma and World Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), pp. 99115 Google Scholar; Shapiro, Michael, Violent Cartographies: Mapping Cultures of War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997)Google Scholar; Väyrynen, ‘Keeping the trauma’; Väyrynen, ‘The Finnish national identity’; Weber, Cynthia, Faking It: American Hegemony in a Post-Phallic Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999)Google Scholar. For a Freudian account see Schuett, Richard, Political Realism, Freud and Human Nature in International Relations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)Google Scholar.

34 Edkins, , ‘Remembering rationality’, p. 109 Google Scholar.

35 Ibid., pp. 113–15.

36 Burgess, The Ethical Subject of Security, p. 7.

37 Duara, Prasenjit, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 29 Google Scholar. See also Hobsbawm, Eric, ‘Ethnicity and nationalism in Europe today’, Anthropology Today, 8:1 (1992), pp. 38 Google Scholar; Olick, Jeffrey K. and Robbins, Joyce, ‘Social memory studies: From “collective memory” to the historical sociology of mnemonic practices’, Annual Review of Sociology, 24 (1998), pp. 105140 Google Scholar; Nora, Pierre, ‘Between memory and history: Les lieux de mémoire’, Representations, 26:2 (1989), pp. 724 Google Scholar.

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39 The narrative states that the postwar years had entailed a careful and cautious balancing act between Soviet influence and the West. The Finnish integration into the EU in 1995 was seen as a ‘return to Europe’ and to ‘European family’ of equal, free, and wealthy nations. The EU was seen to be a peace project in which Finland could easily find its place, and even take a leading role, for example in civilian crises management initiatives.

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61 Haines quote refers to a larger Deleuzian view of the ‘capitalist body’ and ‘communist body’ and their temporalities. She writes that ‘capitalist corporeality separates communist corporeality from itself, by translating the infinite and common into the equivalent and privative; it transforms time into a ticking of the clock. Communist corporeality, on the other hand, takes the form of a process distributing and redistributing the surplus of potentiality in a construction of the common, a field of equality and a domain of wealth that refuses equivalence; time becomes the very power of activity.’ Haines, Christian, ‘Corporeal time: the cinematic bodies of Arhur Rimbaud and Gilles Deleuze’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 16:2 (2011), p. 116 Google Scholar. In my view, nationalism takes hold of the human body in a similar fashion as capitalism and produces disciplined corporeality and a linear timeframe whereas Kaisu’s performance brings into being corporeality that breaks the national(istic) order of things.

62 Rancière, ‘Thinking of dissensus’, pp. 1–17; Rancière, Disagreement, p. 32.

63 Bhabha, , ‘DissemiNation’, p. 308 Google Scholar.

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66 Cf. Rancière, , ‘Thinking of dissensus’, p. 2 Google Scholar; Rancière, Jacques, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

67 Rancière, ‘Ten theses’, thesis 6.

68 Rancière, ‘Ten theses’, thesis 7.

69 Cf. Rancière, ‘A few remarks on the method’, p. 116.

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