The Welfare Regime of Literature. The Function of Literature in Sweden 1937–1976

The Welfare Regime of Literature. The Function of Literature in Sweden 1937–1976

Previous research has examined the cultural policy debate that led to the policy reforms, as well as the impact these decisions had on the economic situation of authors. What has been missing, however, is an analysis of the changes in the societal function of literature, which also take place during the period in question.

The project has focused on those points where the function of literature is problematised: that is, where literature, or a specific aspect of it, is made visible as a phenomenon in need of (cultural) policy action. The project, therefore, looks at the moments and processes in which literary practice, production, or consumption become subject to distinctions, classifications, regulations, or political interventions.

Drawing on a broad and interdisciplinary set of theories, methods, and research materials, we have used cultural policy as a prism through which certain fundamental relationships between art, literature, politics, and life become discernible – something that is not possible through more traditional single-disciplinary perspectives. The project is thus also a corrective to the dominant social science perspectives that have guided research on cultural policy. In this context, 20th-century art and literature have often been presented as a critical counterpoint to the instrumental reason and social engineering of the welfare state. Nevertheless, it is striking how often politics and art share the same basic ambitions, even if they take different forms.

The history of the Swedish welfare state is usually presented as a major social and economic project. The most remarkable result of the research project is how the development of the Nordic welfare states, including Sweden, was a cultural policy as much as an aesthetic project. In fact, Foucault describes them as expressions of biopolitics that sought to shape, direct, and revitalise the lives of citizens through cultural policy instruments, ultimately with the aim of creating a more “modern” and vibrant population.

Project Leader

Jon Helgason, docent vid Linnéuniversitetet


Researchers/University employees

Research groups