Vetande, makt, sociologi : Debatten 1948 mellan Veli Verkko och Pekka Kuusi om "det finska ölsinnet"

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Nordisk alkoholtidskrift 8, 1991:4, s. 221–237

Title: Vetande, makt, sociologi : Debatten 1948 mellan Veli Verkko och Pekka Kuusi om "det finska ölsinnet"
Author: Peltonen, Matti
Date: 1991
Language: sv
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10224/4103
Abstract: Matti Peltonen: Knowledge, power, sociology. A dispute in 1948 on the poor ability of the Finns to carry liquor In the early winter of 1948 sociologist Veli Verkko gave an inaugural lecture which sparked lively discussion about the basic principles of alcohol policy. This debate also took on an international character when Verkko's main work Homicides and suicides in Finland and their dependence on national character was published in the Scandinavian studies in sociology series in 1951. Verkko's lecture came just as preparations for a largescale alcohol policy campaign in the April of the same year were in their final stages. The campaign was prepared by Kansalaisryhti, a civic movement financed and directed by the alcohol monopoly, Alko, organization of the time, which wanted to offer a more positive alternative to the oldstyle temperance movement. Gaining the chair in sociology was the high point of Verkko's career. To mark the event, Verkko wanted to publish a new sociological theory based on his empirical findings; this was a racial theory about the special character of the Finnish-speaking nation. In Verkko's view, Finnish-speakers formed a small introverted community whose members had several forefathers in common because of this linguistic isolation. The characteristics of this limited number of forefathers were thus shared by all their descendants. The members of a given linguistic group, nationality or tribe were, according to Verkko, fairly homogeneous in national character. He explained the fact that this hypothesis about the origins of the national character, worked out on a purely mathematical basis, led only in the case of the Finns to negative features in the national character, with the argument that, according to contemporary perceptions, the Finns came from farther East and spoke a different language from the peoples of Western Europe and Scandinavia. In public, Verkko's argument was interpreted from the point of view of alcohol policy. If Finnishness was a racial characteristic, then it was something immutable and beyond cure. Hence the problems that the Finnish intelligentsia saw as deriving from the national character — for instance, the large amount of crimes of violence at the beginning of this century or a style of drinking described as 'drunk-oriented' — would be impossible to change via education and greater sophistication. That is why the material used during the Kansalaisryhti campaign referred to above attacked Professor Verkko's theory with exceptional vigour. All the campaign articles criticizing Verkko were written by the young graduate Pekka Kuusi, who had been the guiding light when the movement was founded in 1945 as a 'front against drunkenness'. According to Kansalaisryhti's ideology, the Finns certainly showed many features of the 'dark natives' in distant countries, but the 'bogeyman of primitivism' could be rooted out from the Finnish soul with good education and the right alcohol policy. The dispute about whether the Finnish 'poor ability to carry liquor' is a biological or cultural phenomenon continued unabated until Verkko's death — and indeed goes on. In view of the fervour of the debate in the late '40s, it is surprising just how unanimous the two sides were. Veli Verkko's theory could just as well have been interpreted culturally. Pekka Kuusi, on the other hand, took the view that the Finnish 'poor ability to carry liquor' was to some extent a genetic racial characteristic. The greatest unanimity of all reigned about the problem itself for which a cure was sought. Nobody questioned the whole myth of a Finnish 'poor ability to carry liquor'. There was not even any disagreement between the two sides about the new alcohol policy, the buyer control system. The Alko organization and Kansalaisryhti saw this as a subtle system of education by which national drinking habits could be watched over and regulated and the antisocial guided into the straight and narrow. To Professor Verkko and other conservatives, the new alcohol policy was exactly the system of discipline and punishment that the drink-crazy Finns needed. In spring 1948, when professor Verkko started stubbornly — and contrary to his earlier scientific opinions — stressing the biological foundation for the negative sides of the Finnish national character, he was primarily defending his reputation and standing as a scientist in the academic world. The 1948 debate aired the concept of 'the Finns'poor ability to carry liquor in the same way as Michel Foucault did with his claim about the suppressed sexuality of the Western world. As in the case of the generally accepted myth of suppressed sexuality, the 'repressice hypothesis', which has served all those sex theoriticians who say that they are here to liberate the oppressed and to make them happy, the myth about the Finns'poor ability to carry liquor has served as a starting point for all reformers od Finnish alcohol policy, abolishers of bad drinking habits and those promising more sophisticated drinking.
Subject: Finland
alcohol
history
culture
education


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