The Free Folk and Colonialism

Content warning: racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, general violence, sexual violence

Spoiler warning: spoilers for all ASOIAF books and some spoilers for GoT.

Tormund, artwork by DREADlady, commissioned by Virginie. You can find the original post of the artwork here.

He remembered the hearth tales Old Nan told them. The wildlings were cruel men, she said, slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children.

A Game of Thrones, Bran I

Very early on in ASOIAF, we are told these horrible stories about the Free Folk and how monstrous they are. By referring to them as “wildlings” and telling these stories about their barbaric ways, a picture is painted of some sort of terrible uncivilised and threatening hoard of people. The careful reader, however, might be a bit sceptical of these “hearth tales” and wonder if there isn’t more to the story. Which there of course turns out to be. As the books go on, it becomes more and more clear that the treatment of the Free Folk is deeply unfair, and that the Night’s Watch are wasting precious resources on fighting them. As I will argue in this essay, the situation the Free Folk is facing is in many ways reminiscent of what people in our world have faced by colonialism. While the Free Folk weren’t the first people inhabiting their land (that would be the Children of the Forest and the Giants) their land has since been conquered by the Andals. Furthermore, the situation created by the artificial and restrictive border that is the Wall is something many people who have been subjugated by colonialism can relate to (even if they might not have experienced high ice walls specifically). For that and many other reasons, I want to discuss the Free Folk and colonialism. I will ground that discussion specifically in the history of Indigenous people and other marginalised ethnic groups in the Arctic and sub-Arctic of our world, given the Free Folk’s position in northern climates.

It is worth noting that many other people (such as Learned Hands, Girls Gone Canon, and NotACast) have noted how the relationship between the Free Folk and the Night’s Watch (and the Seven Kingdoms in general) bear similarities to relationships between colonial powers and the people they’re subjugating. I have definitely been inspired by their analysis when writing this essay. But I also wanted to add a perspective that I seldom hear discussed, and that is the specific northern flavour of this colonialism. As I will explain more below, I am from Sweden and have family from northern Sweden specifically. So, I can’t help but think of that specific context when considering the Free Folk. Especially once I realised that some of them (the people of the Frozen Shore) keep reindeer, similar to what several Indigenous people in the Arctic and sub-Arctic do and are well-known for doing (Saami Council & German Arctic Office 2021). I will therefore discuss the history of some of these groups. This is partly because I think it is relevant to the analysis, and partly because I think this history is not very well-known. Not in Scandinavia and even less so outside of Scandinavia. And it deserves to be more well-known. As part of my effort to highlight this history (and the current situation of these groups), I have decided to approach this essay a bit differently than my usual essays. For one, the theory and background section is longer than it usually is. This is because I wanted to allow this part to take up space so I could do it justice. But it is also because I have deliberately included a lot more quotes than I usually do because I want to highlight the voices of Indigenous people and other marginalised groups. I want to share their words and not just my interpretation/summery of them (I have however translated some quotes, those that were in Swedish and Norwegian). As such, this essay has become quite long. But I felt like it had to be in order to do the topic justice. I have also elected to include a lot of sources that aren’t traditional academic texts, in order to highlight that academic knowledge production isn’t the only valid form of knowledge. In fact – when it comes to Indigenous people and other marginalised groups, academia is often far from the most appropriate source of knowledge. But now that we have established that, let’s dig into some northern colonialism!

Some historical, geographical, and personal context

Before going further, I would like to talk a bit about my own position in writing this essay. I’m a white person, born and raised in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. As such, I can obviously not speak to the experiences of Indigenous people. But because of the complexity of history and racialisation, I can still speak somewhat to ethnic discrimination and the results of colonialism. Let me explain.

The northern part of what is today called Sweden first became inhabited by the Indigenous Sámi people more or less as soon as the last ice age was over, with the earliest confirmed archaeological find being from 7 800 BCE ( n.d.a). Their traditional land is called Sápmi, and stretches across several contemporary countries, having been colonised by different states throughout the years.

Map of Sápmi. Picture credit: Nordiska Museet 2007.

In this essay, I will use the word Sámi to refer to this group of people and Sápmi to refer to this land. There are slightly different versions of those words, used by different groups in different contexts. For instance, Sámi is sometimes spelt Saami, while Sábme, Sábmie, and Saepmie are other terms for Sápmi. Those terms are used by different Sámi groups. Besides that, there also exists derogatory terms that have been used both historically and today. One such is “l*pp” (or “l*ap” in English). I will generally avoid this term and will only write out the word when it is used in quotes by Sámi people themselves.

As mentioned previously, I am not Indigenous. But I’m not fully Swedish either. My family belongs to the ethnic group called Tornedalians, named after the Torne Valley and Torne River (which constitutes the current border between Sweden and Finland). Nowadays, the area (on both sides of the river) where we have traditionally lived is sometimes called Meänmaa – “our land” in our language (Meänkieli). When exactly Tornedalians came to live in this area is disputed. Some say they emigrated to what is now Sweden from the east around 1 000 CE (Wikipedia n.d. a). Others note theories that they arrived there around 2 000 years ago, or that maybe some version of Tornedalians have always lived in the area but later mixed with groups who have migrated into the area (Pohjanen 2022, 20). Regardless, we have lived there long before Sweden was consolidated into a nation. Some Tornedalians would later move further west and are therefore sometimes referred to by other names, such as Lantalaiset and Kvens.  Today, this is the area that’s considered to be part of Meänmaa:

Map of Meänmaa. Picture credit: Wikipedia n.d. b

On the whole, the migration of the Tornedalians, while it caused some disputes with the Sámi already living in the area, did not amount to the type of colonialisation I will talk about later. It can mainly be seen as the type of migration that has always happened in human history. People moving into an area where people already lived, which causes some conflict but also intermingling. Eventually, however, the area would be colonised by the Swedish state. This led to abuses of both Sámi and Tornedalians. I will begin with the impact on the Sámi.

The Swedish colonialization of Sápmi began during the 14th century but became even more forceful during the 17th century when the Swedish crown realised it could lay claim to the iron and silver resources in the land ( n.d. b). The crown was at that time constantly at war and in need of more resources. When silver was discovered in the Nasafjäll mountain, the crown realised that Northern Sweden, Norrland (“North Land”), could become what colonies in the Caribbean had been to other European nations. The famous chancellor of the realm Axel Oxenstierna apparently said, “I don’t need a colony – I have Norrland!” (ibid). As often is the case with colonialism, the colonization of Sápmi was highly tied up in the Christening of the Sámi, who traditionally practised their own religion. The website which is run by Sametinget, the governmental body of Swedish Sámi, puts it like this:

In order to force the Sámi to abandon their religion and instead attend church services and church education, the Church used different forms of punishment: fines, prison, or death penalties. The holy sites were defiled and drums [used in religious rituals] were burned.

For centuries the Sámi religion had been able to live side by side with Christianity. But from the 17th century onward, the attempts to Christen the Sámi went hand in hand with the Crown’s attempt to conquer the land in the north. When religion became a means of power, the Sámi were made to suffer many forms of abuse, just as has been the case with other Indigenous people throughout the world. n.d. c [my translation from Swedish]

As mentioned above, one motivation for colonialization was to claim natural resources such as silver and iron. In order for the crown to mine these minerals, they often made use of the Sámi, by forcing them into labour. During the industrialisation of Sweden over the coming centuries, even more parts of Sápmi became settled in order to open more mines, mainly iron mines. This continued colonialism was justified by arguing that the Sámi were a primitive people, and the land could be put to better use by a civilised state. Again, a familiar story when it comes to colonialism.

Another event of large historical importance would take place around this time, namely the splitting of Norway and Sweden in 1905. This impacted many Sámi who had previously travelled between land on both the Swedish and (now) Norwegian side of the border, for instance having their reindeer graze by the Norwegian coast in the summer and in the Swedish inland in the winter (Labba 2020). Not all Sámi are reindeer herders, but the reindeer is an important part of Sámi culture and reindeer herding has constituted the livelihood for many Sámi for centuries. Now, however, the Norwegian state started opposing the Sámi moving their reindeer (and themselves) across the border, considering “the nomad life” to be a burden on the country and a “lifestyle” that was incompatible with the interests and structures of “civilised society.” (ibid, 16) The solution to this? Well, in the words of Sámi author Elin Anna Labba:

In 1919 Sweden and Norway solve their common problem through a reindeer grazing convention, which limits how much reindeer can move across the border. Indirectly the states simultaneously decide how many people have to move from their homes by the Atlantic coast.

Starting in 1919 and continuing through the 1920s and part of the 1930s, the county boards in Sweden enact straight-up forced relocations of reindeer herders in order to live up to the agreement with their neighbour country. In the convention, it says that the relocations are to be done in agreement with wishes “from the lap population.” In reality, they have no say.

The government agencies call the solution dislocation. In Sámi another word is born. Bággojohtin. Forced displacement. Or sirdolaččat, like the elders that have been forcibly displaced, call themselves. The moved ones. The first to leave their homes in the belief that they will get to return.

Labba 2020, 16 [my translation from Swedish]

But not only are people forced to relocate from the Atlantic coast, but Sámi in Sweden are also forced to relocate. With so many Sámi moving in from the Norwegian side of the border, the Swedish state feels that there are too many Sámi in the area around Giron, Jielleváre, Jåhkåmåhkke, and Árjepluvve. The so-called “l*ppfogdarna” (“l*p bailiffs”) were the ones calling the shots on behalf of the state and pressured or straight-up forced people to move. And even when l*p bailiffs didn’t directly force Sámi to move, their reindeer weren’t used to being confined to such a small area with so many other reindeer. It wasn’t sustainable. People were forced to move further south. Moving to unfamiliar lands. These were lands where other Sámi have lived before, but it was new to these groups. People longed for their own homelands.

They cried. Eidde told me that. They said farewell to the cot places and the cot meadows. Bloody hell. I’ve thought that they should have gotten something for it. There are such sleek mountains there, and here they’re so ugly. I’ve heard that the mountain Bealčán in the north has such beautiful flowers. My aunt always cried over Bealčán. She who loved flowers. They took farewell to that too. There was like a kiosk with a window. They stood there on either side and cried.

It was lap is to be lap, you know. It was a rule by the bailiffs, like hell. They were so scared for those bailiffs. Isá wasn’t allowed to move from Guvtjávrre but he moved to Vássjá anyway. They snuck down, lawless.

They were supposed to live in dark black cots. Eidde said to “make a big cot for us” and isá built up on a hill, a cot with a window. There was so much light in that cot. And eidde ordered a stove so she could bake. Then they came, the lap bailiff and the land notary and whoever else it was, and you know, lap was to live black. They weren’t allowed to have windows. They were to tear them out. And she was to pay a fine for installing a stove, and for the windows. Whoever touches my stove I’ll report, said eidde. Whoever touches a single nail on the cot I’ll report. She wasn’t scared of anyone. But they were terrible, those lap bailiffs.

Just put that in the book, our history. It’s true.

Válkko Elle Susá, quoted in Labba 2020, 121 [my translation from Swedish, I’ve deliberately not translated Sámi words that aren’t translated in the Swedish copy]

What Válkko Elle Susá says here of the policy “l*p is to be l*p” (“l*pp skall vara l*pp”) was a broad policy the Swedish state enacted at this time, which had its roots in racist and eugenic thought. Sametinget writes this about the political thought at the start of the 20th century, and its consequences:

It began being claimed that the Sámi were born with certain “race characteristics” that made them inferior to the rest of the population. Therefore, they could not live as “civilized” people in real houses. If they did, they would become “lazy” and start neglecting their reindeer. That would result in all Sámi people having to become beggars because they did not have any skills besides reindeer husbandry. The Riksdag [the Swedish parliament] decided in 1928 that the Sámi who were not reindeer herders would not have any Sámi rights either. For example, they were given no special right to hunt and fish in the areas where their ancestors had lived. In this way, the state drew a sharp boundary between the Sámi living on reindeer husbandry and those who support themselves in other ways. The Sámi schooling was also affected by racism. A law about a special nomad school came in 1913 which stated that teachers would walk around the mountainous regions in the summer. There, the youngest schoolchildren would be taught in the family’s cot for a few weeks each year during the first three school years. The rest of the school time consisted of winter courses in regular schools for three months a year for three years. The teaching would only cover a few subjects and it had to be at such a low level that the children were not “civilized”. Children of nomadic Sámi were not allowed to attend public primary schools. n.d. d [my translation from Swedish]

This occurred during a time of generally increased nationalism and racism. In 1922, The State’s Race Biological institute (Statens rasbiologiska institut) was created in Uppsala in Sweden, by the “scientist” Herman Lundborg (Hagerman 2016, 961). He wished to research the Swedish race and the mixing of races in Sweden. This was done in several ways, both by looking at records of marriages and births (often supplied by church officials who had access to so-called “church books” that recorded this), and physical examinations of people. He, and other “scientists”, travelled around Sweden to examine the Sámi people and other groups that were considered inferior (such as Finns, Tornedalians, Roma, Jews, disabled people, etc). The physical examination of Sámi people often happened in collaboration with local churches or schools (Hagerman 2016, 984). Another part of the eugenics movement in Sweden that is worth mentioning here is the forced sterilisations that took place during this time. Again, the minorities mentioned above (as well as working-class women) were the main targets of these policies (Hübinette & Lundström 2014). This was an attempt to “better” the “stock” of the Swedish nation. In total, around 60 000 people were sterilised between 1935 and 1975 (Johannisson 1991). Sweden’s population in 1975 was approximately 8 million (SCB 1977, 9).

As Hübinette and Lundström point out, in Sweden at the time, ethnic minorities were either to be completely assimilated or completely segregated from the rest of society (Hübinette & Lundström 2020, 33). The former was the case with the Tornedalians (more on this later) and the latter with the Sámi. All as part of a process to make Sweden Swedish. A similar process took place in other states that colonised Sápmi, which Liisa-Rávná Finbog describes in the Norwegian context (2022b). During the 19th and 20th centuries, Norway was properly establishing itself as a nation and “as part of that work, much focus was given to establishing an own Norwegian identity. In other words, in the state of Norway, you were to be Norwegian.” (ibid) [my translation from Norwegian] This led to a forced Norwegianization of the Sámi, which for instance took place at the schools Sámi children were forced to attend (Minde 2005). As one person, Per Fokstad, who lived through this process put it as an adult:

“Now and then I think about this, there is such a large pain that I can’t sleep. I lay awake at night, I feel like I need to speak out. Tell someone about this, all of it that hurts, that’s been pushed down. There is something inside of me that screams: don’t smother me. Something that needs air, that wants to rise, that wants to live. But we got branded. We got pushed down and I can never forget it. Never forget what it was like. Everything was taken from us. We weren’t allowed to speak our mother tongue. No one listened to us.”

Dahl 1970, 10. Quoted in Minde 2005, 15. [my translation from Norweigan]

Policies like that, and the corresponding Swedish policies, might not exist anymore, but that doesn’t mean that the oppression has ceased. Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia are still colonising the Sápmi. Many of these nations have taken steps to recognise the Sámi as an indigenous people and national minority (in Sweden it’s one of five official national minorities, the other ones being Finns, Tornedalians, Jews, and Roma) but again, this doesn’t mean the oppression is over. The nations are still laying claim to land and resources, as has for instance been seen in Sweden in the fight against logging and mining (Johansson 2022) and recently in Norway against the green colonialism that is windmills on reindeer grazing lands (Ahtone 2023).

Members of the Sámi youth organisation Sáminuorra as well as the youth climate organisation Fridays for Future protesting proposed mining plans in Gállok, on the Swedish side of Sápmi. Sámi has protested this mine since around 2013. This photo is from 2022. Photo credit: Fridays for Future (retrieved from Johansson 2022).

But before moving on, I would like to return to Tornedalians. Similarly to Sámi in Norway, Tornedalians in Sweden were expected to assimilate into Swedish culture, and this too was intensified during the 19th and 20th centuries. One big shift was of course when the border was drawn between Finland and Sweden in 1809. The border was drawn along the Torne River, splitting Meänmaa and its people in two. As author Bengt Pohjanen says of the border:

”Us Meänkieli-speaking shore-dwelling Finns have always lived in Meänmaa and experienced both sides of the Torne River as part of one culture. After all, our friends and cousins lived on the other side of the river. The border has created three-eyed people. We needed two eyes to see, and a third so we could overlook.

“There isn’t a whiff of sin in smuggling,” said a Laestadian preacher who had been fined for smuggling knives. We have experienced the customs as offensive gates and unnecessary obstacles. There’s no wonder that the customs officers are called hurtat, dogs.

Pohjanen 2022, 20. [[my translation from Swedish, “hurtat” and the Swedish translation Pohjanen gives, “byracka” is difficult to translate. It’s maybe closer to hound or perhaps mongrel, used to describe a mean/feral/wild dog. It is definitely used derogatory here.]

The border also had huge consequences on language. Tornedalians have traditionally spoken a version of Finnish, which is today referred to as Meänkieli (“our language”), not Swedish. As mentioned, when the border between Finland and Sweden was drawn, no one bothered about ethnic or language borders. Loads of Tornedalians ended up on the Swedish side of the border, and they were increasingly pressured to assimilate into Swedish culture and speak Swedish (Kväner, Lantalaiset, Tornedalingar: Sannings- och Försoningskommissionen n.d. a). I have several relatives who have put in so-called “work cottages” during the 1920s, vocational schools for poor children. The children lived at these cottages where they got basic schooling and were taught different trades while having to work to earn their upkeep (UR 2018, 12:36). They were also taught to be productive Christian Swedish citizens. This is one example of how the oppression of Tornedalians has been (and is) wrapped up in class oppression as well. Many Tornedalians have lived in rural areas, often working in the mines and forests. Author Bengt Pohjanen also points out how language plays into the intersecting oppressions, both from one’s own community and those outside of it:

“…the oppression from our own, the fancy folk, finiit ihmiset, “the masters on the devil’s level”, police, teachers, customs’ officials who had denied their languages, their culture for our own good. (…) Our own middle class has been, and seems to remain, the Meänkieli-speaking cultural bearers’ ever-present problem. (…) Hullunfinit ihmiset, crazy fancy people, were ummikot (monolingual Swedes). Niitä hääty passata ja varoa. (You had to wait on them, watch for them, it wasn’t even proper to speak to them).”

Pohjanen 2022, 16. [my translation from Swedish]

Swedish was the language of fancy folk, of civilised folk. Of course, this also permeated the education the poor children in rural areas were to get in working cottages. They were forbidden from speaking Meänkieli, were only to speak Swedish, and those who disobeyed were often beaten. All to turn them into Godfearing, proper productive citizens. As my own grandfather put it:

“First and foremost, I have to say that there was an iron discipline. If we turned into anything – we turned into either ruffians or weaklings.”

UR 2018, 13:09-13:19. From the documentary ”Man grät och längtade hem” from 1977, a cli of which is shown in the UR documentary. Quote translated from Swedish to English by me.

Many internalised this discipline to the degree that they tried to get their children to only speak Swedish too, an experience that Tornedalian Roland Jatko has written about (Jatko 2011). As he puts it, this can be considered a form of colonialism and cultural imperialism. What’s more, this colonialism has been so successful that many Tornedalians now feel unsure of what their cultural identity really entails. As Jatko writes:

What does it matter where we come from, when we arrived, and what we’ve called ourselves through history? No people on the taiga can say that we’ve always been here because we all arrived after the ice melted. Where did those who made the rock carvings at Aarevaara come from, those who named the places, and those who renamed them? (…) My homelands have been Sámi hunting grounds and fishing waters once. When we came and took their fishing waters, hunting grounds, and reindeer aren’t written down in any history book, and neither where we came from and why we took their land. The only thing I know is that we did it because we could. (…) Do we have to rely on unreliable DNA tests to try to prove who we are? What are we to do with that evidence? Argue that we are an Indigenous people because we lived in the river valleys before Sweden even existed? The Kvens tried that, but after swallowing the Swedish culture in full the state said we weren’t culturally distinct enough to be an Indigenous people. (…) The only thing I can say is that we’re still here, even though everyone is trying to kill our culture with their silence.

Jatko 2019. [my translation from Swedish]

As researchers Hübinette and Lundström puts it, what the Swedish state did against both the Sámi and Tornedalians amounted to “forced assimilation aiming at outright cultural and linguistic extermination” (2014, 429). And as mentioned above, similar to the Sámi, Tornedalians were also subject to eugenic examinations. However, there are some relevant differences between Tornedalians and Sámi. One such is that some Tornedalians have participated in the oppression of Sámi both historically and today (Moreno 2020; Jatko 2021). Trying to assert their own rights and fighting for their interests have often resulted in opposing Sámi. That’s not to say all Tornedalians have acted that way, and with the long history between the ethnic groups, there are also plenty of people who are both Sámi and Tornedalian (Karvonen 2022). But another difference between Sámi and Tornedalians is that while a few generations back, Tornedalians weren’t considered white and Swedish, we generally are today. This is something Hübinette and Lundström discuss as a way racial boundaries are constantly renegotiated. We’ve been successfully assimilated.

So, growing up, I never really experienced direct discrimination because of my ethnicity. Because it had in large parts been erased. My dad never taught me Meänkieli, probably partly because he was forced to stop speaking it at school as a child. Work cottages weren’t around anymore when he went to school, but Swedish was still to be spoken in schools (UR 2018, 13:48). Even by children like him who didn’t speak a word of it when they started school. However, in later years, my dad has started to relearn his mother’s tongue and I’m trying to learn it for the first time. This is also happening at a time when the historical discrimination against Tornedalians is gaining more attention. In 2020, the Swedish government appointed a truth and reconciliation commission that “shall investigate violations and abuse that Tornedalians, Kvens and Lantalaiset were subjected to as a result of the assimilation policies of the 19th and 20th centuries.” (Kväner, Lantalaiset, Tornedalingar: Sannings- och Försoningskommissionen n.d. b) This is all to say, I’m white and I’m not Indigenous. But I do have a personal and familial experience that relates to being part of a minority ethnic group in a northern climate that has been affected by colonialism.

Some more historical, geographical and theoretical context

Having said that, I thought it would be helpful to discuss colonialism some more. What it is, how it has worked historically and today, and specifically in some northern contexts.  First of all, what do I mean by colonialism? On a basic level, it is of course when one state lays claim to an area that it has not previously claimed, often exploiting its land and people along the way. But it’s also more than that. As Sámi scholar Dr Liisa-Rávná Finbog puts it:

However much we are accustomed to thinking of colonization as a process that aims to dispossess land from Indigenous peoples, colonialism is much more layered. In addition to the stealing of land and material things (and sometimes even people), the process of colonization is also about imposing the colonizers’ worldviews and values upon the colonized, erasing Indigenous knowledges and ways of live. This is epistemicide, a colonial killing of Indigenous ways of being, of knowing, and of doing- our ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies.

Finbog 2022a.

That this has been the case in regards to Sápmi and the Sámi has probably been clear already in this essay. But they are of course not the only people of the north in our world that has suffered through these kind of processes. As a text by the Saami Council and German Arctic Office points out, there are a lot of different Indigenous people that live in these Arctic and sub-Arctic areas:

The distinct cultures and territories of Arctic Indigenous Peoples extend over 30 million square kilometres in seven countries and three continents. In Fennoscandia, Arctic Indigenous Peoples include the Saami in northern territories of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Northwest Russia, an area also named Sápmi. The land of Inuit, Inuit Nunaat, stretches over Chukotka (Russia), Alaska (USA), Canada, and Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland). Some examples of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in the North American region are Aleuts, Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Dene, Gwich‘in and Athabaskans. Just like the Saami and Inuit, Gwich‘in and Athabaskans are cross border people. In the vast territories of the Russian Federation, a few examples of Arctic Indigenous Peoples are Nenets, Khanty, Mansi, Even, Evenk, Yukaghir and Chukchi, residing all the way from the Kola Peninsula, through Siberia and to the Far East.

Saami Council & German Arctic Office 2021, 2.

I, unfortunately, do not have the space to discuss all these cultures here, but I want to note their existence. People live across the Artic and sub-Arctic regions. These are not empty lands. People with varying cultures live here and have done for millennia. While the land could be considered scarce in resources in some ways, people have lived there and have had a very strong relationship with the land. For many cultures, this includes their connection to other beings residing on the land, with reindeer for instance holding a special status in several cultures. In total, there are about 24 reindeer herding peoples in the world, and the majority reside in these Arctic and sub-Arctic areas (Saami Council & German Arctic Office 2021, 4).  Today, reindeer herding is threatened in many places, both by colonialism and climate change. This is for instance the case in many parts of Sápmi. With the traditional grazing lands of reindeer being destroyed, so are the culture and livelihood of many people are too. Similarly, other Indigenous people are experiencing changes to the environment where they traditionally hunt and fish. But there is more than “just” food, culture, and livelihood at stake here. As Dr Liisa-Rávná Finbog explains (when discussing protests by Sámi activists in Oslo) Indigenous people often have a different conceptualisation and relationship to land than people in the West.

Sámi, like most Indigenous philosophies, teaches us that the world is made up of relations – a nexus of connections, between and to people, land, waters, beings, spirits, and entities. Born to and of the land, and grounded in these connections, said relationality seeds a system of kinship where we are made into kin as much as we make kin. The worlds we live in (and besides) are as such performed into being through our interactions with everything that lives in and on the lands and waters we belong to. It is as such a world of relations between and through everything in existence.

We are all equal within this worlds-of-relations, and we all have subjective will. As such, when you claim ownership of something- whether land or people- you are in truth subjugating their will. We have no word for subjugation in our languages. In fact, our (Indigenous) understanding of the term comes from our experience of being subjugated and dehumanized by colonial nations. (…) The use of landback in Oslo by the Sámi activists, is not a demand to return ownership of lands. It is a demand to respect Sámi sovereignty and ways of life. It is a demand to respect the sovereignty of the land, refusing the notion that she can be owned. It is a demand to respect the necessary connection between all living things, and to never enforce your will onto others, subjugating theirs.”

Finbog 2023.

But since Western countries don’t see land this way, they have often been able to claim that Indigenous lands are unpopulated, a “Terra Nullius, or “nobody’s land” (Finbog 2021). Therefore, the land can be claimed, settled, and both people and land subjugated. As mentioned previously, the results of this are still evident with the ongoing colonisation of Sápmi.

Sámi youth and other activists protesting in solidarity outside of Norwegian government buildings in February 2023. They are protesting windfarms on Sámi land that the Norwegian Supreme Court has deemed illegal, but which have not been removed after over 500 days. Photo: OLE BERG-RUSTEN / NTB / AFP via Getty Images (retrieved from Ahtone 2023).

Another important aspect of colonialism is the “othering” of the colonised people. Dr Finbog discusses “othering” in relation to Sámi in Norway:

According to the Sámi folklorist Stein Roar Mathisen puts it, this process can be seen in the relationship between the Norwegian people and Sámi. Concretely, he argues that the Sámi culture has represented something fundamentally strange, which up until our time has served a function as a contrast to the Norwegian culture. Therefore, the Sámi has been categorised as The Other. The use of The Other as a contrasting function is not new. For instance, in her ground-breaking book “The Other Sex” from 1949, Simone de Beauvoir has shown how the woman is defined by – and works as a contrast to – the man, who is “the subject […]. The Absolute.” Edward Said on the other hand contributed with the book “Orientalism” from 1978 where he describes how the West for centuries has created a picture of the Orient that has led to it becoming Europe’s defining contrast. In their different ways, Beauvoir and Said have therefore shown how usage of The Other as a category can be used to create metanarratives, that don’t just convey knowledge about, but also exercises power over the people that are put into the category.”

Finbog 2022b. [my translation from Norweigan]

As Finbog points out, by categorising a group of people as The Other, power is exercised over them. For one, they are made into something “fundamentally strange”, which affects how people interact with them. But this categorisation also impacts their orientation in the world, impacting the paths that become available to them and which obstacles they’ll meet (Ahmed 2006, 112). In our world today, someone who has been designated as Other might encounter a myriad of “stopping devices” when navigating the world, from being “randomly selected” at the airport to struggling to get promoted at work (Ahmed 2006, 140).

When Indigenous people are made into Other, part of what colonizers see as other and strange has often been their conceptualisation of sex, gender, and sexuality. As Dr Finbog puts it:

In imperial Europe, sexuality and gender was (and still is) understood from a patriarchal hierarchy where men where superior to women; and white superior to BIPOC. These (false) differences were consequently encoded into Western Law, obligation, and behavior. When the colonial structures of the West were imposed on Indigenous communities, thus came the enforcement of heteropatriarchy, a socio-political system in which cisgender males and heterosexuals have authority over cisgender females and other sexual orientations and gender identities. But historically, sexual diversity has actually been the norm rather than the exception among Indigenous peoples. (…) Like many Indigenous communities, Sámi society historically practiced a form of equality between individuals characterized on a complementarity of domains, roles, and tasks. There is also evidence to suggest that the notion of gender was fluid, allowing for a movement between gender roles. (…) There is also evidence to suggest that Sámi sexuality was heavily targeted – especially the sexuality of women and non-binary individuals. Sources from the 17th century, for instance, shows colonial officials disapproving of Sámi sexuality – deeming it immoral and unseemly.

Finbog 2022a.

Here we see how anything that doesn’t conform to Western gender and sexuality norms is demonised, be it cis women being sexually active or queer/trans people existing. Those breaking binary gender norms have in particular been seen as some combination of sinful, uncivilised and exotic (Towle & Morgan 2006). To that point, I wanted to share an excerpt from a talk between Timimie Gassko Märak and Ivvár Ovllá Nilla Pinja, who are both non-binary Sámi.

Nilla Pinja: In the Sámi religion we have so many, so much like really feminine icons and gods like: Juoksáhkká, Máttaráhkká, Sáráhkká, Uksáhkká and they are like really strong and… And I think that the world we have has been really different back in days.


Gassko Märak: They [Sáráhkká, Uksáhkká and Juoksáhkká] are called like the three sisters. Yeah. The three sisters, and when you talk about it in English and Swedish you talk about them as like goddesses, and they have different roles like in Sápmi. And you and I were talking earlier today about, about like the Sámi non-binary experience. And one of the reasons it took so long for me to realise like my transness or my non-binaryness is because Sápmi has a totally different femininity. Like I was raised with another way of what femme is. And then you said, it’s like with Sáráhkká, Uksáhkká, Juoksáhkká, it’s like…They have like… they are more human than godlike. They have powers but like everyone in Sápmi, they have their role, like they do what they’re supposed to do. And they can be like cheeky, they can, they can have bad days.

Nilla Pinja: Yes, they are big personalities. And not like some holy figures. Maybe not always so caring and soft and kind. They can also be really dangerous, and they do really what they want.

Gassko Märak: Yes! And that is also very different from like Western religion, where it’s like something that is very holy and you can just like, if you say this and if you sacrifice this then everything will be good because this person is always good if you are. But like the Sámi gods, they don’t give a shit. No but you’re doing it, but I’m having a day today so… you’re pregnant, is it going to be a boy, is it going to be a girl, or is it going to be something different? I don’t know, depends on my mood! So, I suppose you and I were that mood, maybe.

Nilla Pinja: Yeah, and it’s also like, really… when you think, all the other Indigenous cultures and… and for example, the third gender, they have been like… in some other Indigenous cultures they have always been there. They have. And so like, it really makes me think, the Western influence, and what the colonialism has done in all this.

Gassko Märak & Nilla Pinja 2021.

That is all to say, Sámi understanding of gender has been quite different from Western understandings, and Sámi religion also incorporates this view of gender. Furthermore, as Nilla Pinja mentions here, many Indigenous cultures have had conceptualisations of gender that go beyond the Western binary views. On Turtle Island (the lands colonised by the USA and Canada), the term Two-Spirit is often used by various native nations as an umbrella term to describe gender and sexual identities beyond the binary (Neptune 2018). What exactly Two-Spirit means can vary between native nations (and individuals) but the term is often used as an umbrella term specifically to create common ground and help educate about traditional teachings. In many Indigenous societies, Two-Spirit people have traditionally held a proper and accepted place. This was based on spiritual teachings that all life is sacred. Geo Neptune, who is Passamaquoddy and Two-Spirit, notes the following about the meaning and history of Two-Spirit identity:

To illustrate the diversity of what Two-Spirit contain, consider the following:

In Lakota, the word winkte means “to be as a woman” and refer to Two-Soul Lakota people who transgress boundaries of gender from what may be considered male to female.

In Diné, nádleehi means “those who transform” and refers to one of four genders: masculine-feminine, masculine-masculine, feminine-masculine, and feminine-feminine. Each gender has its own word in the Diné language.

And those are just two nation specific examples, there are so many more! Each nation’s understanding of gender and sexual diversity is different and grounded in specific spiritual beliefs. Although all nations don’t have a concept of Two-Spirit people, across those indigenous nations that do, Two-Spirit people were historically held in high regard and often considered sacred or divine, holding important positions like matchmakers, medicine people, or warriors on the front lines of battle. Many Two-Spirit people perform roles traditionally assigned to both men and women.

Neptune 2018.

Many more examples could be given (and I go into some more in my essay about trans history), but the point I wanted to make is that many Indigenous people have broader understandings of gender and sexuality than Western cultures have. While some Indigenous people (for instance Two-Spirit people) also use terms like trans, non-binary, queer or gay to describe themselves, not all do and Westerners should be careful when escribing these labels to them (for more discussion, see for instance Roen 2006; Boellstorff, Cabral, Cádenas, Cotten, Stanley, Young, and Aizura 2014). Westerners already have a history of telling Indigenous people how to identify in regard to gender and sexuality, we should not do it again.

A caution should also be made regarding the term “third gender” which has often been used both in academia and outside it to describe gender identities and expression outside the gender binary that has traditionally existed in non-Western contexts (Towle & Morgan 2006). While not all use of that term is problematic, Towle and Morgan raises several reasons to why it’s often used in a problematic way, especially by Western academics:

The “third gender” is a uniquely Western concept produced by a society just beginning to grapple with the theoretical, social, political, and personal consequences of nondichotomous gender variability.

It is thus an apt rhetorical and analytic device for the current historical moment, because it can accommodate contradictory social impulses; it signals both tolerance for cultural diversity and adherence to Western categories. Rather than accept uncritically the need for a “third” gender category, though, we should ask how “our” narratives about “them” (cultural others) reflect our own society’s contradictory agendas concerning sexuality, gender, and power. In spite of the obvious imaginative and political potential created by the awareness of gender diversity across cultures, several flaws emerge in the utilization of “third gender” concepts. In the remainder of this essay we enumerate and illustrate these flaws, which we organize as follows:

  1. The primordial location. “Third gender” societies are accorded a primordial, foundational location in our thinking, as though they underlay or predated Western gender formulations.
  2. Reductionism and exclusionism. The “third gender” concept lumps all nonnormative gender variations into one category, limiting our understandings of the range and diversity of gender ideologies and practices.
  3. Typological errors. By identifying “third gender” types, the concept ignores the diversity of experience within categories and glosses over the often contentious processes through which social formations, relations, and hierarchies are created, lived, negotiated, and changed.
  4. Inconsistent use of the culture concept. Does culture facilitate or delimit social change?
  5. The West versus the rest. “Third gender” concepts may isolate the West, for analytic purposes, from other societies, thereby reinforcing our ethnocentric assumptions; inhibiting us from forging alliances across national or cultural borders; and inducing us to focus on diversity between cultures while ignoring diversity, or the complexities of social change, within them.
Towle & Morgan 2006, 671.

As I hope has been made clear here, in general, while many Indigenous people have shared struggles and there are similarities in their understandings of gender, this should not be generalised. Especially by white people. What can be said, however, is that many share experiences of oppression from colonialists who have had a very binary, cisnormative, heteronormative, and sexist understanding of gender and sexuality.

Free Folk cultures and southern prejudice

When we first hear about the Free Folk in the prologue of A Game of Thrones, it’s in the context of the Night’s Watch looking for them and assessing them as a threat. Given that the chapter is told from the point of view of a Night’s Watchman, the Free Folk are immediately positioned as the enemy. In the next chapter, Bran I, we hear more tales about the Free Folk as Bran remembers Old Nan telling stories about them. In these stories, the Free Folk are described as cruel and scary, allying with literal monsters and drinking blood. Of course, the Free Folk is also referred to as Wildlings here, giving the general impression of them being a wild uncivilised folk and a threat. This is expanded upon when we learn more about Mance, and how he might be trying to invade the North. With that, the Free Folk are positioned as a wild hoard that will threat civilised society. But as I mentioned in the introduction, this first view of the Free Folk slowly gets more nuanced. In ACOK, Jon meets Craster who is undeniably a monster, but he also meets Craster’s daughters and later Ygritte. The reader eventually learns that other Free Folk also think Craster is horrible. Generally speaking, Free Folk aren’t monsters, and what Craster is doing has more in common with someone like Walder Frey than Free Folk in general (as for instance, NotACast has pointed out).

As for the threat from the Free Folk, throughout ACOK the Night’s Watch worry about the fact that the Free Folk has abandoned their villages to gather with Mance. But what might at first look seem like a mustering of an army later turns out to be the gathering of a whole people (or rather several peoples) to escape an apocalyptic threat. They’re fleeing the cold, the lethal change to their land. I sometimes hear people describe the land above the Wall as uninhabitable, a sort of cold barren wasteland, but clearly people have managed to live there for thousands of years. They have tried to move south before, but this mass migration is new. Now that their lands are changing, they truly cannot stay. I think a parallel can be noted here to how Indigenous people in our world are impacted by climate change. Of course, the Others aren’t just a metaphor for climate change. But there are parts of them that work that way. They do change the climate and pose a deadly threat. And as such it’s darkly fitting that the Free Folk are the ones to be affected first and (so far) in the harshest way. As I mentioned previously, many Indigenous people in the Arctic and sub-Arctic are being affected by climate change as it’s wrecking their traditional lands and therefore also their way of life (Saami Council & German Arctic Office 2021). One such example is how the warmer winters (in addition to the cutting down of forests) are making it more difficult for reindeer to find food, which has huge impacts on for instance the Sámi. It’s difficult not to think about that when reading passages like this, from when Jon oversees the Free Folk going through the Wall:

After the riders came the men of the Frozen Shore. Jon watched a dozen of their big bone chariots roll past him one by one, clattering like Rattleshirt. Half still rolled as before; other had replaced their wheels with runners. They slid across the snowdrifts smoothly, where the wheeled chariots were foundering and sinking.

The dogs that drew the chariots were fearsome beasts, as big as direwolves. Their women were clad in sealskins, some with infants at their breasts. Older children shuffled along behind their mothers and looked up at Jon with eyes as dark and hard as the stones they clutched. Some of the men wore antlers on their hats, and some wore walrus tusks. The two sorts did not love each other, he soon gathered. A few thin reindeer brought up the rear, with the great dogs snapping at the heels of straggles.

A Dance with Dragons, Jon XII.

What will happen to that reindeer now that they have to live in a completely new territory below the Wall? What will happen with the people of the Frozen Shore, how will this impact their culture and way of life? It seems like reindeer are an important part of their culture, given that it’s mentioned that they both keep reindeer and that some of them have reindeer antlers on their hats. That indicates that reindeer holds some sort of cultural significance for them. There is not enough textual evidence to say much more than that – but I do want to note the potential parallel to reindeer herding Indigenous people in our world and how changing climates impact them and their reindeer. Such change can impact entire cultures, especially if reindeer hold strong cultural significance. When reindeer herding is more than just one’s livelihood, when it’s part of one’s culture and one’s relationship to the earth and land, being forced to relocate like this can have huge consequences.

A man from the Frozen Shore and his reindeer. Art by Noah aka @samanthatarly, commissioned by me.

Something else that I wanted to touch on here is how many different Free Folk cultures there are. In the eyes of most of Westeros, the Free Folk are just a hoard of wild folk, but as we learn when Jon grows closer to them, there’s much more to them than that. They’re not just uncivilised brutes, they have a culture. Or rather, several different cultures. They create things just like in the land south of the Wall: clothing, jewellery, music, etc. They have traditions and customs, and these all vary between different tribes.

There were cookfires all along the river, amongst wayns and carts and sleds. Many of the wildlings had thrown up tents, of hide and skin and felted wool. Others sheltered behind rocks in crude lean-tos, or slept beneath their wagons. At one fire Jon saw a man hardening the points of long wooden spears and tossing them in a pile. Elsewhere two bearded youths in boiled leather were sparring with staffs, leaping at each other over the flames, grunting each time one landed a blow. A dozen women sat nearby in a circle, fletching arrows. (…) There was no doubting which tent was the king’s. It was thrice the size of the next largest he’d seen, and he could hear music drifting from within. Like many of the lesser tents it was made of sewn hides with the fur still on, but Mance Rayder’s hides were the shaggy white pelts of snow bears. The peaked roof was crowned with a huge set of antlers from one of the giant elks that had once roamed freely throughout the Seven Kingdoms, in the times of the First Men

A Storm of Swords, Jon I.

Along with the Tormunds and the Longspears rode other sorts of wildlings, though; men like Rattleshirt and the Weeper who would as soon slit you as spit on you. There was Harma Dogshead, a squat keg of a woman with cheeks like slabs of white meat, who hated dogs and killed one every fortnight to make a fresh head for her banner; earless Styr, Magnar of Thenn, whose own people thought him more god than lord; Varamyr Sixskins, a small mouse of a man whose steed was a savage white snow bear that stood thirteen feet tall on its hind legs.


And there were folks fiercer even than Varamyr, from the northernmost reaches of the haunted forest, the hidden valleys of the Frostfangs, and even queerer places: the men of the Frozen Shore who rode in chariots made of walrus bones pulled along by packs of savage dogs, the terrible ice-river clans who were said to feast on human flesh, the cave dwellers with their faces dyed blue and purple and green. With his own eyes Jon had beheld the Hornfoot men trotting along in column on bare soles as hard as boiled leather. He had not seen any snarks or grumpkins, but for all he knew Tormund would be having some to supper.

Half the wildling host had lived all their lives without so much as a glimpse of the Wall, Jon judged, and most of those spoke no word of the Common Tongue. It did not matter. Mance Rayder spoke the Old Tongue, even sang in it, fingering his lute and filling the night with strange wild music.

A Storm of Swords, Jon II

“As they passed, each warrior stripped off his treasures and tossed them into one of the carts that the stewards had placed before the gate. Amber pendants, golden torques, jewelled daggers, silver brooches set with gemstones, bracelets, rings, niello cups and golden goblets, warhorns and drinking horns, a green jade comb, a necklace of freshwater pearls… all yielded up and noted down by Bowen Marsh. One man surrendered a shirt of silver scales that had surely been made for some great lord. Another produced a broken sword with three sapphires in the hilt.

And there were queerer things: a toy mammoth made of actual mammoth hair, an ivory phallus, a helm made from a unicorn’s head, complete with horn.”

A Dance with Dragons, Jon XII

As we can see, there’s a lot more to the Free Folk than the people below the Wall might think. Sure, some of the treasures mentioned above have probably been acquired south of the Wall, but definitely not all of them. A lot is Free Folk made. Besides the quotes above, there are also several more mentions in the books about adorned clothing, armour (bronze and otherwise), masks, etc. The more you look for it, the clearer it becomes that just because the land beyond the Wall is cold and in some ways has fewer resources than below the Wall, that doesn’t mean that the Free Folk can’t create things (this is something I have tried to make clear with the artwork used in this essay). They can make things that aren’t just shabby fur haphazardly sewn together.

The Free Folk in Game of Thrones, picture retrieved from Watchers on the Wall.

The Free Folk cultures are rich and complex, even if it’s not in ways the people south of the Wall would appreciate. A large reason why the people south of the Wall don’t appreciate their culture is plain old prejudice and xenophobia. But a contributing factor is probably also the lack of written records about the Free Folk, apart from ones from the perspective of maesters or lords. Free Folk history is oral history, and just as in our world, such history is generally not seen as reliable or proper. Something else to note is the mention of how a lot of Free Folk only speak the old tongue, not the common tongue. The first men spoke this language too, but those south of the Wall has forgotten it after getting more assimilated with Andal culture. This reminded me of what Pohjanen (2022) writes about how the “fancy” Tornedalians would abandon their language to speak the language of the richer majority population, and at the same time take up positions where they helped police and control other Tornedalians. This is but one example from real life about how the usage of language plays a part in ethnic and class-based oppression.

Before moving on, I wanted to comment on one more thing about Free Folk culture, namely their relationship to the land. In general, it seems like those who are believers of the Old Gods have a close relationship to nature, more so than for instance those who believe in the Faith of the Seven. But what sets the Free Folk especially apart is their philosophy regarding land rights. When Ygritte and Jon discuss the land of the Gift, and how it’s been abandoned, their different view on land comes up.

“Maybe they were tired of fighting. Tired of barring their doors every night and wondering if Rattleshirt or someone like him would break them down to carry off their wives. Tired of having their harvests stolen, and any valuables taken.” But if the Wall should fall, all the north will lie within the reach of raiders.

“You know nothing, Jon Snow. Daughters are taken, not wives. You’re the ones who steal. You took the whole world, and built the Wall t’ keep the free folk out.”

“Did we?” Sometimes Jon forgot how wild she was. “How did that happen?”

“The gods made the earth for all men t’ share. Only when the kings come with their crowns and steel swords, they claimed it was all theirs. My trees, they said, you can’t eat them apples. My stream, you can’t fish here. My wood, you’re not t’ hunt. My earth, my water, my castle, my daughter, keep your hands away or I’ll chop them off, but maybe if you kneel t’ me I’ll let you have a sniff. You call us thieves, but at least a thief has t’ be brave and cleaver and quick. A kneeler only has t’ kneel.”

A Storm of Swords, Jon V

In this passage, it becomes clear how people south of the Wall and north of the Wall have very different understandings of land and land ownership. In Ygritte’s view, land isn’t something you own, it is something for everyone to share. Ygritte also relates this to the Free Folk ideology of not kneeling. In a sense, this is similar to what Dr Finbog writes about the Sámi not believing in subjugating either land, non-human beings, or human beings (2022a). As she notes, the forced erasure of this way of thinking and understanding amounts to epistimicide. Perhaps we’ll see a similar process with the Free Folk as they are forced to migrate to the south and assimilate into another culture. Now, Jon and many other characters might object to the notion of freedom and non-subjugation given the Free Folk tradition of stealing daughters. And that brings us to our next topic, Free Folk understandings of sex, gender, and sexuality.

Sex, sexuality, and gender

One reoccurring thing that people south of the Wall bring up as a danger with the Free Folk is their tradition of stealing women. This is something Jon and Ygritte discuss, and she offers these counterpoints to his criticism of the practice:

”And what if they do? I’d sooner be stolen by a strong man than be given t’ some weakling by my father.”

”You say that, but how can you know? What if you were stolen by someone you hated?”

”He’d have t’ be quick and cunning and brave t’ steal me. So his sons would be strong and smart as well. Why would I hate such a man as that?”

”Maybe he never washes, so he smells as rank as a bear.”

”Then I’d push him in a stream or throw a bucket o’ water on him. Anyhow, men shouldn’t smell sweet like flowers.”

”What’s wrong with flowers?”

”Nothing, for a bee. For bed I want one o’ these.” Ygritte made to grab the front of his breeches.

Jon caught her wrist. ”What if the man who stole you drank too much?” he insisted. ”What if he was brutal or cruel?” He tightened his grip to make a point. ”What if he was stronger than you, and liked to beat you bloody?”

”I’d cut his throat while he slept. You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Ygritte twisted like an eel and wrenched away from him.

”A man can own a woman or a man can own a knife,” Ygritte told him, ”but no man can own both. Every little girl learns that from her mother.” She raised her chin defiantly and gave her thick red hair a shake. ”And men can’t own the land no more’n they can own the sea or the sky. You kneelers think you do, but Mance is going t’ show you different.”

A Storm of Swords, Jon V

Now, I’m not saying this tradition is unproblematic. But it’s not necessarily worse than being married off by your father, which is very common in the Seven Kingdoms. What’s more, as Ygritte points out, it is much more culturally acceptable for Free Folk women to take action if they’re displeased with their man. Be it throwing a bucket of water at him or killing him. A Free Folk woman isn’t owned by her husband. Nonetheless, this tradition makes the Free Folk seem wild and uncivilised to the people south of the Wall. To them, it’s unacceptable for a man to take a woman to wife without the consent of the woman’s previous owner, her father. As Learned Hands have pointed out – in medieval times, the crime of rape was mainly seen as a problem since it damaged the property of a man (be it his daughter or wife). A woman’s father or husband is the one to decide over her sexuality and reproduction. Clearly, the Free Folk don’t view it like that.

That the Free Folk don’t think of sexuality and reproduction in the same way as the people south of the Wall becomes clear in Jon’s story. In Jon’s second chapter in ASOS, Jon and Tormund discuss sexuality with Tormund joking that he’s heard that the Night’s Watch cuts off watchmen’s members so they will stay chaste. Tormund argues that this is the only reason he can see for Jon not sleeping with Ygritte.

Jon could feel himself turning red again. “She spoke for me when Rattleshirt would have me killed. I would not dishonor her.”

“You are a free man now and Ygritte is a free woman. What dishonor if you lay together?”

“I might get her with child.”

“Aye, I’d hope so. A strong son or a lively laughing girl kissed by fire, and where’s the harm in that?”

Words failed him for a moment. “The boy… the child would be a bastard.”

“You’re bastard-born yourself. And if Ygritte does not want a child, she will go to some woods witch and drink a cup o’ moon tea. You do not come into it, once the seed is planted.”

“I will not father a bastard.”

Tormund shook his shaggy head. “What fools you kneelers be. Why did you steal the girl if you don’t want her?”

“Steal? I never…”

“You did,” said Tormund. “You slew the two she was with and carried her off, what do you call it?”

“Yes, but… Tormund, I swear, I never touched her.”

”Are you certain they never cut your member off?” Tormund gave a shrug, as if to say he would never understand such madness. ”Well, you are a free man now, but if you will not have the girl, best find yourself a she-bear. If a man does not use his member it grows smaller and smaller, until one day he wants to piss and cannot find it.”

Jon had no answer for that. Small wonder that the Seven Kingdoms thought the free folk scarcely human. They have no laws, no honor, not even simple decency. They steal endlessly from each other, breed like beasts, prefer rape to marriage, and fill the world with baseborn children. Yet he was growing fond of Tormund Giantsbane, great bag of wind and lies though he was. Longspear as well. And Ygritte . . . no, I will not think about Ygritte.

A Storm of Swords, Jon II

There’s so much going on in this one quote. Firstly, it becomes very clear that the Free Folk have a very different view on bastardy than the people south of the Wall. They don’t see it as a problem if someone has a child out of wedlock, whereas in the Seven Kingdoms that would be dishonourable. Specifically, it would dishonour the woman who is no longer a “pure” maiden. As I’ve discussed previously in an essay about virginity norms in ASOIAF, the focus the Seven Kingdoms put on women’s virginity is part of patriarchal control. Controlling women’s sexuality is part of the greater control of women. That the Free Folk don’t have this preoccupation with women’s sexuality speaks to their general greater gender equality. However, it also becomes part of what makes them seem “scarcely human” as Jon puts it. This reflects the experiences of for instance Indigenous people in our world, where the sexuality of their women specifically has often been seen as problematic by Westerners (Finbog 2022a). This has contributed to these groups being “Othered” – seen as other/strange/wild, as compared to the upstanding “civilised” people of the West. The same thing can be seen with the relationship between Free Folk and the people of the Seven Kingdoms, the Free Folk are the dark mirror that the people of the Seven Kingdoms use to see themselves as proper and good.

Something else to note in the above quote is that Tormund mentions that Ygritte could go to a woods witch to get moon tea if she doesn’t want a child. Learned Hands have previously discussed exactly what moon tea is (is it a contraceptive? Plan B? Abortion?) and how accessible it is to people in Westeros. It is a bit unclear based on the books, but it is definitely some sort of medicinal treatment to either completely avoid pregnancy or terminate a pregnancy. What is clear is that it provides greater reproductive freedom for those who have access to it which also leads to greater gender equality, similar to the role of both contraceptives and abortion in our world (United Nations Population Fund 2023, 100). I would, however, be remiss if I do not point out how the same medical procedures have been and are being used to control the reproduction of marginalised groups. The United Nations Population Fund referenced above does a great job of discussing this. Nevertheless, in general, greater access to contraceptives and abortion leads to greater reproductive freedom and gender equality. That Free Folk has more control over their reproduction is in line with the general greater gender equality we see in the Free Folk, where women are not restricted by the same gender norms as they are south of the Wall. There are plenty of examples of spearwives, i.e. warrior women, throughout the story and we see several women in leader positions as well. That can be seen with for instance leaders like Harma Dog’s Head, Mother Mole, Val, and Morna White Mask. However, there aren’t really any examples in the text of Free Folk men taking up more “feminine” roles. My tentative conclusion based on this is that Free Folk typically don’t have as strict of a divide between what roles men and women can hold compared to the lands south of the Wall, but that they still value “traditional” above “traditional” femininity (regardless of gender). At least if we consider what we (Westerners) might typically/traditionally see as masculine or feminine. The Free Folk seem to consider gender and gender norms differently than the rest of Westeros, so it might not make much sense to talk about traditional masculinity/femininity at all. Essentially, in the eyes of someone from the Seven Kingdoms, Free Folk women might act masculine, but in the eyes of the Free Folk, they’re behaving the way a woman might be expected to act. This is an example of how gender norms are in the end socially constructed, and different cultures can understand them differently.

But speaking of Free Folk whose gender might seem strange to people south of the Wall, I have to take a moment to discuss Morna White Mask. When we are introduced to her in ADWD, she’s described like this:

The warrior witch Morna removed her weirwood mask just long enough to kiss his gloved hand and swear to be his man or his woman, whichever he preferred.

A Dance with Dragons, Jon XII

In this small passage, we learn several things about Morna. She’s described as a warrior witch, which indicates both a fighting ability and some sort of magical and/or medicinal ability. She also wears a weirwood mask, which hints at some sort of (magical) connection with the Old Gods. And, of course, she hints at some sort of gender fluidity when saying she could be Jon’s man or woman. This magically connected character being associated with genderfluidity is interesting and also dovetails with other magical genderfluidity in the books. For instance, some argue that the dragons in the story can change their sex, which I have discussed in my essay about dragons and sex. We also get a brief mention in Cersei’s story about an alchemist who can transform women into men for a night, something Rohanne and I discussed in our Cersei essay. And of course, Arya whose story is so tied up in gender and gender nonconformity, ends up with a death cult that teaches her to change her face (I’ve discussed that in my essay about Arya, Alleras, and Brave Danny Flint). In that light, a warrior witch having a fluid gender makes total sense. But I also can’t help but wonder if GRRM was inspired by various indigenous cultures where for instance Two-Spirit people traditionally have held positions such as warriors or medicine people (Neptune 2018). It’s also worth noting how Morna seems to hold a position of respect among the Free Folk, as can for instance be seen when she’s chosen as one of the people to command a Night’s Watch castle after Jon lets the Free Folk through the Wall. This is a huge contrast to how gender-nonconforming people below the Wall are treated. As I have discussed elsewhere, for instance in relation to Brienne and Brave Danny Flint, gender nonconforming people are rarely respected in Westeros, and are in fact much more likely to be subjected to violence because of their gender nonconformity. So, Morna being seen as a respected leader is quite the contrast, and again something that tracks with how a lot of Indigenous cultures have treated gender-diverse people. But again, this understanding of gender diversity is something that the Seven Kingdoms would see as proof of the Free Folk’s wildness and use to legitimise their control of them.

Morna Whitemask, art by DREADLady, commissioned by me.

Colonial control

Having discussed the way the Free Folk are “Othered” by the Seven Kingdoms, I would like to discuss the colonial control of the Free Folk that this “Othering” helps legitimise. Because the relationship the Seven Kingdoms (and the Night’s Watch) have with the Free Folk isn’t just what a country might normally have with a neighbouring country, with them defending their borders for example. In other places in the world of ice and fire, we see those kinds of relationships between countries, for instance with the Free Cities. They might sometimes war against each other, but they also trade with each other, and people can migrate between the cities. After the latest war between Braavos and Pentos, Braavos might have forced Pentos to certain concessions (such as having no slavery and a limited amount of war ships), but it’s still not as extreme as the control the Night’s Watch enforce. In the context of Westeros, we might look at the land before the Targaryens conquered the realm – we know the different kingdoms warred amongst each other, but there is no evidence that someone from the Riverlands couldn’t jump on a ship to White Harbour to sell some grain. But when it comes to the Free Folk, this isn’t allowed. The Free Folk can’t travel to the south of the Wall to trade goods, and there seem to be limitations on who can trade with the Free Folk too. As Davos recalls:

The first time he had seen the Wall he had been younger than Devan, serving aboard the Cobblecat under Roro Uhoris, a Tyroshi known up and down the narrow sea as the Blind Bastard, though he was neither blind nor baseborn. Roro had sailed past Skagos into the Shivering Sea, visiting a hundred little coves that had never seen a trading ship before. He brought steel; swords, axes, helms, good chainmail hauberks, to trade for furs, ivory, amber, and obsidian. When the Cobblecat turned back south her holds were stuffed, but in the Bay of Seals three black galleys came out to herd her into Eastwatch. They lost their cargo and the Bastard lost his head, for the crime of trading weapons to the wildlings.

A Dance with Dragons, Davos I

Here we have Night’s Watch stopping a Tyroshi captain (so not even Westerosi) from trading with the Free Folk. Now, he was specifically trading weapons, but it is unclear if it is allowed to trade other goods either. We know that some Free Folk are allowed to trade with the Watch, for instance, Craster but also Varamyr’s mentor Haggon. Varamyr remembers a visit to Eastwatch when Varamyr himself was 10 years old:

Haggon traded a dozen strings of amber and a sled piled high with pelts for six skins of wine, a block of salt, and a copper kettle. Eastwatch was a better place to trade than Castle Black; that was where the ships came, laden with goods from the fabled lands beyond the sea. The crows knew Haggon as a hunter and a friend to the Night’s Watch, and welcomed the news he brought of life beyond their Wall. Some knew him for a skinchanger too, but no one spoke of that.

A Dance with Dragons, Prologue

Can you only trade with the Night’s Watch and land south of the Wall if you are “a friend to the Watch” and willing to provide information on your fellow Free Folk? If you’re a “good wildling” who doesn’t challenge the Night’s Watch right to control the land and border, then you can get some benefits. I’m sure that’s a familiar story for many people who have lived under colonialisation…  

The situation with the enforced border also reminds me of what Pohjanen (2022) writes about how Tornedalians have experienced the Finnish/Swedish border, with a preacher arguing that there’s not a “whiff of sin in smuggling.”(ibid, 20) If you don’t believe in the legitimacy of a colonial border, you won’t believe there is anything wrong in defying the rules set up by the officers that guard it either. Now, having said all that, I want to make one thing clear: just because I think the Free Folk should be allowed to move across the border and trade with people south of the Wall doesn’t mean I think the land above the Wall is some sort of desolate wasteland where no one could want to live. It’s clear in the story that Free Folk have lived north of the Wall for millennia, including very far north of the Wall. I also mentioned above how the Free Folk have a different relationship and understanding of land than people south of the Wall, and perhaps also a closer connection to the land. I compared this to how many Indigenous people have a different understanding of what relationships to land mean and entail compared to people of the West. I therefore also want to mention that Indigenous people in our world who live in Northern lands hardly see these lands as uninhabitable and desolate, even if people from the south might. Earlier in this essay, I quoted Válkko Elle Susá (who is quoted in Elin Anna Labba’s book) who talked about Sámi people missing the mountain Bealčán (Pälstan in Swedish) after they had been forcibly relocated to the south. To put that in perspective, this is where that mountain is located:

Google Maps map of northern Europe, indicating the position of Bealčán/Pälstan.

That’s pretty far north. In a land that a lot of people from the south would assume to not be somewhere you’d want to live. Yet people live there and have a deep connection to the land. Assuming that no one would want to live there contributes to the perception that the land is either useless or not worth preserving for people. This idea has done a lot of damage in our own world, with colonial states like Sweden and Norway both historically and currently legitimising their exploitation of Sápmi in this way. The value that the land has to the people living there is dismissed, and focus is only put on how the land can bring value to the colonial state, be it through wind power or mines. The situation isn’t quite the same in ASOIAF, but I still think it is dangerous to dismiss the land beyond the Wall as uninhabitable. For one, it diminishes the suffering of the Free Folk who, due to the onslaught of the Others, have had to give up their homes. But it also reinforces the discourse that is present in our world that northern lands such as these are desolate, which as mentioned above is dangerous. In my opinion, the problem in ASOIAF isn’t that you can’t live off the land above the Wall. The problem is that the Free Folk are prohibited from trading with other cultures and communities. Their enforced isolation is what is problematic. In this way, the Night’s Watch operates as colonial officers, enforcing the subjugation of the Free Folk, similar to for instance customs officers by the Swedish/Finnish border.

Another aspect of colonial control that I want to discuss is what Stannis does when he arrives at the Wall. After defeating the Free Folk in battle, Stannis allows them to pass through the Wall, but only with certain conditions. They have to swear themselves to him as their king and they have to give up their religion. They have to burn symbols of their religion. So, while Stannis might give the Free Folk a chance to not die against the Others, he also forces them to give up their culture and religion. And he makes it very clear that he expects them to pay him (and the realm) back with their labour, fighting for him. As Eliana of Girls Gone Canon has pointed out (when discussing Jon III in ADWD), what Stannis does here with the forced religious conversion amounts to ethnic cleansing and is very similar to what many colonial states have subjected colonised subjects to. Stannis might in theory give the Free Folk a choice, they can choose to not submit and instead try their luck against the Others, but that’s not a real choice. If they want to live, they have to submit and agree to give up their culture and religion. According to the UN, ethnic cleansing is defined as “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.” (United Nations: Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect n.d.) Stannis isn’t removing people from an area per se, but he’s trying to render an area culturally and religiously homogeneous by using force and intimidation.Much like different colonial powers have tried to do. Yet, as Eliana and Chloe point out in a later episode, the Free Folk persist and continue to keep their own gods. Similarly, many colonised people in our world have managed to resist the extermination of their own culture and religion to a certain degree. But much has still been lost. In the context of northern colonialism in our world, Stannis’ attempt at this reminds me of how the Swedish crown burned Sámi religious symbols and sites ( c). All the while they forced Sámi to work in the mines that the crown set up to exploit their land. While the Sámi have been resilient and tried to hold on to their culture throughout all of this, there have still been significant losses. In the context of ASOIAF, we can see that another approach is absolutely possible since Jon later allows Free Folk through the Wall without forcing them to convert. That is not to say that Jon’s approach is unproblematic, but he doesn’t engage in the same type of ethnic cleansing. While Jon hasn’t fully shed the ideas he’s grown up with, his time with the Free Folk has helped him see them and their culture as something more than uncivilised wildness. Much of the Night’s Watch, and arguably Stannis, still see the Free Folk as something that needs to be controlled. Some might acknowledge that their labour can be utilised, but still think they must be ruled by their betters.


Throughout the ASOIAF books, it’s clear that in the mind of the Seven Kingdoms, the Free Folk are understood as uncivilised wildlings – a dark mirror to their own civilisation. The Free Folk are a threat to defend against. This becomes evident in many ways, especially in how the Seven Kingdoms view Free Folk sexuality and gender. In comparison to the people of the Seven Kingdoms, the Free Folk have greater gender equality and sexual freedom, and maybe also greater acceptance of gender fluidity. This makes the people of the Seven Kingdom see them as uncivilised and wild, very similar to prejudice against for instance Indigenous people of our world. However, this is not the only reason the Free Folk are seen as wild. Another is their view on land and their belief that land cannot be owned by people. Both their views regarding gender and land pose existential threats to the status quo of the Seven Kingdoms, which is another reason why it becomes essential to dismiss the Free Folk as wild and uncivilised.

But all of this can also be used to legitimise the colonial control of the Free Folk. In this way, the Free Folk have much in common with many colonised people in our world, including those in Arctic and sub-Arctic climates. That they are being seen as uncivilised is seen as a reason why it’s acceptable to rule over them and take control over their lands, it’s not like those lands can hold any value, right? In ASOIAF, we have not yet seen the same exploitation of land as can be seen in for instance Sápmi, but we are beginning to see the exploitation of Free Folk labour. What’s more, I would argue that it’s a mistake to dismiss the importance that the land above the Wall might hold to Free Folk culture. In doing that, we risk making the same mistakes as someone like Tywin Lannister when he dismisses the Free Folk army thusly:

Pycelle cleared his throat, which involved a deal of coughing and hawking. ”The letter is from the same Bowen Marsh who sent the last. The castellan. He writes that Lord Mormont has sent word of wildlings moving south in vast numbers.”

”The lands beyond the Wall cannot support vast numbers,” said Lord Tywin firmly. ”This warning is not new.”

A Storm of Swords, Tyrion IV

And truly, who wants to make the same mistake as Tywin Lannister? Clearly, the land beyond the Wall can support vast numbers, and clearly, the people there have managed to not only survive there but uphold many different vibrant cultures. Cultures that survive even the bitterest circumstances and attempts at cultural and religious extermination from southern kings.

I hope this essay has been able to give some insight into the power dynamics between the Free Folk and the people of the Seven Kingdoms and also taught you something about colonialism in our world. When discussing these topics in a fictional context, it is always important to remember that these aren’t just theoretical issues, they are issues that have very real consequences in real life. I hope that I have managed that.

Special thanks to Noah and DREADLady for the art used in this essay!

Before listing all the references below, I want to note that the book by Elin Anna Labba about the forced displacement of Sámi that I have quoted will be available in English by December 2023. Keep an eye on Labba’s Instagram account for more information!


Ahtone, Tristan. 2023. “Indigenous youth occupy Norwegian energy office to protest illegal wind farm.” Grist, February 27, 2023.

Boellstorff, Tom, Mauro Babral, Micha Cárdenas, Trystan Cotton, Eric A. Stanley & Aren Z. Aizura. 2014. “Decolonizing Transgender: A Roundtable Discussion.” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. 1(3): 419-439.

Finbog, Liisa-Rávná. 2021. ”Why it matters – Terra Nullius: The Idea of Western ‘Law’ in Strategies of Colonialism.” Instagram photo, September 19, 2021.

Finbog, Liisa-Rávná. 2022a. ”Why it matters – Colonialism, Gender and Sexuality: What You Should Know About It.” Instagram photo, March 28, 2022.

Finbog, Liisa-Rávná. 2022b. ”Samer som de andre.” Liisa-Rávná Finbog, October 5, 2022.

Finbog, Liisa-Rávná. 2023. ”A Quick Guide – Landback: A few things you should know about it.” Instagram photo, March 1, 2023.

Gassko Märak, Timimie & M-Á. Ivvár Ovllá Nilla Pinja. 2021. “❤🧡💛💚💙💜 #native2native #queer2queer talk with @pinjapiezki ❤🧡💛💚💙💜🖤” Instagram video, April 2, 2021.

Hagerman, Maja. 2016. ”Svenska kyrkan och rasbiologin.” In De historiska relationerna mellan Svenska Kyrkan och samerna: en vetenskaplig antologi eds. Lindmark, Daniel & Olle Sundström. Skellefteå: Artos och Norma bokförlag [accessible online here: ]

Hübinette, Tobias & Lundström, Catrin. 2014. ”Three phases of hegemonic whiteness: understanding racial temporalities in Sweden”. Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, 20(6): 423-37

Hübinette, Tobias & Catrin Lundström. 2020. Vit Melankoli: En analys av en nation i kris. Göteborg: Makadam förlag.

Johannisson, Karin. 1991. ”Folkhälsa: Det svenska projektet från 1900 till 2:a världskriget.” In Lychnos: Årsbok för idéhistoria och vetenskapshistoria, eds. Karin Johannisson,139-189.Uppsala: Lärdomshistoriska samfundet.

Johansson, Madeleine. 2022. ”Växande protester mot gruvplaner i Gállok.” Tidningen Syre, February 2022.

Jatko, Roland. 2011. ”Inte svensk”., December 2, 2011.

Jatko, Roland. 2019. ”Explicit mindrevärdighetskänsla”., November 23, 2019.

Jatko, Roland. 2021. ”Vems sanning?” Mars 16, 2021.

Karvonen, Levi. 2022. ” Något jag har tänkt mycket kring på senaste tiden har varit skammen kring att vara från Tornedalen.” Instagram post. July 15, 2022.

Kväner, Lantalaiset, Tornedalingar: Sannings- och Försoningskommissionen nd.a. ”Historical dates.” Kväner, Lantalaiset, Tornedalingar: Sannings- och Försoningskommissionen. Retrieved May 21, 2023.

Kväner, Lantalaiset, Tornedalingar: Sannings- och Försoningskommissionen nd.b. ”Truth and Reconciliation Comission for Tornedalians, Kvens and Lantalaiset.” Kväner, Lantalaiset, Tornedalingar: Sannings- och Försoningskommissionen. Retrieved May 21, 2023.

Labba, Elin Anna. 2020. Herrarna satte oss hit: Om tvångsförflyttningarna i Sverige. Stockholm: Norstedts.

Martin, George RR. 2011a. A Clash of Kings. London: Harper Voyager.

Martin, George RR. 2011b. A Clash of Kings. London: Harper Voyager.

Martin, George RR. 2011c. A Storm of Swords. London: Harper Voyager

Martin, George RR. 2012. A Dance with Dragons. London: Harper Voyager.

Minde, Henry. 2005. ”Fornorskinga av samene – hvorfor, hvordan og hvilke følger?” Gáldu čála – tidsskrift for urfolks rettigheter, 3/2005.

Moreno, Federico. 2020. ”Våld och splittring efter samedomen: ”Laglöst””. Expressen, March 2, 2020.

Neptune, Geo. ”What Does “Two-Spirit” Mean?  | InQueery | them.” Youtube/them, December 11, 2018.

Nordiska Museet. 2007. Karta Över Sápmi. Retrieved 2023-05-21.

Pohjanen, Bengt. 2022. Meänkieli – Grammatik, lärobok, historik, texter. Överkalix: Barents Publisher.

Roen, Katrina. 2006. ”Transgender Theory and Embodiment: The Risk of Racial Marginalization.” In The Transgender Studies Reader, eds. Susan Stryker & Stephen Whittle, 656-665. New York: Routledge.  

Saami Council & German Arctic Office. 2021. Arctic Indigenous People. Available online here: n.d.a “Den äldsta boplatsen.” Samer. Retrieved March 4, 2023. n.d. b. “Kolonaliseringen av Sápmi.” Samer. Retrieved March 4, 2023. n.d. c.I Guds tjänst.”  Samer. Retrieved March 4, 2023. n.d. d “Samepolitik i rasismens tidevarv.” Samer. Retrieved March 4, 2023.

SCB, 1977. Folk- och bostadsräkningen 1975: Del 3:3 Folkmängd i hela riket och länen mm samt utländska medborgare och utrikes födda i hela riket. Stockholm: SCB/LiberFörlag. (aviable online here

Towle, Evan B. & Lynn M. Morgan. 2006. ”Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the ‘Third Gender’ Concept.” In The Transgender Studies Reader, eds. Susan Stryker & Stephen Whittle, 666-684. New York: Routledge. 

United Nations Population Fund. 2023. UNFPA State of Population 2023: 8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities- The Case for Rights and Choices.

United Nations: Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. n.d. “Ethnic Cleansing.” Retrieved 2023-05-21.

UR. 2018. ”Johannes tornedalska historia.”

Wikipedia. N.d.a ”Tornedalingar.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 2023-03-04.

Wikipedia. N.d.b. “Meänmaa.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 2023-05-21.

Asriel’s revolution- a Marxist analysis

Spoilers for the His Dark Materials books and show. Some light spoilers for The Secret Commonwealth.

Shot from season 3 episode 7 of His Dark Materials (His Dark Materials 2022e).

Quite early on in the His Dark Materials books, it becomes evident that Lyra’s world is an unjust one. The class differences in the story are stark, which becomes clear from the start when Lyra is running through Jordan College and Oxford as a whole, meeting different people. And then children in the lower classes start disappearing… As I’ve discussed before, the way lower-class children are targeted by the Magisterium shows both a disregard for the lives of those children and a willingness to control the (sexuality of the) lower classes and marginalised groups in general. Much of this cruelty and injustice is justified by religion, and the Magisterium has an iron grip on society. Then Asriel comes along, threatening the Magisterium’s rule and getting ready to attack and dethrone God himself. Asriel starts his revolution, gathering forces from all over the worlds to fight tyranny and injustice, to gain freedom.

As I was watching the third season of the BBC/HBO adaptation of His Dark Materials recently, I couldn’t help but think about how parts of Asriel’s rhetoric reminded me of other revolutionary movements. Specifically, parts of his revolutionary ideals reminded me of Marxist theory. Now, Karl Marx is of course seen as many as a political figure, the father of Marxism and the inspiration of both Socialists and Communists worldwide. But he was also an academic and is often considered one of the founding fathers of sociology. He wrote theoretical texts, analysing society and trying to understand how unjust structures were upheld. That’s Marxist theory. It’s through that lens I want to look at Asriel’s revolution, to see what is similar but also what is different to Marxist theory. In that way, I hope to examine both the strengths and flaws of Asriel’s revolution as well.

Asriel’s revolution- ideology and goals

To begin, I thought it best to look at what we know about Asriel’s revolution, its ideology, and its goals. Here, I’ll look at both the book and the show because while there are some differences between the two, I think Asriel’s plot and motivations are mostly similar. The two media together create a clearer and fuller picture of him and his revolution. In the books, one of the clearest explanations of the revolution and its goals comes from Ugunwe as he talks to Mrs Coulter about it. Ugunwe explains that the Authority has been oppressing angels and humans since he came into being, and that he is not the creator, but that this has only been a myth meant to give him more power and discourage rebellions. He continues to say:

“It shocked some of us too to learn that the Authority is not the creator. There may have been a creator, or there may not: we don’t know. All we know is that some point the Authority took charge, and since then, angels have rebelled, and human beings have struggled against him too. This is the last rebellion. Never before have humans and angels, and beings from all the worlds, made a common cause. This is the greatest force ever assembled. But it may still not be enough. We shall see.”

“But what does Lord Asriel intend? What is this world, and why has he led us here?”

“He led us here because this world is empty. Empty of conscious life that is. We are not colonialists, Mrs Coulter. We haven’t come to conquer, but to build. (…) Mrs Coulter, I am a king, but it is my proudest task to join Lord Asriel in setting up a world where there are no kingdoms at all. No kings, no bishops, no priests. The kingdom of heaven has been known by that name since the Authority first set himself above the rest of the angels. And we want no part of it. We intend to be free citizens of the republic of heaven.”

(Pullman 2011, 210-211)

We learn some key things from this. One is that the Authority took charge and has been oppressing other beings ever since. Another is that Asriel’s revolution seeks to set up a republic and that there in this republic will exist fewer (if any) hierarchies. No kings, no bishops, no priests. Fewer class structures if you will. It is also very noteworthy that they point out that they are not colonisers, in my opinion (I’ll come back to this). This quote is one of the very few mentions of what life in the republic of heaven would be like, besides general talk about a place with more freedom. In the show, the fact that Asriel fights for freedom of thought and expression is focused on a lot. We hear it both from Asriel himself:

“This is but one world among many. In every single one of them, the same thing. Children, mutilated. Science, learning, criminalized, and whole civilizations covering under the sky.”

(His Dark Materials 2022a, 42:03-42:13)

And from the Authority’s side, as the angel Alarbus tells Asriel what Metatron wants:

“The end to this! Dust is not for you to understand. Conscious beings have become dangerously independent. He will lead a permanent inquisition into every world, on every being. Until they understand complete obedience. And with it, we will bring an end to freedom of thought and will, and control Dust once and for all.”

(His Dark Materials 2022b, 19:02-19:28)

The show do also seems to imply that there would be more equality in the republic of heaven, similar to the books. One such instance is in Asriel’s big speech at the end of season 2:

“My fight is with the Authority and those doling out cruelties in His name. Those who seek to divide in order to control. And who have built worlds founded on privilege and divine right rather than care and need. I fight for freedom of knowledge, and in place of deceit, intolerance and prejudice… I fight for the possibilities of understanding truce and acceptance…”

(His Dark Materials 2022, 41:00-41:35)

This definitely implies that Asriel wants to build a world that is based more on care and compassion, not power and hierarchy. There’s less of this explicitly in season three.  And it’s not really focused on how this more equal society would be achieved. Something that is noteworthy, however, is how Mrs Coulter continually criticises the idea that Asriel could create equality. She says it to his face in episode 3:

“They worship you, don’t they? Ogunwe, the witch, the insect. Will they bow, do you think, when you finally put yourself on the throne?”

“I’m not putting myself on a throne, woman, I’m trying to defeat one.”

“You know, it fascinates me. How enamoured you are with your own power that you’ve come to embody the very thing you most despise.”

(His Dark Materials 2022c, 35:05-35:22)

She brings up it again later to Ugunwe when he says he can’t make a decision without council approval:

“Oh come on. Let’s not pretend. The only vote that counts around here is Asriel’s and he acts purely in his own interests. You should do the same.”

(His Dark Materials 2022d, 21:59-22:12)

Now, Mrs Coulter isn’t always a reliable narrator. She’s often trying to manipulate circumstances and people. But she’s not necessarily wrong here, Asriel is the one in charge. It’s his revoulution. And it’s not clear if his republic would truly lead to equality. I’ll unpack that more later, but before moving on I want to add one more quote about how Asriel’s actions impact other groups. This one from when Asriel meets up with Iorek, on a melting Svalbard:

“I’m greatly saddened to see the damage my work has done to your land.”

“My bears starve because you blew a hole in the sky!”

(His Dark Materials 2022d, 24:36-25:44)

As I have said before, both regarding the show and books, Asriel’s man-made climate change has consequences.

Another very prominent part of Asriel’s ideology and politics is of course how he criticises the way religion is used to oppress people. He continually brings up how religious doctrine is used to control people and push down freedom of thought. One key aspect of this is how religious institutions (and the Authority) use the threat of hell and the promise of heaven to control people. As one of the people Lyra and Will meet in the land of the dead puts it:

“When we were alive, they told us that when we died we’d go to heaven. And they said that heaven was a place of joy and glory and we would spend eternity in the company of saints and angels praising the Almighty, in a state of bliss. That’s what they said. And that’s what led some of us to give our lives, and others to spend years in solitary prayer, while all the joy of life was going to waste around us, and we never knew. Because the land of the dead isn’t a place of reward or a place of punishment. It’s a place of nothing. The good come here as well as the wicked, and all of us languish in this gloom for ever, with no hope of freedom, or joy, or sleep or rest or peace.”

(Pullman 2011, 320)

When Lyra and Will set the dead free, they help weaken the Authority’s control. Xaphania says so outright in the show, that after Lyra and Will destroyed “Metatron’s purgatory”, his control is weakened. She seems to mean this literally, that he is somehow physically weaker now, but it’s true in more senses than that. Asriel points out as much in his big war speech:

”Some of us will die today. The Authority wants you to be afraid of that. And why not? We are all of us here mortal. Whether our lifespans are three or 300 years, our time down here in the Earth is finite. So we cower. We cower under the tyranny of an authority who calls himself Creator… Who tells us that hell awaits those who disobey him. And that paradise exists only for those who obey. This is a lie. A lie that has prevented us from living our lives to the utmost. Today is our chance. It is our chance to tell him that our lives are beautiful and precious, and that we should be allowed to experience all they have to offer without the fear of retribution. Because if we don’t fight until the end, we will lose everything. So, yes, today, some of you will die. But thanks to my daughter… thanks to Lyra… We need no longer fear that fate. For from today, death is no longer an ending, but instead a journey back into life. So, from today, the Authority has no power over us. Today, life confronts death, and our light shines through the darkness. Today we will tell him that our children shall experience paradise, but they will know it down here, in the earth. Today, we are free!

(His Dark Materials 2022e, 10:42-12:42)
Shot from season 3 episode 7 of His Dark Materials (His Dark Materials 2022e)

So, Asriel fights his war. He and Mrs Coulter kill Metatron. Lyra and Will accidentally kill the Authority, and then they Fall. But as anyone who has read The Secret Commonwealth knows, this isn’t the end of oppression. Because as John Parry says, we can’t flee to another world and build a perfect society there:

“And this is the reason for all those things: your deamon can only live its full life in the world it was born in. Elsewhere it will eventually sicken and die. (…) Lord Asriel’s great enterprise will fail in the end for the same reason: we have to build the republic of heaven where we are, because for us there is no elsewhere.”

(Pullman 2011, 364)

So, having looked at the goals and some of the results of Asriel’s revolution, let’s look at revolutionary theory.

Marxist theory

A basic tenant of Marxist theory is that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” (Marx & Engels 1848) This struggle is between the “haves” and “have-nots”, those controlling the means of production and those who do not. By means of production, Marx and Engels mean for instance factories, companies, land, etc. Those controlling the means of production in modern society are capitalists, while those selling their labour to the capitalists are the proletariat. In such a system, capitalists hold power over the proletariat. I won’t go further into specifics in Marxist economic theory here, but instead, I want to focus on how Marx theorised such unequal systems are upheld. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx writes:

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

(Marx 1859)

This is a complex way of saying that the modes of production, and relations of production, determine how we think and understand the world. If we live in a capitalist society, our political, scientific, and religious philosophies etc will be based on such a system. Marx further argues that the dominant “ideas” (political ideology, scientific thought, legal writings, religious doctrine, etc) of an era will support the dominant class:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that, thereby generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one ruling class one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. (…) For each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it, is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aim, to represent its interests as the common interests of all the members through its aim, to represent its interests as the common interests of all the members of society, that is, expressed in ideal form: it has to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones.

(Marx & Engels 1845)

That is to say, the ruling class makes use of ideas (philosophy etc) to uphold their rule. To make the status quo seem natural, the only reasonable way for things to be. One way of looking at this is through the concepts of “superstructure” and “base”. The base is the means of production and relations of production, the material reality, while the superstructure is the ideas on top of it. One way of illustrating this is:

Picture from Wikipedia.

Marx would argue that the base is dominant because the superstructure exists because of it. There is a need for ideology to justify the relations of production and its injustices.

One type of ideology that I think is worth looking closer at is religion. One of Marx’s most famous quotes is probably that religion is “the opium of the people,”  but that quote is seldom shared in context. So here is the context:

“The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”

(Marx 1844)

So, what Marx really says is that religion is often something people turn to in order to seek solace in a dark and harsh world. And this is then used by those in power in order to stay in power. If you can have people striving for happiness in the afterlife, you don’t have to provide for them materially in this life. So what Marx is really saying is that he wants to change the conditions where people need to turn to religion as their solace. What he is critical of is people using religion to not change material conditions. Another way of putting this comes from Swedish-American labour activist (and Marxist) and songwriter Joe Hill in his classic protest song “Long Haired Preachers”:

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ‘bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die. (…)

Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out,
And they holler, they jump and they shout
”Give your money to Jesus,” they say,
”He will cure all diseases today.” (…)

If you fight hard for children and wife,
Try to get something good in this life,
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

(Joe Hill 1911)

This is the core of the Marxist critique of religion, that it is used by those in power to uphold injustices. While I don’t have the space to go into that right here, it should still be noted that many have combined Marxism and religion, for instance in Liberation Theology. But in those cases, religion (specifically Christianity) is used as an idea/philosophy specifically to challenge the dominating ideas and structures.

Having described some Marxist theory, it is worth noting that what makes Marx (and Engels) dissimilar from many other intellectual thinkers of the time is that they were not just content to describe society, they also wanted to change it. This is of course clearest in Manifesto of the Communist Party (Marx & Engels 1848). Marx and Engels hoped that the proletariat could overthrow the capitalist class and create a more equal world, where the workers controlled the means of production and where society was governed by the principle of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” (Marx 1875) A state actually governed by those ideals has not (yet) existed.

Before moving on, I would like to touch on how Marxist thought has been developed both within academia and without, specifically relating to other power structures such as race and gender. While both Marx and Engels were critical of colonialism, slavery, and women’s place in society (all of this is brought up in Manifesto of the Communist Party), this wasn’t their focus. Although, it should be mentioned that Engels wrote Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State where he discusses the oppression of women (Engels 1884). Still, many Marxist feminists would later expand upon how the oppression of women is inextricable from class oppression and how both oppressions must be fought simultaneously (eg. Mitchell 1966). Similarly, others have pointed out how deeply intertwined oppressions based on patriarchy, heteronormativity, racialisation, and colonialism are with class oppression (eg. Bannerji 2020; Davis 2020). That is to say, even as Marxist theory is still used today and is the foundation for a lot of theoretical work, many would argue that it needs to be seen as just that, a foundation that other theoretical perspectives (feminism, post-colonialism, critical race theory etc) are added onto. Otherwise, the true inequality of society cannot be understood, and those inequalities cannot be addressed and changed.


Looking at Asriel’s revolution from a Marxist lens, some similarities immediately jump out. The main is the criticism of religion, and how it’s used to control the people. As stated both in the show and the books, the Authority and its institutions (like the Magisterium) uphold their power by threatening the people with hell and by promising them heaven. If people follow the rules set out, if they obey, and if they don’t question the power structures, they’ll get into heaven. If you try to fight for something better in life, you’re doomed to hell. In this way, power structures are upheld. As I explained above, Marx explains the power structures and injustices of our world in the same way. Those in power use “ideas” (such as philosophy, religion, science, etc) to justify the status quo and make it seem the only possible way for the world to work. Religion often plays a specific role, with certain doctrines arguing that you need to work hard and be obedient in life to then experience paradise after death.

Promotional picture for season 3.

Asriel challenges this view, arguing that from now on “our children shall experience paradise, but they will know it down here, in the earth.” People will no longer need to wait for the afterlife to experience happiness and pleasure, they will experience it in life. This approach allows people to fight for equality and justice in their society, in this life.

In general, Asriel wants a freer world. One where more ideas can exist than those of the ruling class. As mentioned above, he’s keenly aware of how ideas, philosophy, religion, etc are used to oppress people. But while he seems to want a more equal world, one based on “care and need” instead of privilege and divine right and one without bishops and kings, it’s still unclear what this would mean exactly. We can assume some more equality in a republic as opposed to a kingdom, and throughout the series, we have seen that less religious dogma seems to be good for women’s equality for instance (this is also brought up in the show, where teenage girls from Ugunwe’s world mention that they can have an actual life in resistance). But still, Asriel often seems to be focused on the bigger picture, and the superstructure rather than the base. While this makes sense in the story, you have to defeat Metatron if you want the chance to do anything else, it also leads to the flaws in his revolution. In the books, Ugunwe says that they are not colonisers, and that’s why they’ve set up camp in an empty world. But Asriel is still very willing to sacrifice people to win his war, whether they be innocent kitchen boys, witches, or the homeland of the pansarbjørne. As I’ve argued elsewhere, in these series (books and show) we see a tendency from both Asriel and the Magisterium to be more willing to sacrifice people who are from lower classes or ethnic minorities. This is part of the colonialism of that world. On one level, this shows how Asriel definitely isn’t a Marxist (they tend to care about the lower class and working class). But as many Black, Anti-Colonial, and Feminist Marxists have pointed out, traditional Marxism also tends to disregard many issues related to racism, colonialism, and sexism.

But in the end, even if Asriel did win against Metatron, the war wasn’t fully won. Because as John Parry tells us, we have to build the republic of heaven where we are. Which means paying attention to the base, not just the superstructure. And it means fighting the fight in every world, to achieve equality and justice everywhere. The fact that Asriel didn’t (or if we’re being a bit generous to him, didn’t have time to), means that even after attacking and dethroning God, the Magisterium remains. The consequences of that become evident in The Secret Commonwealth. It also becomes evident that defeating God doesn’t necessarily get rid of inequality based on for instance class. So, I guess the message, to paraphrase Marx, should be:

Workers in every world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!


Bannerji, Himani. 2020. “Himani Bannerji.” In Revolutionary Feminisms, edited by Brenna Bhandar & Rafeef Ziadah, 95-118. London: Verso.

Davis, Angela Y. “Angela Y. Davis.” In Revolutionary Feminisms, edited by Brenna Bhandar & Rafeef Ziadah, 203-216. London: Verso.

Engels, Friedrich. 1884. Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. . [I have used the version published in Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume Three, published by Progress Publishers 1970]

Hill, Joe. 1911. “Long Haired Preachers”. Retrieved from:

His Dark Materials. 2020. “Æsahættr.” HBO. December 22, 2020.

His Dark Materials. 2022a. “The Enchanted Sleeper.” HBO. December 5, 2022.

His Dark Materials. 2022b. “The Break.” HBO. December 5, 2022.

His Dark Materials. 2022c. “The Intention Craft.” HBO. December 12, 2022.

His Dark Materials. 2022d. “The Abyss.” HBO. December 19, 2022.

His Dark Materials. 2022e. “The Clouded Mountain.” HBO. December 26, 2022.

Marx, Karl. 1844. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.[I have used the version published in Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843), published by Cambridge University Press in 1970]

Marx, Karl & Fredrich Engels. 1845/2008. “The German Ideology.” In Classical Sociological Theory, edited by Craig Calhoun, Joseph Gerteis, James Moody, Steven Pfaff & Indermohan Virk, 82-85. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Marx, Karl & Fredrich Engels. 1848/2008. “Manifesto of the Communist Party.” In Classical Sociological Theory, edited by Craig Calhoun, Joseph Gerteis, James Moody, Steven Pfaff & Indermohan Virk, 96-111. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Marx, Karl. 1859. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy [I have used the version published by Progress Publishers 1977]

Marx, Karl. 1875. Critique of the Gotha Programme. [I have used the version published in Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume Three, published by Progress Publishers 1970]

Mitchell, Juliet. 1966/2012. ”Kvinnorna: den längsta revolutionen.” [Swedish translation of “Women: The Longest Revolution”] in Kvinnopolitiska nyckeltexter, edited by Johanna Essevald & Lisbeth Larsson, 184-193. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Pullman, Philip. 2011. The Amber Spyglass. London: Scholastic Childrens’ books.

Pullman, Philip. 2019. The Secret Commonwealth. London: Penguin Books.

Marisa Coulter: power, femininity, and shame

Content warning: sexism, violence against children

Spoiler warning: spoilers for all His Dark Materials books.

In preparation for the final(?) season of His Dark Materials, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon one of the main characters of the show, Marisa Coulter. I will do so from a book perspective, but much of her book journey is of course relevant to the show as well. In either format, Marisa Coulter is someone to be reckoned with. From the moment we first meet her, we realise that this is someone extraordinary that we are dealing with.

A lady in a yellow-red fox-fur coat, a beautiful young lady whose dark hair falls shining delicately under the shadow of her fur-lined hood, is standing in the doorway of the Oratory, half a dozen steps above him. It might be that a service is finishing, for light comes from the doorway behind her, an organ is playing inside, and the lady is holding a jewelled breviary. (…) The young lady’s daemon is moving out from behind the fox-fur coat. He is in the form of a monkey, but no ordinary monkey: his fur is long and silky and of the most deep and lustrous gold.

(Pullman 2011a, 42)

Who is this beautiful lady, surrounded by luxuriousness and holy light we might ask? Well, we soon find out that she is a child trafficker who is conducting unethical experiments on marginalised children, partly in order to gain power. I’ve previously analysed these events from a few different points of view, so here I wanted to approach Marisa and her actions a bit differently. Specifically, I want to analyse how Marisa’s relationship to gender, class, shame, and power impacts the way she approaches the world.

Promotional shot from the His Dark Materials tv-show, retrieved from this article.

We don’t know too much about Marisa’s background, except that she wasn’t from the same social standing as either Asriel (or presumably her husband Mr Coulter). This is made clear in Northern Lights when John Faa explains to Lyra how Asriel and Marisa met:

When he was a young man, Lord Asriel went exploring all over the North, and came back with a great fortune. And he was a high-spirited man, quick to passion, a passionate man. And your mother, she was passionate too. Not so well-born as him, but a clever woman. A scholar, even, and those who saw her said she was very beautiful. She and your father, they fell in love as soon’s they met.

(Pullman 2011a, 122)

Here we learn a few crucial facts about Marisa. First, that she wasn’t exactly “well-born”, and second that she was considered both clever and beautiful. She was also a scholar, something the reader already knew, but it’s interesting that it’s pointed out in this passage when describing her social standing. Asriel has a lordship and “a great fortune”, and Marisa has her beauty and some academic acclaim. We don’t know as much about Mr Coulter, but it is stated that he was a politician and someone who was raising in power. It makes sense then that Marisa might marry him to gain a better social standing herself. As Asriel says later in Northern Lights:

You see, your mother’s always been ambitious for power. At first she tried to get it in the normal way, through marriage, but that didn’t work, as I think you’ve heard. So she had to turn to the Church. Naturally she couldn’t take the route a man could have taken- priesthood and so on- it had to be unorthodox; she had to set up her own order, her own channels of influence, and work through that.

(Pullman 2011a, 372)

So, she tried to gain power by marrying up, so to say, but that didn’t work. So to start, I’d like to analyse that strategy of hers and what made it fail. To do so, I’ll have to go into some theory…

I think one way of understanding Marisa’s actions is by looking at them through the theoretical perspective of two sociologists: Beverley Skeggs and Pierre Bourdieu. Skeggs has done a lot of writing about working-class women, and while I don’t think Marisa grew up lower-class (just not upper-class), I still think a lot of this applies. When writing about class, Skeggs makes use of the work by Pierre Bourdieu and how he conceptualises class. As he argues, someone’s position in society isn’t just caused by their economic capital, but also social capital, cultural capital, and symbolic capital (1987). One’s position in what he calls social space is furthermore dependent on not only the volume of one’s capital, but also the composition of said capital, and one’s trajectory. This essentially means that it matters how much capital you have, how much of each type of capital in comparison to each other you have, and where you started in the social space and where you have moved. Economic capital refers to, as one might guess, the amount of money one has. Social capital on the other hand refers to what social connections one has, which networks one has access to etc.  But cultural capital is perhaps the most interesting one and one that becomes very relevant for this analysis. Cultural capital refers to for instance education, knowledge of culture (books, movies, music, etc.), and general taste (in clothes, décor, etc). As Bourdieu argues, different type of cultural capital is valid in different social spaces. If we apply this to His Dark Materials, we might consider how at Jordan, tokay is served after dinner, while with the Gyptians one can expect jenniver. You can make similar comparisons about what is seen as good taste in décor, for example when Lyra arrives at Marisa’s apartment:

She had seen a great deal of beauty in her short life, but it was Jordan Collage beauty- grand and stony and masculine. In Jordan Collage, much was magnificent, but nothing was pretty. In Mrs Coulter’s flat, everything was pretty. It was full of light, for the wide windows faced south, and the walls were covered in delicate gold-and-white stripped wallpaper. Charming pictures in gilt frames, an antique looking-glass, fanciful sconces bearing anbaric lamps with frilled shades; and frills on the cushions too, and flowery valances over the curtain-rail, and a soft green leaf-pattern carpet underfoot; and every surface was covered, it seemed to Lyra’s innocent eye, with pretty little china boxes and shepherdess and harlequins of porcelain.

(Pullman 2011a, 76)

Both Jordan and Marisa’s apartment are described to have this sort of luxury beauty, albeit in different ways. It’s interesting to consider how this contrasts with what is valued in the Gyptian community, where the Costa family’s boat is described as “brightly painted” (Pullman 2011a, 37), and the family is “noted for the grandeur and sumptuousness of their boat (ibid, 54). We hardly get a view that the Gyptians’ boats are luxuriously decorated in the same sense that Jordan is, the painting is most likely not as expensive as whatever decorations they have in Jordan, yet the Costas’ boat is still considered one of grandeur in this community, based on what they value. It thus contributes to them having a higher standing in that community. Yet, it would not be recognised as a legitimate form of cultural capital in other spaces. This can be explained by another Bourdieu concept, symbolic capital. Symbolic capital refers to the form the other capitals take when they are deemed legitimate. An example of this would be how a university degree (especially from a “fancy” university) makes one’s cultural capital (in this sense education) legitimate, and thus it functions as symbolic capital. As Bourdieu notes, for capital to matter, for it to wield any power, people need to believe that it does.

The power of words and commands, the power of words to give orders and bring order, lies in belief in the legitimacy of the words and of the person who utters them.

(Bourdieu 1979, 83)

Symbolic capital is therefore crucial to make the other types of capital matter.

Thus far, I’ve mainly talked about class and capital in isolation, not considering other social structures, but as many (eg. Skeggs 2005) have noted, social structures such as gender and race most definitely impact class and capital. As mentioned above, Beverley Skeggs is one scholar whose work regarding this I think is especially interesting. When discussing class and gender, Skeggs have noted how the working class has often been seen as dirty, dangerous, pathological, and lacking respect (2002). As she notes, one strategy that the working class (especially working-class women) have employed to counter this perception is striving for respectability. Achieving respectability then becomes a form of cultural capital, which can compensate for one’s lack of other capital (eg. economic, social, and symbolic). To achieve respectability, one needs to utilise femininity correctly. Femininity thus becomes a tool to achieve more capital and a higher standing in the social room. This can include using femininity when pursuing heterosexual relationships and gaining status through these. But while performing femininity correctly might lead to one gaining more capital, there is also the risk that one will perform it incorrectly, for instance by dressing or behaving in a way that is seen as trashy/promiscuous/slutty will further cement one’s place in the social room. And, as Skeggs note, for someone who does manage to make it out of the classed space they grew up in, it often feels like one is always waiting to mess up. For the other shoe to drop. One can often feel afraid of saying the wrong thing, behaving in the wrong way, dressing in the wrong way etc, because one wasn’t brought up with the social codes that come for granted for everyone else.

While not all of this applies to Marisa, I do think that thinking about her actions through the lens of capital, respectability, and femininity sheds some light on what she was trying to do early in her life, and why it failed. It seems as if she attempted to use her femininity as capital to better her station, particularly through her marriage which became a way to gain more cultural, economic, and social capital. Yet this all obviously got (at least partly) ruined when she had an affair with Asriel and got pregnant with Lyra. In the public perception, she wasn’t a respectable woman anymore, having deviated from the norms surrounding sexuality. No longer a respectable and proper wife, she lost a lot of cultural and symbolic capital. As Marisa puts it herself, having this child outside of marriage has been shameful:

“My child, my own child, conceived in sin and born in shame, but my child nonetheless, and you keep from me what I have every right to know!”

(Pullman 2011b, 37)

It is interesting how Marisa uses the word shame here, in a context where the Magisterium is discussing Lyra and the prophecy around her. As the reader learns later, Lyra is destined to repeat the role of Eve, committing “original sin” again. I have in a previous essay discussed both Lyra and Marissa in relation to Eve, so here I would just like to note how according to the bible (in our world and Lyra’s world) humans started to feel shame over their bodies due to Eve’s actions. Again, shame is connected to women’s sexuality.

Promotional shot for the His Dark Materials tv-show, retrieved from this article.

This connection between femininity, sexuality, and shame is also something Professor Ulrika Dahl has written about (2014). Dahl describes womanhood as more or less a connotation to the affect of shame. This can mean being shamed, but also shaming others, for instance shaming one’s family by “inappropriate” actions. According to Dahl, the way femininity is so closely bound up in shame leads to the two concepts often reinforcing each other.

Maybe shame is the connective tissue that embodies femininities and their relations, that which forever associates femininity to that which is called womanhood and defines the subordination of that which we call the second sex.

(Dahl 2014, 325) My translation from Swedish.

Furthermore, Dahl also argues that this is all tied to social class. Shame prevents us from taking certain paths in life because it reminds us of where we come from, and how we are perceived. Like Dahl says:

Shame moves between us, it spreads, sometimes like wildfire between downcast eyes in a subway cart when someone speaks too loudly, dresses inappropriately, or is harassed. Shame sticks between bodies and things, it’s a form of inherited connective tissue which links you to your class background, your barn, your family’s reputation, your lack of family, it precedes you when you arrive at school or your workplace, in the same way your people’s reputation might precede you when you arrive to a (new) nation. Shame is a repeated movement away, down, and in, an instinctive reaction, shame slides over bodies like sticky slime, and it’s not just the fault of slimy men; it can make us reject the one we love the most or at least the one who wants to love us, shame leaks out of bodies in the form of sweat and tears. Shame holds us in its grip, our private lives and our feelings, our relationships and our way of moving through life and it’s not always possible to deconstruct or intellectually dismiss how shame operates in individuals and collectives. Shame orients us in certain directions and not others. Shame stops us from speaking, questioning, it’s used to silence, not in the least women and feminists (…) Shame is to be exposed and the exposure of your shame is even more shameful. Look down. Know your place. Do not make claims and do not show interest.

(Dahl 2014, 326) My translation from Swedish.

I think this description of shame and how it affects people, especially feminine folk, provides a very clear explanation of Marisa’s actions. The exposure of her “shame”, in having a child out of wedlock, affected her so deeply because the shame was so associated with her position as a woman. And being a woman is already inherently shameful, especially in her world. It’s already associated with sin, the sin of Eve. Marisa’s actions made this association even clearer. She probably, therefore, felt like she had to separate herself as much as possible from the shame, move away from and reject the child she loved out of shame. As Dahl says, shame orients us in this world and Marisa’s shame strongly affected the future steps she would take to regain power.

Another aspect of Marisa’s decision to reject motherhood as she strove to gain more power is of course the difficulty of combining motherhood and a career, even today. And in Marisa’s world, it’s probably even more difficult. As many second-wave feminists pointed out as early as the mid-20th century, an obstacle to true equality for women was that even when women were given access to the labour market, they were expected to put their role as mothers first (eg. Moberg 1961). To handle this, and the shame her extramarital affair had brought, Marisa seems to have tried to separate herself as much as possible from motherhood and sexuality. While still being feminine in her appearance etc and making use of that cultural capital, she devotes her whole career to fighting against sexuality and sin. In her work in investigating Dust and severing children she essentially rejects all that she risks being associated with due to her previous “shameful” behaviour. She also has access to a lot of her previous cultural, economic, and social capital as we can see during for instance the cocktail party in Northern Lights. She’s still (somewhat) respected as a woman of high society, with the social connections to prove it. And she doesn’t hesitate to show off her status through her clothing and decorations in her apartment. Yet, it seems clear that even though she has amassed some power through her forms of capital and her position and the Magisterium, part of why she has been able to do that is that she’s seen as a disavowable asset by the Magisterium. As a woman, and a woman with her past, she can be used by the Magisterium to do unsavoury tasks, but she can also be cut off if necessary.

In conclusion, it becomes clear that Marisa has several different strategies to gain different forms of capital and power. She has tried to use social capital and cultural capital to gain economic capital and symbolic capital, to rise above the class position she was born into. As part of that, she tried to use her femininity to be seen as respectable and gain more cultural capital. But that ability was damaged when she had an extramarital affair and a child out of wedlock. She wasn’t seen as respectable anymore. Her actions brought shame upon her. And this shame was especially connected to her femininity and sexuality. As such, this shame oriented her going forward, for instance rejecting motherhood and building a career in policing sin. Throughout this, it is clear that Marisa’s power is very much tied up with class, shame, and femininity. Both her goals, her means, her limitations, and the consequences of her actions are inextricable from the social structures around her. That’s part of what makes her a fascinating character. She does absolutely terrible things, but she’s also such a clear example of what power and social structures can do to someone. The shame of the patriarchy has burned her, but instead of burning it down in return she for the most part works within it to gain power. Until she doesn’t. Until she becomes part of conservative men’s worst nightmare.


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1979. “Symbolic Power.” Critique of Anthropology 4(77): 77-85.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1987. “What makes a social class? On the theoretical and practical existence of groups.” Berkley Journal of Sociology, 32: 1-17.

Dahl, Ulrika. 2014. Skamgrepp. Femme-inistiska essäer. [”Dirty trick. Femme-inist essays.”]Stockholm: Leopard.

Moberg, Eva. 1961 [2012] ”Kvinnans villkorliga frigivning.” [”The woman’s conditional liberation.”] In Kvinnopolitiska nyckeltexter [”Key texts in women’s politics”],eds. Johanna Essevald & Lisbeth Larsson, 164-173. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Skeggs, Beverley. 2002. Formations of Class & Gender- Becoming Respectable. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Skeggs, Beverley. 2005. ”The Re-Branding of Class: Propertising Culture.” In Rethinking Class: Culture, Identities & Lifestyle, eds. Fiona Devine, John Mike Scott & Rosemary Crompton, 46-68. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pullman, Philip. 2011a. Northern Lights. London: Scholastic UK Ltd.

Pullman, Philip. 2011b. The Subtle Knife. London: Scholastic UK Ltd.

Guest episode- The Silent Sisters (House of the Dragon episode 9)

This week, I had the opportunity to once again guest on The Silent Sisters Podcast and talk about House of the Dragon! This time we covered episode 9 and all the complex things going on in regard to gender, sexuality, disability, class, and power generally. The amazing Akash also guested on this episode, and I had an amazing time talking with them about all of this!

If you missed it, I’ve guested on The Silent Sisters Podcast two other times during this House of the Dragon season: episode 2 and episode 5. Thanks again to The Silent Sisters for having me, it’s been a blast!

Davos and the class struggles of Westeros

Even dressed in silk and velvet, an ape remains an ape,” Ser Axell said. ”A wiser prince would have known that you cannot send an ape to do a man’s work.

(A Dance with Dragons, Davos II)

Davos Seaworth is possibly one of the most beloved characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, an honest man who is often hindered in his efforts to do good by other people’s prejudiced views on him. Even as Davos gets awarded a knighthood, then a lordship, and the position as Hand of the King, people such as Axell Florent still see him as an ape dressed in silk and velvet. It is clear that Davos’ low birth impacts how other see him, even as he has one of the highest positions in the realm. So, in this essay I will analyse Davos’ class position in through the ASOIAF books, and through that discuss the structural mechanism which hinders class mobility in Westeros.

As anyone who have any form of familiarity with politics or social science will know, there are many different ways of theorising class differences. In this essay, I’ll mainly rely on one specific one, however, namely the theoretical framework put forth by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu’s writing on class and culture has been influential in many academic fields, including (but not limited to) sociology, anthropology, ethnology, culture studies, and gender studies. One of his main contributions to class theory is the way he described how someone’s position in society is not just due to economic capital, but also social capital, cultural capital, and symbolic capital (1987). One’s position in what he calls social space is furthermore dependent on not only the volume of one’s capital, but also the composition of said capital, and one’s trajectory. This essentially means that it matters much capital do you have, how much of each type of capital in comparison to each other you have, and where you started in the social space and where you have moved. I’ll get back to the trajectory aspect, but first I want to describe the different capitals a bit further.

Economic capital refers to, as one might guess, the amount of money one has. Social capital on the other hand refers to what social connections one has, which networks one has access to etc.  But cultural capital is perhaps the most interesting one, and one that becomes very relevant for this analysis. Cultural capital refers to for instance education, knowledge of culture (books, movies, music, etc.), and general taste (in clothes, décor, etc). As Bourdieu argues, different type of cultural capital is valid in different social spaces. In one of his texts, he illustrates this with a diagram, mapping out how people in different professions tend to have different tastes in for instance food and entertainment, and how this tends to correlate to how people vote:

(Bourdieu 1994a, 338)

The ASOIAF equivalent of this would probably be how the smallfolk might hang out in the Inn of the Kneeling Man, drinking ale while listening to bawdy songs sung by Tom of Sevenstreams, while the nobles sit in their high halls, drinking fancy Arbor Gold, and listening to music played on the high harp. What is important to realise here is that while what culture one has access to depends on one’s economic capital (a smallfolk person just can’t afford Arbor Gold), but what “tastes” and cultural capital one possesses also impacts one’s status. In our world we can think of how nouveau-riche people often are perceived as less fancy than those born with money. Bourdieu would explain this by noting that they do not possessing the right cultural capital, they haven’t been brought up with the right “tastes” for their economic class. They don’t have the right clothes, the right décor in their house, they don’t have quite the right manners and ways of speaking. This also relates to another central concept in Bourdieu’s works, namely “habitus.” Bourdieu describes habitus as having a sense of one’s place, and how to act, a sense that is often subconscious.

The habitus, a product of history, produces individual and collective practices- more history- in accordance with the schemes generated by history. It ensures the active presence of past experiences, which, deposited in each organism in the form of schemes of perception, thought and action, tend to guarantee the ‘correctness’ of practices and their constancy over time, more reliably than all formal rules and explicit norms. (…) The habitus- embodied history, internalized as second nature and so forgotten as history- is the active presence of the whole past of which it is the product. (1994b, 348-349)

Another way of saying that would be that our habitus is how we have internalised our class status and the norms that goes with it. We are seldom aware of our habitus, as long as we move in spaces we are used to, because then our habitus match our surroundings. But when we move in differently classed spaces, then we become aware of how we don’t fit in, how we just don’t know the right social codes.

Before I move back to ASOIAF, I just want to touch on two more concepts from Bourdieu’s writings. The first one is symbolic capital, which I mentioned briefly previously. Symbolic capital refers to the form the other capitals take when they are deemed legitimate. An example of this would be how a university degree (especially from a “fancy” university) makes one’s cultural capital (in this sense education) legitimate, and thus it functions as symbolic capital. As Bourdieu notes, for capital to matter, for it to wield any power, people need to believe that it does.

The power of words and commands, the power of words to give orders and bring order, lies in belief in the legitimacy of the words and of the person who utters them. (Bourdieu 1979, 83)

Readers of ASOIAF might very well recognise this sort of concept from Varys’ famous speech about how “power resides where men believe it resides” (A Clash of Kings, Tyrion II). Where people believe power resides are often dependant on what Bourdieu calls “doxa”, which can be described as that which is taken for granted in a specific social field (Bourdieu 2013). Doxa are sort of core beliefs and values that people view as fundamentally true, and that are seldom if ever questioned. So, for instance, a doxa in Westeros might be that a king should rule the realm and that he as king has (more or less) unlimited power.

But how can we use all of this to analyse Davos’ experience? When the books start, Davos is a knight in the service of Stannis Baratheon, with his own lands and keep on Cape Wrath. His knighthood in combination with his lands provides him some cultural and economic capital, and his relationship with Stannis gives him some social capital. Having Stannis as a patron of sorts also legitimises his cultural and economic capital, turning it into symbolic capital. Yet, it is clear from his first chapter that the other nobles don’t fully respect him:

Davos would have given much to know what he was thinking, but one such as Velaryon would never confide in him. The Lord of the Tides was of the blood of ancient Valyria, and his House had thrice provided brides for Targaryen princes; Davos Seaworth stank of fish and onions. It was the same with the other lordlings. He could trust none of them, nor would they ever include him in their private councils. They scorned his sons as well. My grandsons will joust with theirs, though, and one day their blood may wed with mine. In time my little black ship will fly as high as Velaryon’s seahorse or Celtigar’s red crabs.

(A Clash of Kings, Davos I)

From this passage it is clear that Davos lacks a certain social capital, he’s not included in the nobles’ discussions. But it also seems like an issue for Davos is what Bourdieu might call his trajectory, with Davos getting his start with “fish and onions” as he puts it. Since he is lowborn and has risen high, he doesn’t have the same status as knights who were born into nobility. That this is an issue becomes clearer and clearer throughout Davos’ chapters:

Seaworth had a lordly ring to it, but down deep he was still Davos of Flea Bottom, coming home to his city on its three high hills. He knew as much of ships and sails and shores as any man in the Seven Kingdoms, and had fought his share of desperate fights sword to sword on a wet deck. But to this sort of battle he came a maiden, nervous and afraid. Smugglers do not sound warhorns and raise banners. When they smell danger, they raise sail and run before the wind. Had he been admiral, he might have done it all differently. (…) When he had suggested as much to Ser Imry, the Lord High Captain had thanked him courteously, but his eyes were not as polite. Who is this lowborn craven? those eyes asked. Is he the one who bought his knighthood with an onion?”

(A Clash of Kings, Davos III)

Here, Ser Imry clearly does not respect Davos because of Davos’ background, and sees Davos’ position as a knight less legitimate because he “bought it.” This ignores how all knights have to earn their knighthood in some way, be it at a tourney or for valour in battle. But Davos’ way of earning his knighthood wasn’t as fancy and proper, leading people to question it. I would argue that this is an obstacle to this cultural capital being fully transformed into symbolic capital. While Davos getting the knighthood directly from Stannis, a lord, does legitimise it somewhat, it is clear that his way of getting that position isn’t seen as fully legitimate in the eyes of others. That makes Davos’ position very dependant on Stannis, since Stannis’ support is the main factor that makes others (somewhat) recognise Davos’ capital and position. As Davos puts it: “Should Stannis fall, they will pull me down in an instance.”  (A Clash of Kings Davos I).

Another interesting point brought up in the quote from Davos III is that while Davos is very knowledgeable about seafaring, other nobles don’t listen to him. Davos har learnt how to sail, read maps of the sea, how to fight, and a number of other skills that the nobles also need when sailing and fighting at sea. But while the nobles other were taught by maesters and masters of arms, Davos was taught by the other people he served with on ships. So, while Davos has an education of sorts, it’s not as formal and “fancy” as that of the other nobles. That makes this cultural capital (education) less valuable in this social field (the realm of the nobility), even while it might be worth a lot in other fields/circumstances. Davos’ lack of correct cultural capital comes up again when Stannis makes him Hand of the King:

“Your Grace, you cannot . . . I am no fit man to be a King’s Hand.”

”There is no man fitter.” Stannis sheathed Lightbringer, gave Davos his hand, and pulled him to his feet.

”I am lowborn,” Davos reminded him. ”An upjumped smuggler. Your lords will never obey me.”

”Then we will make new lords.”

”But . . . I cannot read . . . nor write . . .”

”Maester Pylos can read for you. As to writing, my last Hand wrote the head off his shoulders. All I ask of you are the things you’ve always given me. Honesty. Loyalty. Service.”

(A Storm of Swords, Davos IV)

As Davos points out here, him not knowing how to read or write is an obstacle to him moving up higher in social space of Westeros. I would argue, however, that the issue isn’t necessarily that this could limit him in performing his job, because as Stannis points out, he can get assistance in reading and writing. I rather think the issue is that this shows his lack of (correct) cultural capital, and thus becomes yet another point against him in the eyes of other nobles. Another reason for them to not accept him is, as Davos puts it, that he’s lowborn and an upjumped smuggler. As mentioned previously, this shows how it’s not what volume or composition of capital you have that matters, but also which trajectory you have taken through the social space through your life. Clearly the other nobles can’t forget where Davos started out and see him as lesser because of it. Ser Axell Florent perhaps expresses this the clearest:

Ser Axell Florent had entertained the table with the tale of a Targaryen princeling who kept an ape as a pet. This prince liked to dress the creature in his dead son’s clothes and pretend he was a child, Ser Axell claimed, and from time to time he would propose marriages for him. The lords so honored always declined politely, but of course they did decline. ”Even dressed in silk and velvet, an ape remains an ape,” Ser Axell said. ”A wiser prince would have known that you cannot send an ape to do a man’s work.” The queen’s men laughed, and several grinned at Davos. I am no ape, he’d thought. I am as much a lord as you, and a better man.

(A Dance with Dragons, Davos II)

It is clear that Ser Axell thinks that even if Davos gains some cultural capital (such as clothing, titles, etc), he still remains an ape because of his birth. This is a clear example of how one’s trajectory through the social space matters. I would also argue that this indicates that Davos’ habitus might be more aligned with the circumstances of his birth (and life before knighthood), that is to say, he doesn’t fully act like a nobleman “should.” Interestingly enough, Stannis repeatedly expresses how he appreciates this, that Davos is honest and doesn’t try to kiss up to him like other nobles do. But nonetheless, that and other parts of Davos’ (subconscious or not) behaviour sets Davos apart from other nobles. Davos hasn’t internalised the same norms as his “fellows”, he doesn’t implicitly believe the same doxa about how the world should work.

Now, while Davos’ background, cultural capital, and habitus often hinders him in his dealings with nobles, it does benefit him in other situations. One such example is when he arrives in White Harbour and notes that no one pays attention to him because he looks “common.” This can be attributed to several factors, partly his looks (his general appearance and clothing) and his behaviour. That is to say, it is partly because of his cultural capital, but probably even more because of his habitus. He knows how to act among commoners, he has internalised the norms of that social field to the degree that it comes naturally. This is an interesting contrast to when Arya first hides in Flea Bottom at the end of A Game of Thrones, and clearly has the wrong habitus:

She had tried talking to the children she saw in the street, hoping to make a friend who would give her a place to sleep, but she must have talked wrong or something. The little ones only looked at her with quick, wary eyes and ran away if she came too close. Their big brothers and sisters asked questions Arya couldn’t answer, called her names, and tried to steal from her.

(A Game of Thrones, Arya V)

Clearly these kids can tell that Arya isn’t from this space, her behaviour and way of speaking makes her stick out. This isn’t the case with Davos in White Harbour, he has the right habitus for that space.

Before wrapping up this essay, I want to discuss one aspect of Davos’ story that I haven’t touched on previously, and that is his relationship with Salladhor Saan and what their similarities and differences can tell us about Westerosi society. Salladhor is clearly a very rich man, who through this economic capital wields a certain amount of influence. But he’s absolutely not respected by the nobles of Westeros. Partly, I would argue that this is because he has gotten his wealth through pirating, i.e., not legitimate means in the eyes of the nobility. He lacks the cultural and symbolic capital required to gain the respect of the nobles. In that sense he has some similarities with Davos, they both have some economic capital but lack other capital. However, I think it is quite clear that another reason Salladhor isn’t respected is xenophobia. This is something that Bourdieu doesn’t touch on in his own writing, but other scholars inspired by Bourdieu’s writing have considered how intersecting social structures impact one’s position in the social space (eg. Bettie 2000; Skeggs 2005). These writers have noted that race, ethnicity, gender, etc often impact how someone’s cultural capital is perceived, for instance. As Skeggs notes, clothes that might be seen as “cool” on a middle-class white person often doesn’t have the same positive connotations when worn by a poor person of colour. Somewhat similarly, Salladhor might own fancy clothes, jewellery, ships, and whatnot, but this cultural capital isn’t interpreted in the same way as if it was owned by a Westerosi noble. Salladhor’s position as a pirate from Lys changes the sociocultural meaning of that capital. I do not have the space here to fully analyse Salladhor to the degree he deserves, but I thought it important to note how ethnicity can impact one’s class position.

In conclusion then, it is clear that the way Westerosi society is structured makes class mobility very difficult. Even if someone gains some economic capital and perhaps even some cultural and social capital (as Davos has), they will be limited by their trajectory and habitus. The legitimacy of their position will be questioned. If they also belong to a minority or marginalised group, such as not being Westerosi born, they will encounter even more obstacles. It is clear that just as in our world, you can’t just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It is much more difficult than that.

Special thanks to Shiloh for helping me out with research for this essay, everyone should go check out her twitter, her blog, and her book about medievalism in ASOIAF.


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Bourdieu, Pierre. 1979. “Symbolic Power.” Critique of Anthropology 4(77): 77-85.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1987. “What makes a social class? On the theoretical and practical existence of groups.” Berkley Journal of Sociology, 32: 1-17.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1994a/2012. “Social Space and Symbolic Space.” In Contemporary Sociology Theory, eds. Craig Calhoun, Joseph Gerteis, James Moody, Steven Pfaff, and Indermohan Virk, 335-344. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1994b/2012. “Structures, Habitus, Practices.” In Contemporary Sociology Theory, eds. Craig Calhoun, Joseph Gerteis, James Moody, Steven Pfaff, and Indermohan Virk, 345-358. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 2013. “Symbolic capital and social classes.” Journal of Classical Sociology 13(2): 292-302.

Martin, George RR. 2011a. A Game of Thrones. London: Harper Voyager.

Martin, George RR. 2011b. A Clash of Kings. London: Harper Voyager.

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Skeggs, Beverley. 2005. ”The Re-Branding of Class: Propertising Culture”. In Rethinking Class: Culture, Identities & Lifestyle, eds. FionaDevine, Mike Savage, John Scott, and Rosemary Crompton, 46-68. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.