Rethinking the Contemporary Influences of Commerce on Language Use

Lessons for the Åland Islands from an Imperfect Comparison with Madawaska, Maine


  • Kevin Sobel-Read Newcastle School of Law and Justice


The Åland Islands, Madawaska, territorial sovereignty, international commerce, global value chains, protection of regional language and culture


Located in between, but separated from, the mainlands of Finland and Sweden, the Åland Islands have for a century negotiated complex relationships of politics, language and culture with both regions. Åland is an autonomous territory of Finland but its language base is distinctly Swedish rather than Finnish. Technically, Åland’s single official Swedish language is protected by the Finnish constitution and even a ruling of the Council of the League of Nations. But Ålanders have long feared incursions from Finland that might erode the protections for Åland’s Swedish speech. In the academic literature these fears have largely been addressed in terms of the legal competences held by Åland as an island territory and/or the politics that drive Åland’s relationship with its metropole Finland. This research note shows that the Swedish language in Åland may be at threat from a novel angle, namely shifts in both language and imagined community that can occur in the wake of changing global business relationships. To explain this threat, the research note explores the corresponding shifts that have transformed the remote and formerly bilingual region of Madawaska in the northeast United States. Although from a distant location – geographically, politically and culturally – this story of Madawaska stands as an important and potentially controversial cautionary tale for Åland.

Author Biography

Kevin Sobel-Read, Newcastle School of Law and Justice

Kevin Sobel-Read is a US-trained lawyer, legal scholar and anthropologist. Currently Associate Professor and Deputy Dean, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Newcastle School of Law and Justice, Australia, Kevin has previously served, among other roles, as Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Turku, Finland. In addition to receiving a Masters (MA) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University, USA (2012), and a Juris Doctor (JD) from the New York University School of Law (2002), Kevin has completed two years of study at the University of Linköping in Sweden, following a year of high school at the Putaan Lukio in Tornio, Finland. Kevin’s research addresses ideas of sovereignty and in particular Indigenous sovereignty and the sovereignty of small island nations and territories, with a focus on relationships between law, capital flow and governance.




How to Cite

Sobel-Read, K. (2022). Rethinking the Contemporary Influences of Commerce on Language Use: Lessons for the Åland Islands from an Imperfect Comparison with Madawaska, Maine. Journal of Autonomy and Security Studies, 6(2), 131–158. Retrieved from