The spatial politics of depoliticization: Visionary planning, bioeconomy, and forest capital



Depoliticization is a pivotal political strategy that defines the contemporary governance of core capitalist democracies. This thesis asks how depoliticization manifests itself as a political strategy in the spatial restructuring of the Finnish state space. The spatial politics of depoliticization are examined by the three thesis articles, which focus on visionary planning in urban politics, the legitimation of the forest bioeconomy in the public sphere, and Finnish forest capital’s attempt to influence the state’s strategic direction. These perspectives provide a holistic view of the various depoliticizing and politicizing tendencies, as well as the political and economic contradictions affecting spatial change in Finland.

The thesis examines the societal base of depoliticization by focusing on how capitalist social relations and the capitalist mode of production condition the constitution and differentiation of societal spheres. The differentiation of the economic and the political sphere and the resulting ecological dominance of “the economy” under capitalism provides a unique setting for depoliticization to appear in the form of economization. Acts of demarcation between the political and the economic spheres are based on ontological abstraction, which then faces humanity as a real and concrete product of social activity. The thesis applies strategic-relational state theory and the theories of uneven development to examine depoliticization.

Depoliticization emerges in the context of competing growth models that have a diverging conception of the spatial division of labor in Finland. Amidst urbanization, the urban growth-focused city-regionalist model posits a “winner takes all” spatial structure in which a few select urban areas compete against their global counterparts to attract capital and investment. In contrast, the bioeconomy model seeks to halt the rural decline by transforming the resource-dependent regional economies into ostensibly more sustainable production models, thereby reinvigorating a dispersed spatial structure.

Article I analyzes the depoliticization of visionary planning in the case of the Oulu City Center Vision 2040 project by observing and engaging with policy documentation, research reports, planning events, and the vision itself. Article II examines the depoliticization of the bioeconomy in the context of the 2019 parliamentary elections in Finland through a collection of newspaper articles and items between July 2018 and January 2020. Article III investigates the forest conglomerate UPM’s attempt to politicize the Kaipola paper mill shutdown in August 2020 by using statistical data, the public strategies of UPM, and the online and news media around the Kaipola debate. The cultural political economy (CPE) approach developed prominently by Jessop and Sum forms the overarching methodological framework of the thesis and focuses on the dialectics of materiality and discursivity in political-economic imaginaries. The thesis applies CPE-inspired critical discourse analysis to examine the spatial politics of depoliticization.

The overall contribution of the thesis reveals how the material interdependence of the political sphere with other societal spheres and the social totality of capitalist society produces a specific place for politics that conditions its operational autonomy. The spatial politics of depoliticization are unfolded through the divergent political-economic imaginaries of state spatial development to which different capital fractions, political parties, and regional and class interests are attached. Conceptual stretching and expansive uses of depoliticization are recognized as key and very vexatious problems in the literature. To retain the analytical clarity of depoliticization, the thesis argues that depoliticization should be better grounded in the material developments of each context, evading pan-politicism with more exclusive notions of politics, and even radically decentering politics and the political in the analyses of depoliticization. The normative critique of depoliticization should move from the level of critiquing politics to a critique of the social totality which produces a specific place for politics.

How to Cite

Kellokumpu, V. (2023). The spatial politics of depoliticization: Visionary planning, bioeconomy, and forest capital. Nordia Geographical Publications, 52(1), 1–77.