Millei, Z., Korkiamäki, R. & Kaukko, M. (2019) ‘Arctic Childhoods' and mobilized differences - - the
mattering of skis and skates in ‘nation-ed environments’ (pp. 49-64). In Rautio, P. & Stenval, E. (Eds) Social,
Material and Political Constructs of Arctic Childhoods: An Everyday Life Perspective. Springer.
4. SKATES AND SKIS
‘Arctic Childhoods' and mobilized differences - the mattering of skis and skates in ‘nation-ed
Zsuzsa Millei and Riikka Korkiamäki, University of Tampere, Finland
Mervi Kaukko, Monash University, Australia/University of Oulu, Finland
Children inhabiting Finland inevitably live through cold and snowy winters. Accordingly, winter
sports, like skating and skiing, are a standard or national component of curriculum in Finnish schools
as well as an expected part of children’s leisure time. Skis and skates form a taken for granted part of
the ‘nation-ed environment’ of Finland with which people feel at home. All this is often new to
children who arrive to live in Finland from warm countries. In this chapter, we dive into the worlds
of skis and skates and newly arrived children. Our reading is about skis and skates encountering
children who negotiate the socio-material and cultural world of Finland. To foreground how objects
matter to children, we apply the idea of ethnopoetry. By constructing poems from our data produced
in two research projects with recently arrived children in Finland, and placing those in dialogue with
quotes from a Finnish storybook and our own memories, we show how skis and skates fit in with
children, mobilize difference or challenge the taken for granted view of a nation. Through stories of
skis and skates, the nation, Finnishness, and the Arctic become perceivable as part of ongoing
everyday processes that newly arrived as well as Finnish-born children and adults coordinate, sustain,
tolerate, reject, and naturalize in encountering the world.
Breath-taking and snow-covered landscapes, Northern Lights, nearly two hundred thousand lakes and
more than a thousand kilometres of shoreline. To save energy on their everyday journey, people living
in the area of Finland invented skating five thousand years ago
and travel over snow on skis for six
thousand years. Nature dressed in white, frozen sheets of ice, cool air on face, skates, skis, poles,
helmets and wool socks are part of the winter in Finland and children’s everyday lives and mobilities.
“Early winter snowfall is … a sign – a promise – of many things cultural as well as natural” (Rautio
and Jokinen, 2016, p. 36). Cold weather and winter sports in schools embrace children arriving to
live in Finland from warm climates. In this chapter, we explore how skis and skates, and children
participate in the socio-material and cultural world of Finland.
Studies that explore children’s experiences who have recently arrived to Finland frequently interpret
those within the frame offered by their official identification as migrants or refugees. This singular
view disregards children’s self-identifications and the multiple and fluid ways in which identities are
constructed, negotiated and claimed in different situations. The two research projects from which we
extract children’s experiences in this chapter have also, initially, identified research participants based
on their official status in Finland as migrants. In this paper, however, we try to move away from this
categorical framing of their experiences. We do not wish to privilege their ethnicity or migrant status
in our explorations nor understand their experiences as foreshadowed by belonging to these groups.
Instead, we elaborate on those everyday situations in which children find themselves attributed with
ethnicity, being approached or labelled as migrants by others, or in which they themselves claim an
ethnicity or migrant status to mark their own difference. Working this way allows us to perceive
ethnicity as it is mobilized, continuously constructed, contested and negotiated, rather than using
ethnicity as a fixity to explain children’s experiences with (Brubaker & Cooper, 2000; Fox and Jones,
2013; Forsman and Hummelstedt-Djedou, 2014).
In this chapter, we specifically focus on how children negotiate their belonging to a new nation.
Instead of citizenship status or claims to belonging to a historical nation bound by a unity of culture,
we understand national belonging as taken-for-granted and habitual ways of being and acting in
everyday life led in ‘nation-ed environments’ (Noble, 2002). In ‘nation-ed environments,’ objects,
such as skis and skates, have important roles to play (Skey, 2011; Noble, 2002). Besides developing
familiarity with and habitual ways of acting in a new environment, for children who arrive to Finland
this also means engaging in a process whereby they produce a sense of being ‘at home’ – a kind of
‘ontological security’ (Noble, 2002, p. 54). This process also includes children understanding their
experiences and claiming their identities in relation “to a larger social environment and its social
relations and cultural categories” and materialities (Noble, 2002, p. 54). As part of the nation-ed
environments of Finland, we explore how skis and skates differently matter to children and how they
participate in producing sameness and difference. As Rautio and Jokinen (2016, p. 39) elaborate:
Most things arguably both matter and have meaning. Meaning is often the retrospectively
assigned attribute to a practice that took place because it mattered. Meanings can be speculated
or imposed by anyone, and mattering is only for those involved in the moment. Yet, mattering
and meaning do not necessarily settle as a linear and/or causal connection in which mattering
would always precede meaning.
To show how skis and skates matter, we focus our explorations on everyday life and different
modalities of difference. By everyday life we refer to a domain of inquiry, it is “a place, not spatially
or temporally circumscribed, but imperfectly delineated by the individuals who people it” and objects
participate in it (Fox and Jones 2013, p. 396). The everyday is a productive term as it signals spaces,
processes, socio-material environments and people populating those.
Creating poems from data
Our drive to escape the ‘scientific search for meanings’ and capture the everyday matterings, has
resulted in reconsidering narrative strategies while presenting data and analysis. Our attempt is linked
to debates about the textual implications of representational practices that has led to experimenting
with new configurations to present data, such as textual experiments, ‘‘disruptive’’ texts, or poems
(Gonick and Hladki, 2005, p. 287). Through these creatively generated insights, one can “escape from
analytic perspectives that have become stereotyped and stale” (p. 13) and “reveal different facets of
the data” (Coffey and Atkinson 1996, p.15). They can also involve a shift in the researcher’s analytical
ontology, moving from looking at the participants of the research to looking at the socio-material
world alongside them where the researcher is also included (Edwards and Weller, 2012). However,
as Atkinson (1990) states, these innovations need to be made responsibly and thoughtfully.
Following these experiments, we re-present data in a series of poems to open it up for multiple
modalities and interpretations. In our poems, skis, skates and children emerge as characters in a story
acting in emotionally charged environments. We re-present data from the two projects as symmetrical
configurations, where both humans and non-humans are authors of their relations (Sørensen, 2013).
In this way, data from the two projects and their (human and non-human) subjects communicate with
each other. Working this way allows taken-for-granted symbolic systems and familiar material
environments to mix in the moment that mattered to children in the constitution of everyday life,
environment and self. Furthermore, we hope that this approach lets the data speak for itself, invite a
range of interpretive responses, create open-ended and evocative connections, evoke the emotional
dimensions of participants’ and researchers’ experiences, effect readers’ emotions and intellect and
reveal the social power of material objects (Sparkes, 2009; Haldrup, 2016).
Our method works similarly to ethnopoetry, research and writing techniques that depart from standard
social scientific representational method of ethnographic data. Aitken (2014, p. 21), for instance, uses
poetry in his study to “provide a parsimonious rendering of emotions that exceeds the text” by pushing
the words to “reveal the emotional power of a conversation” to get to the “embodied power that
resides in people and places” and objects. It is an attempt to represent the non-representable of a story,
focusing on what matters to children and researchers.
Our “modestly playful” (Coffey and Atkinson 1996) implementation of ethnopoetry is inspired by an
(I-)poem method, developed with the purpose of switching the position of a researcher in the analysis
process from reading the data into listening to them (Gilligan et al., 2003; McLean et al., 1996; Brown
and Gilligan, 1992). This is done through providing the data a possibility to be heard differently by
re-creating data in a new format. However, while the idea of I-poems is to “trace how participants
represent themselves through attention to first person statements” (Edwards and Weller 2012, p. 203),
our creating of skate and ski poems is about foregrounding the non-human participants of skates and
skis and downplaying the role of meaning making by children. By bringing skates and skis into a
symmetrical positioning with children, we aim to shift the interpretative focus from our original
research interest in people’s words, toward everyday materials and the ways in which children and
objects (skis and skates) ‘be and become’ together.
In practice, our idea was to pay detailed attention to the use of the terms ‘skate’ and ‘ski’ and not be
“contained by the full structure of sentences” (Edwards and Weller, 2012, p. 205). We used our rich
ethnographic data, consisting of research diaries, interviews and children’s drawings, to create the
poems through following three steps. First, we went through our research notes and transcribed
interviews and identified phrases with skis, skates, related verbs and other pertinent words (such as
helmet, stick, snowboard, falling, snow, cold). Second, we lifted the phrases out of the original data
in the sequence that they occur and placing them in separate lines, like the lines of a poem, each skate
or ski phrase in its own line. Third, we changed past tense into present and made slight changes with
word orders, such as removing beginnings and ends of sentences if they were not about skates/skis.
This procedure helped us to identify skis and skates as social objects with their own biographies
(Appadurai, 1986; Kopytoff, 1986), which we foreground in our reading of the poems. Skates and
skis are “objects of knowledge” (Silverman 2015) - not only objects that people know about, but
objects that also ‘know’ by storing knowledge - that travel through times and spaces, coming across
people and (other) objects with their unique biographies and, hence, connect people and things from
different times, places, cultures and positions. These connections may take place in concrete ways as
people share objects and the knowledge they carry, or handle objects once created and treated by
other people. But objects create connections also by their very existence as biographical, as they
inevitably provoke imaginations, tell stories that people conjure and can recall, and animate their
human cohabitants with “affects and emotions, feelings of remembrance, affection, appreciation and
loss” (Haldrup, 2016, p. 52). With our poems and the subsequent reading of them, we are exalting the
skates and skis to find out what kind of encounters with children they create, invite, mobilize and take
part in, as they cross with children and the researchers’ everyday lives in Finland.
As another strategy to promote multiple interpretations and avoid pressing rigid meaning into the data
(see Rautio and Jokinen, 2016), we place quotes from a Finnish author Tove Jansson’s storybook
Moominland midwinter (1958) into dialogue with poems created from our data. By showing how the
snow, skates and skis encounter the Moomins, we wish to spark possible interpretations and create
room for emotional and embodied matterings to surface. Furthermore, poems and the Moomins
mattered to us, the researchers writing this text, memories awoke that now accompany the poems.
We feel that while these memories remain in the background, they are inseparable from our
representational practice and thus need to be shared.
A STORY OF SKIS AND SKATES
Figure 1. Skating day announcement to students’ homes.
As had been a tradition of the school for longer than anyone could remember, an ‘ice skating day’
was organized to mark the coming holiday season in the beginning of December. Each child and adult
of the school was expected to participate - including the 19 boys of the preparatory classes
the ages of 13-17 years. These boys had arrived in the past year in Finland from the Middle East,
Afghanistan and Russia. As part of her ethnography focusing on young migrants’ social relationships,
support networks and everyday lives in Finland, Riikka happened to be present at the school the week
before the skating day, observing, taking notes, and talking to people. She had already become
familiar with the school, its rooms and hallways, objects and items, routines and children breaking
those, and its people: the boys and their teachers, other students, and school adults. She was not able
to attend the skating event, but as it seemed to occupy everybody’s minds and talks that week, she
judged it was important. So she made notes about the forthcoming skating day: discussions
concerning it, activities related to it, movements, bodies, gestures, places, spaces, mobile things and
objects, constituting seven handwritten pages on skates and skating.
Meanwhile, in another town in Northern Finland, Lilith, a girl from Middle East, was thinking about
her school experiences by drawing and talking to Mervi. The February day was one of the coldest of
that winter. Temperature was almost 30 below zero in Celsius. Mervi, being interested in the
experience of educational success of children with refugee background, gave open-ended instructions
for this girl: Draw your school journey from the day you started school up to this moment, and mark
anything that has been important to you. Lilith had come as a refugee to Finland four years ago. As
the other 44 students interviewed after her, Lilith chose to share with Mervi a varying collection of
"Preparatory education is a targeted program for recently arrived migrant students, aiming at providing them with sufficient
level of Finnish or Swedish language and other necessary skills while studying in small groups before entering the
mainstream education. This research was carried out with two groups participating in preparatory education. All the 19
children attending these groups were boys aged 13-17."
Friday December 2nd is our school’s joint outdoors day. Bus rides to the skating
rink leave from schoolyard according to the class groups, and return to the same
place. All students shall come to school at 9 am and go home at 1 pm.
School meals are provided as usual."
NB! During the skating day, everyone is responsible for his or her own equipment.
Remember to label all your equipment. Helmets are required for all skaters. During
the school skating day, we do not play ice hockey; please leave your sticks at home.
We spend all day outside; remember to dress accordingly!"
There is equipment to borrow from the school on demand. Please let the teacher know
critical events, significant people and objects as part of her school journey. However, unlike anybody
else, this girl drew a green pair of skis in a central position of her drawing, and talked about their
significance to Mervi.
Figure 2. Lilith’s drawing, representing significant events, important things and central persons
during her school journey.
Figure 3. Detail of Lilith’s drawing, representing a pair of green skis and ski poles. This detail can
be found on the upper half of the picture, on the right hand side as the highest object of one of the
school years, which are separated by vertical yellow lines.
November 29: Emergence
First scene: Classroom. The skates are not on stage yet. Teacher confronts the boys.
"The poems are created from the fieldnotes and interviews of the two studies. The poem on the left is from the study that
Riikka conducted with the preparatory class boys, and the one in the middle is from Mervi’s study with Lilith. The lines in
italics are quotations from child participants extracted from the transcripts of Lilith’s interview, or from Riikka’s fieldnotes.
All the other lines (not in italics) are from Mervi’s and Riikka’s field notes or other participants’ words. The column on the
right side of our poems represents the quotes from Moominland midwinter (Jansson 1958).
“So you have to decide
do you go skating
on Friday?”, teacher
“or walk in the woods
if you don’t…”
And the boys reply:
We don’t know how,
we know it’s difficult,
but we want to try.
want to learn
want to skate
So we decide
Skiing, that I can do.
In third or fourth grade it
Now I like it.
was really bad
now just normal.
I would like to learn even
I am still a little bit bad.
Sport is, it is important
to learn to ski and skate.
Because they are so hard
and all others
can do them already.
“And so Moomintroll
was helplessly thrown
out in a strange and
dangerous world and
dropped up to his
years in the first
snowdrift of his
experience. It felt
to his velvet skin, but
at the same time his
snout caught a new
smell. It was a more
serious smell than any
he had felt before, and
But it made him wide
awake and greatly
1958, p. 18)
Like the nature dressed in white, skates and skis manifest emergence. For Lilith, the preparatory class
boys as much as for the Moomins, skis, skates and winter mark the beginning of something new, a
promise of something that is about to happen, something to be excited or anxious about. However,
separations also emerge as the snow, skis and skates, carrying along their lived biographies, appear
in the lives of children and the Moomins. Skates, skis, and arctic winter separate those who mingle
with snow with confidence from those for whom it presents a ‘serious smell’. At a first step, they
bring out the helplessness from every child, as everyone is born as novice to skating, skiing and
winter, regardless of whether living in a warm or cold climate or in a house with or without winter
sport equipment. The snow is cold and uncomfortable on every bare skin, and the ice is slippery for
everyone. However, mobilized by these ‘knowledgeable objects’, separations emerge based on when
first and with what frequency the skis, skates and snow present themselves in one’s life.
Also the white figure skates with pointy blades left the storage room of young Mervi’s family house
in the North of Finland infrequently. Winter sports days made an exception, on those days, skates
travelled to school. They were too big to fit in a school bag, so they clung clumsily to a handlebar of
a bike as Mervi cycled to school. Skates were just as clumsy on Mervi’s feet. They made Mervi fall,
causing the hard ice to take contact with her tailbone, skates slip out from under her or decided to get
stuck, always acted against Mervi’s intentions. Despite her “Arcticness”, skates did not automatically
co-operate with Mervi. Evolution had not shaped Mervi’s feet to fit skates or developed her balance
to twist on pirouettes.
In Hungary, the snowy days have always found Zsuzsa in great excitement. Snowballs and wooden
sleighs made the play with friends fun. Their biographies did not have a story about sport. Rolling
hills invited children to roll and sled down in the snow but not without challenging them. As they
grew in size, more and more falls and hurtful injuries expanded their biographies. Skis and skates had
no experience of Zsuzsa’s feet, it is only her daughter’s feet they now know in the ice and snow of
Skates, skis and winter awaken, raise interest, provoke feelings of excitement, challenge, concern,
worry, bring about frustration and self-doubt. As the excursion was announced to the preparatory
class boys, skates approached them, the same way as they first presented themselves to Lilith, or the
way the ‘serious smell’ presented itself to Moomintroll who was ‘helplessly thrown out in a strange
and dangerous world’.
November 30: Teasing
Second scene: Gym storage room. Skates, old and worn in different sizes are sitting on the shelves.
Boys arrive with the teacher.
“Find the right skates” - and the teacher goes
to the skates.
Vladimir has skates of his own,
Other boys stand by the door
ready to run.
“Everybody in Finland has skates”- teacher
I want to have skates.
“Do you know how to skate,
have you skated before?”
No but I can skate - Sadiq says and
lifts his chin up,
looks away then at Vladimir,
who rolls his eyes and shakes his head.
Riikka has skates at home,
three pairs in different sizes
“I could bring the skates,
you can borrow them,
if you’d like to skate?”
Teacher hands skates to boys.
Boys look at each other
look at the skate,
So cold it was.
of skiing but
persistent to learn.
She tried herself first
Then her parents
paid for a lesson
a thing about it, at
that moment his
velvet skin decided
to start growing
woolier. It decided
to become, by and
by, a coat of fur for
winter use. That
would take some
time, but at least the
decision was made.
And that’s always a
(Jansson 1958, p.
grinning, pushing each other,
towards the skates.
Rashid goes to the skate shelf,
finds himself a pair.
Others take skates
from the teacher.
Azar puts a skate on the floor,
takes a football, plays with it.
“Put the ball away, try on the skates”
Azar leaves the room with no skates.
Hamasa grasps Azar’s left-behind skates,
doesn’t try them on,
stands by the door,
holds the skates,
waits while Behnam places
a skate on the floor next to his foot and
shrugs his shoulders:
This is good. Skate is just like a shoe –
and he leaves the room
with his skates.
Who has used these skates before?
The skates look old.
They smell bad.
The boys carry their skates through school
Everyone has a pair.
In the classroom the skates are thrown to the
back of the room.
she could do it.
Now I like it.
Skates and skis tease children. They call children to choose them, pick them up, try them on and wear
them. They invite them to feel the ice and snow, to sweat, to race, to twist on pirouettes, to chase the
puck, to stumble and fall, to get up, laugh and cry, to get frustrated and learn. With their many histories
and potential futures, skis and skates invite feet and their owners for new experiences. They invoke
memories, successful and failed attempts at other activities, and foreshadow possibilities for the
Over the years, they have been rarely used by only one person. They have crossed paths with many
children, transferred from generation to another, expert to novice, from outgrown feet to smaller ones,
traveling from place to place. They have given children experiences that have eased their entrance
into the snowy environment, just as Moomintroll’s hair that started to grow after he made his decision.
Sliding from one social context to another, skates and skis matter differently to children as times and
spaces change. Coming across the novice children in school or at a ski resort, hence, are only glimpses
in the biographies of skates and skis. These short experiences do not foreclose longer relations with
The materiality of skis and skates are telling about their biographies. They become old or smelly.
They carry memories, successes and failures. As such, they animate emotional and social life. Skates
and skis may be inert, passively waiting for their encounter with humans. They may be lying in a pile
against the school wall or behind the closed doors of a skiing resort, soon forgotten after the last
snowfall in early spring. When traveling from one hall to the other, from instructor to novice, or when
they are lifted, measured, dropped or left in corners, they become potential agitators with the power
to make things happen. As they are worn again, they can make children fly through the powdery
snow, ‘so much of it’, and empower them. And sometimes, they find themselves thrown to the back
of the room, ‘left there’.
December 1: Curiosity
Third scene: Classroom. Skates, the ones from the gym storage and the ones Riikka brought, are
hanging in the hallway
Students walk by
get no attention.
But when the boys arrive:
What is this?
Why are they here?
skates in the classroom,
in their bags
under the sink,
by the trash can.
Why are they here?
Every time when someone goes
to the sink or
to the trash,
they peak in the skate bag,
or kick the skates,
or say something
about the skates,
or the skating day.
Because in Finland
it is so cold and there is
so much winter.
So it is nice
to be able to snowboard
Yes, it is nice
to go to Syöte with friends and
(Jansson 1958, p.
“Leave the skates be.
They are just skates,
and you can use them tomorrow.”
Skating is difficult.
I skated last year.
Hussain imitates skating,
walks around with twisted ankles
I want to skate but I don’t know how.
“Vladimir will teach you,
he is in our school exactly because
he can skate so well.”
I don’t skate,
I play hockey.
Can we play hockey?
“No, we skate”- teacher replies.
All the fuss around the skates.
Vladimir shakes his head,
picks up the old skates,
turns them in his hands,
feels the blade
tosses them to the bench.
Hussain gets the old skates and
Sadiq the new ones,
he feels the blade
with his finger.
It’s good –
and he looks at Vladimir
with a knowing look.
Skates and skis, ordinary to some and exceptional to others, visualize know-how and ignorance, invite
sureties and insecurities, and raise confidence and confusion. They have the ability of being
simultaneously right in place and out of place, while they wait patiently, return looks, elevate to the
air, fall on the ground, touch the hand. Skates position the human-other in social and material worlds.
Skiing resorts and snow had been keen participants also in Riikka’s whole life, but a snowboard had
never properly met her. Snowboards had tempted her, approached her during her previous ski
journeys, in sport equipment stores, or at friends’ houses, but they have never properly encountered
each other. Snowboards threatened Riikka, to throw her off, make her incompetent, and make her
participate in a funny scene that they had caused. But the snowboards also called her to try. Carrying
the old and the young, boys, girls, men and women, the snowboards slid and curved the slopes, moved
elegantly and seamlessly through the snow and across the hills. With their looks they enticed her,
each lured her with a different tactic. If unchosen, they seemed to ask: “Don’t you want to be a part
of this? Access the fun, be like the others - belong?”
In children’s school life, skates and skis participate in many ways. They are walked by, glanced at,
or fussed over, receive headshakes. They are kicked, felt and then tossed away, evaluated. The restful
moments of skis and skates is disturbed by the brief glances they enjoyed from children with a know-
how or by the curiosity of others. Skates and skis stir up actions and feelings, and contract intimate
bonds with children, invoke belonging for some and alienation in others. They invite, tempt, repel,
act indifferent, disgust, energize, patronize and evoke feelings of lightness, aspirations or abandoned
lives. Skates and skis, being present, matter differently to children.
December 2: Differentiation
Fourth scene: Classroom. The skating day morning. Skates are still waiting.
Skates in pile
under the sink
by the trash can.
has touched the skates.
Vladimir’s skates are on his desk
and a helmet, but
no stick allowed.
The skates look nice
they are huge,
one can’t avoid noticing them, but
Yusuf slightly strokes
Jawed takes Vladimir’s helmet,
puts it on
want to try it on,
try robbing the helmet,
ran riot a bit.
When I was on fifth grade,
how to snowboard.
I tried in fourth grade when
we went to
Syöte skiing centre.
I couldn’t do it,
it didn’t go well,
In fifth grade I took
“Now let’s teach
Moomin how to ski,”
he said. “I’d prefer
mumbled and shrank
back a little. … “The
main thing’s to keep
Hemulen was saying
already fastening the
skis to Moomintroll’s
paws. (Jansson 1958,
“Put the helmet away
it’s not yours.”
The helmet is placed
in its place
on Vladimir’s desk.
Boys in the lobby
playing table soccer but
“Why are you here?
Where are your skates?”
I don’t know.
Outside the students
stand in groups,
waiting for busses
holding their skates
Skates and helmets
lying on the ground.
at the center of action
with his hockey gears
in his team shirt, but
no sticks allowed.
The boys come outside but
Teacher guides them
to stand in
“Where are your skates?”
I don’t know
how to skate,
we walk in the woods.
There is a separate bus
No-skaters stand by the wall.
Sadiq comes outside,
holds his skates.
“Over there” - teacher points
to no-skates group, but
I have skates.
“Oh can you skate?”
then I could do it!
Except I forgot to stop.
I stopped so that I
I am not very good
I am a (her nationality)!
He goes with the 8th graders
who have skates but
at no-skates group.
Boys turn to look as
Sadiq takes his skates
towards the 8th grade skaters.
He stands close
to the 8th grade group, but
not with them
in his lap.
brings Sadiq a helmet.
Skates differentiate. Old, used skates and the brand new ones hang in children’s hands or enjoy a
warm lap, or just rest on the ground. Helmets relish the love of some and suffer the indifference of
others. Old skates often have memories of novice skaters – those feet that hesitate. Nice skates may
remember experts, having only felt practiced feet. However, there are also brand new skates that
chisel novice feet. Snowboards at ski resorts scare or desire a stroke from children or just shyly look
away. Snowboards may remember the expert to whom they gave a speedy slide down the slope but
who fell down at the end just like a novice skier. Skis, skates and snowboards meet differently each
Skates connect. They bring together different children on the ice rink, in the same bus or at the
schoolyard. Skates travel in their bags, helmets encase children’s heads or just wait on the ground.
Sticks cannot attend, obeying the rule of ‘no sticks allowed’. And then there are those skates that
suffer from abandonment, wait lonely on the classroom desk or the snowboards that like to tease some
and trip others. Skis, skates and snowboards connect and differentiate between children as they weave
their biographies through encountering, connecting, separating or differentiating them.
December 3: The day after
Fifth scene: Classroom. The day after the skating day. The skates in bags and sitting on shelves.
Skates are still
under the sink
in the corner of classroom.
Lilith draws the skis.
”Everything that had
once moved had
No one has used them.
Bahir looks at the skate bags, but
quickly looks away.
Riikka doesn’t want to ask him
about the skates or
the skating day.
Only Sadiq’s skates
“How was skating?”
Sadiq looks down
I did not skate.
“Where are the skates now?”
I don’t know.
There is an empty skating bag
under Sadiq’s chair
in the classroom.
None of the boys
had gone skating.
Sadiq’s skates are
in the corner of staff room
Wool socks are rolled
exactly the way Riikka has left them.
They are placed
in the highest position
of the paper.
Skis climb higher
than her learning division
and her involvement
Skiing was a task
she wanted to learn,
she was determined to learn.
And when she learned it,
at this moment
seems to overrule
many important things
in her life.
There were no living
angular was now
1958, p. 18)
Winter keeps nature motionless, sleeping. But in winter, skis and skates speed up travellers’ mobility.
Skis and skates make some children mobile while others immobile. Boats, trucks, cars or planes
moved the children through many locations before arriving to Finland. When skis and skates meet
children, they can stop them in their tracks.
Skates, skis and helmets also have periods of immobility in their biographies. They are inert, unused,
or return to their immobility after being placed back on the hook. Objects and bodies, stopping and
going, create choreographies in their shared biographies.
Listen, winter creatures, who have sneaked the sun away,
Who are hiding in the dark and making all the valley grey:
I am utterly alone, and I am tired to the bone,
And I’m sick enough of snowdrifts just to lay me down and groan.
I want my blue verandah and the glitter of the sea
And I tell you one and all that your winter’s not for me!
(Jansson 1958, p. 46)
The skating day is over. The skates teased the boys, they invoked curiosity and gathered new
trajectories in their biographies. Now, the skates are hanging limply on hooks. Different presences
emerge for the skates and for the children. For Lilith, the green skis kept teasing her so successfully
that at the end, the air, snow, cold and ice became indistinguishable from her body. Skis and Lilith
emerged anew in the Arctic environment.
SKATES, SKIS AND ‘NATION-ED ENVIRONMENTS’
The poetic reconstructions of our data from the two studies and its juxta-positioning with quotes from
Moomin’s experiences and our memories helped us to resist easy and conventional meanings. We
used the power of intertextuality, pause and silence in our attempt to articulate more than what is
sayable, to evoke emotions and mattering in everyday life. In our reading, we considered together the
data, quotes and memories, and foregrounded the ‘experiences’ and ‘actions’ of skis and skates as
equal participants in events, and as carrying social power in their encounters with children. Skis and
skates acted as gatekeepers prohibiting less experienced and less willing children’s bodies from
entering with them in to the snowy and icy environment. Skates and skis connected some and
differentiated others as less daring, willing, practiced or talented based on children’s expertise and
histories with them, or the lack of those. Growing up in cold places with lots of snow and ice and
being surrounded by skis and skates compose important aspects of the Finnish national culture and
imaginary, but do not routinely make children experts. On ski and skate occasions in schools, skates
and skis divide children – novice and experts, sometimes on national or cultural lines, but that is not
necessarily the case.
Like the biographies of travelling material objects, also a child’s body “bears the traces of the places
it had known. These traces are continually laid down in the body, sedimenting themselves there”
(Casey, 2011, p. 688). A child’s body can become attuned to climatic environments as she or he
frequents places and uses objects, such as skis and skates. A child’s place-world is “energized and
transformed by the bodies that belong to it” (Casey, 2001, p. 688), including human bodies and non-
human objects, animals, sun and wind, warm and cold, sand and snow, skis and skates, helmets and
woollen socks. Through encountering these, children’s bodies bear the places they have known
lastingly. The icy or hot environments linger in children’s bodies in the form of presence (Casey,
2001). Foregrounding objects - skis, skates, ice and snow - can help us show how objects and climates
matter differently to different children and what presences they produce. Newly arrived children
encounter the icy and cold place-world of Finland. Recalling lingering body memories, or creating
new memories as they become subjected to this new environment, memories and new encounters
produce belonging, exclusion, longing or concern. The embodied experiences of children in our
poems tell about how some children made their bodies feel comfortable through repeated experiences
with the Finnish environment and at other times became alienated by it.
To some, acquainting with skis and skates may produce a sense of ‘ontological security’ — “a
familiarity with and confidence in the world as we know it” (Noble 2002, p. 54), or as we are
becoming to know it. Skis and skates, snow and ice, and bodies come together in encounters, where
“life is opened up to what is not yet determined or is to be determined … what happens in an encounter
is never completely foreclosed” (Anderson, 2014, p. 82). To Lilith, skis were part of her feeling at
home in the North as much as part of her increasingly independent mobility, becoming equal with
“all others who can do them already” in the winter she learned to know. The first encounter with
skates made it hard for the boys to remain as regular others, they may have passed or may have been
singled out. In the poems only hints of how they were becoming with skates were revealed.
In the new home countries of children and young people, dispositions to a new place and nation are
rarely formed through abstract identifications with Finland as ‘a country’, a single identity of
Finnishness as ‘the national’, or an ideal of an imaginary national citizen. Still the various ways in
which migrants, children and adults, are being managed in and outside of school environments, the
expectation is that identification with the nation can progress through transmissions of knowledge,
norms and values. This is evident, for example, in the different leaflets produced for migrants to learn
about the nation in different contexts, giving knowledge about what Finnish people like to eat or how
they generally behave. This is also evident in the way in which Mervi made peace with skis and skates
during her teacher training thinking that knowing how to ski and skate is a requirement to fulfil her
duties as a teacher for Finnish (and new Finnish) children. Newly arrived children do not only
encounter ‘nation-ed environments’ where skis and skates are part of an image of an ideal, traditional,
real or active Finnish childhood, they also encounter it as a gathering of taken-for-granted and
embodied practices of childhoods. This suggests that feeling at home or out of place in the North
require socio-material and embodied experiences in which skis and skates can also participate (see
Noble 2002, p. 54).
Finnishness, however, is not only about skates and skis. Childhoods can be experienced in multiple
ways, the same way as skis and skates matter to children in different ways. At the end, nations are
made real and come to matter to children and teachers through everyday socio-material encounters in
local places (Brubaker, 2009; Skey, 2011), of which skis and skates compose only a small part. As
Noble (2002, p. 61) further articulates:
our experience of and in the nation is primarily one whereby we live in nation-ed
environments, where we experience nation as a kind of background to the conduct of everyday
life … construed largely through personal histories or aesthetic choices, the nation exists as
a ‘natural’ cultural category or structure of experience.
The nation, viewed from this perspective, is an ongoing process performed in everyday socio-material
encounters in institutions. This process continuously reinvents itself by adjusting to changing
circumstances of the socio-material, political and economic world. In the national ‘structure of
experience,’ “relatively consistent sense of self, place, and time is (re)produced through routine
habits, taken-for-granted symbolic systems and (un)familiar material environments (Skey, 2011, p.
35), such as the very skates, skis and snow and winter described in our poems. These ‘nation-ed
environments’ and often ‘unconscious’ practices are encountered by newly arrived children as they
lead their everyday lives. As they encounter national objects and environments, their capacity to
experience themselves as belonging rest upon the “naturalization of a national experience through
this background texturing” (Noble, 2002, p. 61). They coordinate, sustain and naturalize particular
notions and experiences of the world, of living in Finland and living in the Arctic.
The (non-conclusive) end
We have built this chapter as a dialogue between four ‘voices’. One ‘voice’, the most central, is
presented as poems of skis, skates, winter and children. The second voice is that of the Moomins and
their coming into terms with their world, Moominland, in midwinter. The authors sounded the third
voice, the ‘voice’ that skis and skates speak in our readings of data. The fourth voice is ours as we,
the three authors, remember and reflect on skis and skates encountering us. Skates, skis and
snowboards participated differently in our lives as well as in the Moomins’ stories or children’s lives.
They take different roles in our biographies. Now, writing this text in Australia, Mervi misses the feel
of slippery ice and freezing wind on red cheeks, while Riikka, writing in Ireland, feels as a ski and
winter expert compared with her Irish colleagues. Zsuzsa, writing in Finland, gave up her
stereotypical image portraying the Arctic as populated by people who all like and can ski well and
where she cannot therefore belong.
Through our poems, we have tried to give equal attention to non-human and human participants in
our studies. This has allowed us to direct our focus towards a perspective that was not part of our
studies at the beginning. Although the original interest of our data production has been in children’s
words – in what they say to us or to each other and teachers – our textual experiment has helped us
not to be confined by it. We cannot make the skates and skis speak in a way that they could do if that
had been our initial focus in our data production, but we can ‘listen’ to skates and skis and find out
how they (con)fuse with children in the ‘everyday’. We have moved from solely reading the field
notes and interview transcripts for what meaning people made, to re-sensitize our perspective and
include in our exploration when and what skates and skis mobilize in children, Moomins and
ourselves in relation to ‘nation-ed environments’. We have shown that skates and skis operate through
touch, smell and sight. They have the ability to mobilize desire and induce intense affects. They seem
to have power to prefigure the multiple and shifting ways of emerging as a child or a young person
in Finland’s cold winter. Yet, they do not predetermine the way childhoods (or our adulthoods) are
experienced in the Arctic.
Exploring the socio-material role of skates and skis can offer opportunities to engage “more
consciously” with materialities and “practices of national homemaking” (Noble, 2002, p. 61) and
increase our understanding of taken-for-granted practices that tend to go unnoticed. Everyday objects
and practices, embodied rituals or unnoticed traditions contribute to forming multiple subjectivities
and ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, 1991) as children ‘make their home’ in the Arctic (see
Noble, 2002). Biographies of skates and skis, as well as children’s bodily know-how and place
sediments, create imaginaries and environments of home and nation. These formulations take hold of
children’s bodies, where their “forces and affects circulate between and are only partially
apprehended by bodies inhabiting” (Merriman & Jones, 2016) the Finnish Arctic.
I don’t have to go straight home now, sometimes I get to go walking outside. Even when it’s
cold, sometimes. Before, I didn’t know my way home but now I know two ways, road and a
path through the forest. At summer, I always ride my bike. Now at winter, I get to walk with
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