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Doctoral thesis on identity formation among Estonia-Swedes using songs as a tool

Sofia Joons Gylling.
Sofia Joons Gylling

M.A. Sofia Joons Gylling’s doctoral thesis in musicology will be put forth for public defence at the Faculty of Arts, Psycology, and Theology at Åbo Akademi University.

The thesis is entitled ”Det var främlingar och dock fränder” – Estlandssvenska identitetsformeringar med visor som verktyg.

The public defence of the doctoral thesis takes place on 5 April 2024 at 1.15 PM in lecture hall Armfelt, Arken, Tehtaankatu 2, Turku. Professor Emeritus Gunnar Ternhag, Stockholm University, Sweden, will serve as opponent and Professor Johannes Brusila, Åbo Akademi University, as custos. You can also follow the defence online.


The thesis highlights how identity has been created and presented through songs among Estonia-Swedes from the interwar period until today. There have been Swedes in Estonia at least since the 13th century. The group was supplemented over the centuries by newcomers from Sweden and Finland, who were absorbed into Swedish communities in western Estonia. After the proclamation of the Estonian state in 1918, they began to call themselves Estonia-Swedes. During World War II, a major part of the group fled to Sweden.

The study shows how three song-materials were used as identity formation tools among Estonia-Swedes. Two of these consist of songs in dialect. The third consists of songs that were popular among young adults in the interwar period and used in ways similar to modern-day playlists on Spotify. These last songs were first in Swedish and, later, also in Estonian.

Identity formation within groups such as the Estonia-Swedish is affected by nation-building processes in both their current and former homeland. In this context, it has proven to be important to consider who initiated uses of different songs, where the songs have been performed, for whom and with which purposes.

Before World War II, there were not more than about 8 000 Estonia-Swedes in Estonia. Still the identity formation with songs as tools was dynamic, multifaceted, and in some cases initiated by a small group of persons within the community and in Sweden. Songs in dialect allowed the group to stand out in a Sweden-Swedish context, while songs in standard Swedish or Estonian allowed them to tone down their uniqueness and build more general ties with “Swedes in the world” or “modern young people in Estonia”.

Sofia Joons Gylling was born in 1972, in Borås, Sweden. She can be reached by phone +358 40 361 2880 or email sofia.joonsgylling@abo.fi.

The doctoral thesis can be read online through the Doria publication archive. 

Click here for a press photo of the doctoral student.


Instructions for following the doctoral defence remotely:

To follow the defence, you need the Zoom software or the Google Chrome browser. You do not need to create a Zoom account to follow the defence. If you install the application, you participate by clicking on the meeting link, after which you should allow the link to open in the Zoom app.