Telling Absence: War Widows, Loss and Memory
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This thesis concerns feminist sociological analysis of war loss and its consequences as experienced and told by Finnish Karelian war widows of World War 2. They lost their partners and had to leave their homes by force, when Karelia was evacuated twice in 1939–1944. Over 400,000 refugees from this ceded South-Eastern area were permanently resettled elsewhere in Finland. Finnish war widows’ telling of history has been missing from academic research, for this the subject has not been investigated prior to this present work. The research material the thesis reports on was gathered in interviews with five Karelian war widows, through examining Karelian life stories in the Finnish Literature Society’s Folklore Archive, and also researching war widows’ assistance pension letters in the State Treasury. The research process proceeding in three stages over time and with the materials intersecting and overlapping in both the research encounters and in the analysis of them, something the thesis theorises using the conceptual term ‘narrative’s long exposure’. A participatory and dialogical approach has characterised the research encounters, drawing on the work of Smith, Schutz and Levinas. The researcher’s own background and Karelian family history has been a part of the enquiry, guided here by Ricoeur’s notion of ‘close relations’ and proximity as a dynamic relationship constitutive of memory and its production. Each telling and each research encounter has been read in an analytically reflexivity way, and an intellectual auto/biography of the researcher at work has been provided as suggested by Stanley, with the centre of attention being on how ‘knowledge’ is produced. Seriousness, generosity and humour prevailed when the war widows told about their lives as patterned with hardship and change. This attitude and device for telling was interpreted as an expression of how to get on with loss, which was also one of the analytic themes that arose from the various tellings that the thesis investigates. Another key theoretical theme is that of ‘war’s times’, a conceptual term which highlights the widows’ tellings as an ongoing archive of war, inclusive of wartime events, to living with the consequences of war ever since the war started, right up until now.