Wrapped in Plastic: Transformation and Alienation in the New Finnish Economy

Peer Reviewed


Coming out from the shadow of the economic crisis of the 1990s, the neoliberalizing Finnish state identified another emergent threat: "burnout," a mental disorder characterized by cynicism and loss of productivity affecting nearly all strata of the workforce. Efforts to identify and rehabilitate workers focused on improving "self-awareness," and having individuals reevaluate their relationship with and expectations of society. For many Finnish mental health professionals, burnout stemmedfrom individuals who were too "conscientious," holding attitudes that were increasingly maladaptive in the new competition-oriented economy. Yet for many in rehabilitation centers, calls to "know yourself" paradoxically generated questions of being, and the challenge to come into oneself as a sovereign, beyond these temporally contingent constructions. Many of those under rehabilitative care spoke of finding themselves estranged and metamorphosized in the face of a diagnosis that presented themselves to themselves as an entity yet to be discovered. In this way, rather than focus on the generative potential of institutional categories to construct new subject identities, I instead locate their power in their capacity to open up to examination that which they name. [subjectivity, alienation, emergent disorder, neoliberalism, sovereignty]

Daena Funahashi, January 8, 2013

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of articles on mental and bodily disorders, their emergence, changes and attendent subjectivities. See Elizabeth Anne Davis (2010) The Antisocial Profile: Deception and Intimacy in Greek Psychiatry, Jocelyn Lim Chua (2011) Making Time for the Children: Self-Temporalization and the Cultivation of the Antisuicidal Subject in South India, and Megan Crowley-Matoka and Gala True (2012) No One Wants To Be the Candy Man: Ambivalent Medicalization and Clinician Subjectivity in Pain Management.

Cultural Anthropology has also published articles on sovereignty to varying scope and scale. See Anya Bernstein (2012) More Alive Than All the Living: Sovereign Bodies and Cosmic Politics in Buddhist Siberia, Ari Samsky (2012) Scientific Sovereignty: How International Drug Donation Programs Reshape Health, Disease, and State, and Jessica Cattelino (2012) The Double Bind of American Indian Sovereign-Based Need.

About the Author

Daena Funahashi, December 25, 2012

Daena Funahashi is a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. Her work interrogates the relationship between mental health, politics and ethics in a context of shifting economic imperatives. Currently, she is completing her book manuscript tentatively titled, The Order of Disorder: Anxieties of the New in Finland, in which she explores what the representation of exhaustion and burnout as emergent disorders of neoliberalization in Finland by health experts allows expression about fair exchange as a malleable concept, the idea of the present and belonging. She has also published on racism and the genealogy of “European-ness” (“Identity Politics in Europe: Anxiety and Pleasure in the Spaces in Between,” in The European Mind: Narratives and Identity (Malta University Press 2008). Besides her past ethnographic fieldwork in Finland, she has now expanded her interest in the state management of mental health as it informs production ideals, welfare and subjectivity, to look at the impact of an international health discourse on “happiness” and its reformulations in the context of Thailand.

Related Resources

Finnish media representations of "burnout":

One in Four Workers Show Burnout Symptoms” (YLE, 9 May 2012)

"Työuupumus ei riitä sairausloman perusteeksi" (Kaleva, 23 September 2012)

Public health information and resources:

Tackling Occupational Burnout at the Workplace” from the European Working Conditions Observatory

"Mental Capacity and Strain" from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health 

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1) How does Funahashi differ from other scholarship that examines transformations in economic thinking? What does social change reveal to her interlocutors?  

2) What is the significance of placing under the framework of burnout the diverse manifestations of distress in "the now"?  

3) How and what types of alienation come about for rehabilitees at the rehabilitation centers?  

4) What is the relationship between rehabilitative professionals and rehabilitees? What is the significance of the after-hours discussions held by rehabilitees?

Related Readings

Gherovici, Patricia. 2003. Puerto Rican Syndrome. New York: Other Press.  

Good, Byron, Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, Sandra Teresa Hyde, and Sarah Pinto, eds. 2008. Postcolonial Disorders. Berkeley: University of California Press.  

Nancy, Jean-Luc. 1993. The Birth to Presence. Stanford: Stanford University Press.  

Siegel, James. 2006. Naming the Witch. California: Stanford University Press.  

Song, Hoon. 2006.  Seeing Oneself Seeing Oneself: White Nihilism in Ethnography and Theory. Ethnos 71(4): 470–488.

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