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

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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
Number of pages17
JournalMiscellanea Anthropologica et Sociologica
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014



  • cultural rhetoric
  • memory
  • collapse
  • culture of history
  • Iceland

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