The meaning of Swedishness

As I wrote earlier, ethno-cultural Swedishness appears to be protected from visibility and discussion by an emphasis on social membership as conceived in procedural terms (you vote, you work, you pay your taxes, you use the services you help pay for) that are assumed to be culturally neutral.

There seem to be 2 issues here. First, the pragmatic and rational-bureaucratic organization of the social welfare state is not culturally neutral. Social life and the institutions that make it possible are built on core values and assumptions regarding individuality, family, a good life, gender relations, religious values, mainstream tastes, etc.

Second, is this procedural membership sufficient to indicate social membership? One of the things I am finding so interesting in my work on immigrant incorporation here is the question of the elasticity of “Swedishness” vis-à-vis immigrants and their increasingly “Swedified” (as someone put it in a recent interview) children. Even bracketing the more obvious racial issues, what are the possibilities for an overarching national “Swedishness” given the explicit ethno-cultural basis of the identity that justified the nation-state?

Well, I am not the only one out there wondering about all of this. In fact, Sweden’s Integrationsminister, Erik Ullenhag, has established a committee to come up with an inclusive definition of Swedish citizenship and strategize about ways in which the acquisition of citizenship can be imbued with some symbolic significance that helps immigrants feel they belong (and, I would add, helps long-timers think that, too).

Guess what meetings I want to be sitting in on!

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