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David Östlund, Södertörn University

Cinderella and her Sisters

- The Nordic Family of Nations in the Age of ’Swedology’
 

Name: David Östlund

Academic credentials: Associate Professor, History of Ideas, Södertörn University, Stockholm. (During the academic year 2017-18 visiting professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

Abstract: From the early 1930s through the late 1970s Sweden attracted international attention beyond proportion to the nation’s size and importance. An amazing amount of books, book-chapters, and articles in journals and newspapers were written, telling stories about Swedish society or some particular aspect of it. The images created used the small kingdom as _a case in point_. But the points shifted. Some celebrated a “model society” while others singled out Sweden as a deterrent. In most cases such images were directed against each other: ”Swedophiles” and ”Swedoclasts” debunked each other’s depictions, serving social and political agendas in which _Sweden as such_ hardly was the main interest.

One thing most ”Swedological writings” (as the genre was dubbed in 1968) agreed on, though: Sweden was a place to study the future of the world, for better or worse. The motor behind this assumption was Sweden’s economic Cinderella story. The theme of unbridled _social and cultural modernity_ was ubiquitous – no matter if consumer co-ops, sexual permissiveness, neutrality, architecture, labor peace, or social policies was the issue at stake. A revealing aspect of this genre of writing was its manners of linking the Swedish case to those of her Nordic neighbors. Oftentimes Swedological writing formally dealt with “Scandinavia” in general but in practice mainly with Sweden – treating Sweden as the “essence” of all things truly Scandinavian. In other cases phenomena in Norway, Denmark, and Finland were treated from a “Swedish” point of view: as items of extension, comparison or contrast – making the intended sketches of the main example sharper.

Marquis W. Childs’s books from the 1930s, e.g., never dealt exclusively with Sweden: the 1936 bestseller _Sweden – the Middle Way_ contained a chapter on Danish agricultural co-ops, while the less known sequel on _Collective Bargaining in Scandinavia_ (1938) obviously dealt with Scandinavia in general and Sweden very much in particular. Occasionally it did not even matter from which of the Scandinavian countries the examples were fetched: they were offered as “Swedish” even if they were not. Such a case was when _Der Spiegel_ used images from Copenhagen to illustrate how openly pornography was sold in Swedish shop windows in the late 60s.

Another was when the Italian director of the film “Svezia inferno e paradiso” (”Sweden – Heaven and Hell”, 1968) concluded his panorama of a tickling Swedish nightmare with detailed footage from the Vigeland Park in Oslo. The neighbors’ reactions to the attention Sweden attained differed in an interesting way: from the Norwegian PM’s indignant defense of Sweden’s honor after a thrust by president Eisenhower in 1960, to the gloating eager with which Danish and Norwegian translations of the most violent anti-Swedish anathema ever, Roland Huntford’s _The New Totalitarians_ (1971), were published alongside the German and French editions.

Theme: Scandinavia in the Eyes of the World