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Pekka Tuominen

Historical and Spatial Layers of Cultural Intimacy: Urban Transformation of a Stigmatised Suburban Estate on the Periphery of Helsinki


Abstract  Kontula, a suburban estate at the margins of Helsinki, Finland, has been plagued by a notorious reputation since its construction in the 1960s. At different moments in history, it has reflected failed urbanity, with shifting emphases on issues such as rootlessness, segregation, intergenerational poverty, and unsuccessful integration of immigrants. Unlike many other suburban estates in Helsinki, it has become a potent symbol of the ills of contemporary urbanity in the vernacular geography of the city. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this article explores how its inhabitants experience the dynamic between the internalised stigma and their responses to it. The focus is on how historically formed and spatially defined senses of belonging and exclusion shape their everyday lives and how they have found ways to challenge the dominant perceptions about their homes and neighbourhoods. I argue that an understanding of cultural intimacy, conceptually developed by Michael Herzfeld, offers a useful way to approach the tension between essentialised categories and lived realities. Rather than simply limiting their agency, the shared stigma enables inhabitants to form powerful senses of belonging. The article emphasises how culturally intimate understandings employ both complex historical trajectories and shifts in relative location to question and confront the stigma in the language of mutual trust and belonging.