Postmemory of Family Separation: An Intergenerational Perspective


Project description

The project examines the intergenerational memories and effects of family separation by focusing on 2nd and 3rd generation persons whose families’ pasts include forced migration, persecution, and deportations. The groups studied are Ingrian Finns and Finnish Americans, whose parents/grandparents experienced forced migration after the Russian Revolution, in the Stalin era, and World War II in the Soviet Union. We study to what extent memories of family separation have been transmitted across generations, what becomes hidden over time, and how family separation  influences family structures, quality of relationships, and emotional wellbeing of the 2nd and 3rd generation.

Societally, involuntary family separation is an issue that a growing number of people is facing globally. By focusing on family separation from an intergenerational perspective, this project produces historically-informed and highly applicable research results that will have direct relevance for policy-makers, professionals, and practitioners.

Theoretically, we draw inspiration from memory studies, specifically the concept of postmemory. We conceptualize postmemory as a narrated family memory, re/created by the 2nd and 3rd generation in the intersection of collective and autobiographical memories. We place the transmission of family memories in the context of national memory politics. We inquire what happens to the creation of postmemory when national memory politics push for forgetting. Are transnational family memories possible in the context of a totalitarian state?

The qualitative data consist of biographical interviews among adult persons whose family was affected by forced migrations. We also collect cross-sectional survey data (questionnaire) in Finland, Sweden, and Estonia. 

Research team:

Ph.D. Johanna Leinonen (PI), D.Soc.Sc. Outi Kähäri, D.Soc.Sc. Elina Turjanmaa, and Ph.D. Aleksi Huhta.

Project coordinator

University of Oulu


Johanna Leinonen

Academy Research Fellow