The uses and abuses of the past: cultural rhetoric and the unmaking of a moral universe

Sigurjón Baldur Hafsteinsson, Tinna Grétarsdóttir, Arnar Árnason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well established ethnographically that history is a particularly important and celebrated aspect of Icelandic identity. Paraphrasing Hastrup, it could be argued that Icelandic culture is a culture of the past. The collapse in Iceland in 2008 problematised this valorisation of history. In this paper we draw on Carrithers’ ideas of cultural rhetoric to analyse how Icelanders made sense of the collapse particularly in relation to their understanding of their own history. Following Johnson, we look at the play of agency, intention and responsibility evident in the accounts offered for the collapse. Through that we seek to highlight how these accounts, even when highly critical of Icelandic political and cultural practices, tend to allow for and even encourage the on-going identification with the nation-form.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-32
JournalMiscellanea Anthropologica et Sociologica
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2014

Other keywords

  • History
  • Culture
  • Rhetoric
  • Nation-form
  • Identification
  • Saga
  • Menning
  • Mælskufræði
  • Bankahrunið 2008
  • Þjóðareinkenni


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