The Finlandisation of Shipbuilding - Industrialisation, the State, and the Disintegration of a Cold War Shipbuilding System

Saara Matala

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The Cold War shaped industrialisation through the politicisation of technology. This thesis examines the expansion and downscaling of the Finnish shipbuilding industry from 1952 to 1996, which has been claimed to be a contingent rather than merely correlated result of the Finnish-Soviet bilateral trade relationship. By exploring the agency of a small country navigating the period of international confrontation and competition, this study contributes to our understanding of the material and economic consequences of the global Cold War. The Finnish shipbuilding industry is conceived as a techno-economic system —a heterogeneous web of components that contributed to the profit-driven building of maritime technology. The conceptualisation draws from studies of Large Technological Systems (LTS), but it adds to the LTS theory an equally strong economic dimension alongside the technological one, and examines industrial transformation as dynamics between system stabilisation and change. The study addresses three specific research questions: How the shipbuilding system developed its structure and national style; how it interacted with the state; and how it disintegrated during the latter part of the Cold War. The study contributes to the LTS theory by showing how the system disintegration re-politicises elements that had established as ordinary. Consequently, the end provides a way of re-considering the politics embedded in the mature system as well. The gravity of the empirical research lies in the five case studies that approach the techno-economic system from five perspectives: technopolitics of shipbuilding, non-commercial cooperation, bilateral institutions of trade and payment, industrial reorganisation, and state aid and financing. The study shows how the Finnish shipbuilding adopted certain elements and gained momentum because Finland's position next to the Soviet Union introduced a novel set of constrains and opportunities. Critical for the industrial development was, however, the Finnish agency in adjusting and adapting to these international conditions. The Finnish Cold War shipbuilding system expressed a recognizable national style in how the companies controlled the fluctuation and insecurities of the business. The state actors often subscribed to the system goals but they also used the shipbuilding system as a technopolitical tool to address national security, national prestige, and national welfare. The disintegration of the Cold War system was triggered by external changes after the 1970s, but initially the system momentum seemingly increased.
Translated title of the contributionLaivanrakennus ja suomettuminen - Teollistuminen, valtio ja kylmän sodan laivanrakennusjärjestelmän hajoaminen
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Kuosmanen, Petri, Supervising Professor
  • Fridlund, Mats, Thesis Advisor
  • Kansikas, Suvi, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8387-2
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8388-9
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • industrialisation
  • large technological systems
  • cold war
  • shipbuilding
  • technopolitics


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