|THE WELFARE POLICIES
In the context of the present
analysis, state political measures are regarded as means to transform the
preconditions for local activities, relations, and interactions.
Local life is thus conceived as series of encounters placed in a dimension
of space-time. ‘Place’ will be comprehended as an expression of the
way social relations have been shaped at certain points in space and time.
The politics of welfare can thus be conceptualized as establishing new
social relations, which can be realized within already existing circumstances
(Massey 1994). To be more concrete, the hamlets I visited during
my field-work may be regarded, from the researcher’s point of view, as
expressions of social relations developed through time and extended in
space. Natural and material resources – from houses and roads to
state subsidies – are realized only when they are inserted into social
relations. The village is thus seen as the concrete expression of
the organization of relations between people living there, and also their
common and individual relations with the world outside of the village.5
This, of course, makes it impossible to view any village as an isolated
unity. On the contrary, every local community must be seen in its
connections with the surrounding world.6 On the other hand, there
can hardly be any doubt that the growing spatial and social integration
– the ever growing extension of social relations – has led to an increasing
consciousness of the questions of local and regional identities.7
‘Local identity’ in this connection is regarded as the result of common
reflections upon the way social relations are shaped, and as an expression
of the development of social relations in a particular place. This
conception has several implications. The woodlands of northern Sweden
provide a good example, where – as part of the evolving modernity – the
former unity between the social and cultural space dissolved through the
increasing disembedding of social relations.8 Another implication
is that social relations always contain a dimension of power. This
dimension is, of course, not new, and it is not connected solely to welfare
policies. Instead, it is mostly accentuated by the increased presence
of ‘absent others’ (cf. Giddens 1990).
On the individual level,
marginality becomes meaningful through understanding one’s own, ‘placed’
conditions as experience and structure. Political marginality, thus,
is not an objective factor, but rather a subjective, though locally shared,
knowledge. The concept is used here to describe a situation in which
the inhabitants of an area share the experience of having (too) little
influence on the workings of politics. In principle, two kinds of
reactions are possible: one may actively resist, that is, combat
the system of rules itself through political actions. The other type
of reaction is to attempt to confine the influence of the political system
on one’s own everyday life by choosing refractory behavior as a strategy.
Interpreting behavior as expression of reluctance is, however, only possible
when looking at it in the rear-view mirror. People mostly act simply
in their own interests, and criticize others from that standpoint.
Likewise, the peasants in Jämtland were not aiming to change the larger
social structure and the state, but rather to work the system to their
own maximum advantage (cf. Hobsbawm 1973; Scott 1985).
New houses and house improvements
(refurbishing kitchens, installing linoleum flooring, hooking up electricity,
building more rooms, and so on) change the physical as well as the cultural
frameworks of everyday life. Housing policies, on the other hand,
can be seen as a means for realizing centrally defined norms of ‘good living’,
establishing a discourse of what is proper. During the interwar period
in Sweden, a great number of official reports described and even defined
the countryside as a problem-area. The inquiries certainly referred
to the actual living conditions dominating in the countryside, which were
considerably below the standards in urban areas. For the large groups
of lumberjacks and peasants in the northern parts of the country, moving
into the modern dwellings provided by the welfare state certainly meant
a significant change. Thus, the image of the countryside as a problematic
area was produced by the very housing policies that originally aspired
to bridge over the distance between the living standards of urban and rural
Swedish housing policies
can be described as a combination of technical and social engineering with
late 19th-century romantic ideas on the importance of the ‘home’.
It is therefore no coincidence that the welfare state in Sweden was named
‘The People’s Home’ (‘Folkhemmet’ in Swedish). The ‘home’ came to
symbolize the ideal of equality since at home everyone is alike.
Referring to both the concrete living facility and the nation in general,
the home meant the right to security, and incorporated modern achievements,
such as central heating and bath tub. To be able to enjoy these facilities
and security, however, the people in the countryside had to accept that
they had previously lived in a place characterized by unenlightened and
For the poor in the countryside,
governmental loans were part of the dream promising a better future.
But there were many obstacles on the road to the future, and the granting
of the loan did not guarantee that it was the villager’s own dream that
was going to be fulfilled. My field material provides concrete examples.
The case of Stina and Bertil in Lillviken9 provide one example for the
difficulties in obtaining a loan for building a new house. They made
a blueprint of their own and sent it to the municipality for a building
permit. However, they shared the faith of most applicants:
the local housing committee did not approve of the blueprint.
It was just like a dictatorship.
You were not allowed to decide yourself what kind of house you want to
build. If it had been today, I would have been much more outspoken,
but in those days we didn’t know, we had to accept the situation to get
a loan at all.
Instead, the municipality
usually recommended a prefabricated house, one which, however, seldom corresponded
to the demands of the builders. Sometimes the people had to face
outright faults, as in the case of Maja and Frans, whose toilet was so
small they had to keep the door open when using it. There were even
People gather and socialize
mostly in the kitchen, especially in the countryside, but here the kitchen
was too small. It was almost impossible even to cook in it.
The idea, I guess, was that we should have our meals in the multi-purpose
room, but it was too far from the kitchen. But it was fabulous to
have a basement under the house with woodshed, heating boiler, laundry
room, and storeroom, and now we even have an oven for baking bread.
We wanted to build the oven all along, but first they stopped it.
So we built it later on. It was the controller who stopped it, but
I guess he only followed the instructions.
The basement with its modern
hygienic technology, was thus accepted with open arms, while the kitchen
proved to be too small and the inhabitants felt the need of an oven.
Maja and Frans could manage to install an oven later, while they still
had to live with a small kitchen and bathroom. They did not, however,
let themselves be exiled to the living room for their meals. We meet
here a kind of refractory behavior toward the ‘good and right living’ dictated
by the housing policies. This behavior can be explained by the borrowers’
disadvantageous position: they needed to get access to resources
administered and controlled by the housing policy representatives.
The same relation is corroborated
by the narration of Edit. She and her husband bought land from a
relative in the small village Kalkberget, and settled in the old house
on the homestead in the year 1939. After five years Edit was widowed
and was left alone with her three small children. Like most of her
neighbors, she earned her living on the small farm with a few cows, goats,
hens and, from time to time, a pig. She grew the barley she needed
for porridge and bread for herself and fodder for the animals, she made
butter and cheese and butchered the occasional pig to obtain meat.
The only kind of food she had to buy was ‘a little oatmeal’. In Edit’s
narrative, the village appears as one big family which helped Edit to survive.
By the end of the 1940’s, however, Edit realized she could no longer live
in the old house due to its worsening condition, thus she applied for a
state loan. From the beginning, the municipality10 maintained that
Edit should not be allowed to build in Kalkberget, since that village was
too remote, and the house would not have sufficient value. Instead,
she was offered to buy a lot in the more central village of Havsnäs.
Since Edit owned a forest and agricultural land in Kalkberget, she argued
that it was against common sense (especially from an economic point of
view) not to allow her to build there. The municipality eventually
let her build in Kalkberget. After this battle, however, Edit seems
to have lost the energy and will to continue to fight for her own ideas
concerning the house:
I had no idea about what
the house should look like. You couldn’t even have an idea, since
they had made a blueprint of the house, the way it ought to be. There
was nothing to discuss. If you had a loan, you had to build the way
it should be, that’s the way it was. You had to accept their calculations.
The product of the building
was a two-and-a-half-storey house, due to the fact that the prefabricated
house on the blueprint had a basement. Edit had known from local
experience that it was impossible to build a basement into the hard bedrock
in the area. The contractor then chose to turn the basement into
a ground floor instead, which gave the building a very high base, and made
it necessary to build an extra staircase to get into the kitchen; “...
that was not the way it was done in the past, they never built basements
then ... .” It is easy to imagine how quickly the news of the bureaucrats’
and building inspectors’ incompetence spread in the village. Even
though this did not lead to any immediate or active expression of resistance,
the experience with state bureaucrats and the examples of repudiating the
implementation of housing policies came to be part of the local knowledge
and, thus, were used to forge local identity. On the other hand,
there was another side of the housing policies, as well. In spite
of all the problems, Edit felt both joy and pride when she moved into her
new home. Just like Maja and Frans, Edit later built an oven for
baking thin, unleavened bread. Already at the time of the construction,
she made the bricklayer prepare the installation of the oven, even though
the supervisor had explicitly said it was not part of the project.
It is perhaps not insignificant that so many examples of refractory behavior
circle around the oven and baking. The type of bread they bake has
a strong symbolic value: it is considered a regional specialty, while
baking also allows the women to prove that they master their roles in the
traditional way of life.
The housing policies were
clearly normative. They accomplished more than simply providing people
with new and better housing conditions; they changed the way of living
also through inducing changes in behavioral norms. Through the regulations
of the construction, the authorities sought control over the space (rooms,
kitchen, bathroom) that immediately surrounds the people. The power
of the state, its capacity to change the conditions which shape people’s
lives, was established on at least two levels. First, as a material
power: through administering loans and subsidies, rules and regulations.
In the villages this power appeared in the form of new resources, which
first of all reached the poorest (not the farming freeholders), since requests
of those in the greatest need were given priority. The price these
people had to pay in exchange, however, was marginalization. This
constitutes the power on the second level: the power to define, to
change villagers from ordinary provincials into inhabitants of sparsely
populated, problematic areas. The official reports established a
new knowledge about the housing conditions in the countryside. This
knowledge, however, was not neutral. It also implied the existence
of an important relation of power: the right to define the problems
as well as the necessary measures to solve them was in the hands of government
bureaucrats. Material resources became power; they were made
manifest in the routines of social reproduction when integrated into the
local social relations. The redefinition influenced not only the
representation of the sparsely populated countryside as marginal area within
the larger national unity, but also its internal organization. If
we don’t believe in conspiracy theories, this new ascribed identity is
the unintended consequence of exercising material power by the state through
What we have is thus a structuring
interference11: an explicit aim to improve people’s living conditions
by structuring their field of action. The reproduction of ways of
living in the villages was a permanent, repetitive process, integrated
into the course of everyday life. At the same time, it was itself
an integrative process: it was in this reproduction that new possibilities
were inserted into parts of the already existing structure. This
meant that local actions could either strengthen, modify, or deny the actions
of central institutions, depending on the local conditions. The refractory
behavior of the villagers, however, seldom involved structured, systematic
reactions because the consequences of government actions were not only
unintended, but also hidden for the actors involved.
In everyday conversations,
people in the woodlands tend to speak of welfare policies in terms of power
dimensions: rural as opposed to urban, marginal as opposed to central,
sparsely as opposed to densely populated, and so on. One may thus
claim that the exercise of power, and the resistance to it, have been clad
in a language referring to sociogeographic rather than sociopolitical conditions.
For the woodland villagers, the opposition between countryside and city,
or the sparsity or density of the population, is a major tool of interpreting
power relations: ties to a marginal place are made to symbolize the
experienced impotence in political action. In this way, identity
appears as a relatively steady cognitive construction, which may be brought
to the fore when the situation calls for it. When villagers dress
up in what we may call ‘the costume of local identity’, they do so in order
to foreground and represent concrete places that otherwise have been integrated,
even dissolved, into wider territorial, social, and cultural fields for
a long time. It is hardly surprising that local identities in the
woodlands show two major characteristics: the repudiation of governmental
powers, and the upholding of the significance and meanings of everyday
local practices, of the knowledge that is shared by the villagers themselves.
It is only when these two characteristics are both present – not in the
form of public announcements, but rather in the routines of everyday life
– that the local identity can turn the experience of marginalization into
the pride of being able to survive in a sparsely populated ‘problem area’.
A large portion of the welfare
policies were introduced in the countryside: this is certainly true
for the housing policies. One major reason for the state’s willingness
to implement welfare measures in the rural areas in the 1930’s and 1940’s
was the very real risk of depopulation. This would have meant shortage
of labor in the forestry, one of the most important export industries of
Sweden. The administrative efforts of the state, however, could not
prevent the further outmigration from the northern countryside after the
late 1950’s. As a consequence, the government bureaucrats shaping
welfare policies gradually turned their attention to the fast-growing urban
environments. In the meantime, the focus of political action in the
rural areas shifted toward the attraction of new industries and investments.
This double change did not mean that all welfare resources were withdrawn
from the rural areas. The general welfare policies continued to operate
on a national level, but ceased to give priority to rural problems.
This whole shift was explained in the name of equality. Before the
1960’s, the rural population had been defined as an underprivileged group
in need of affirmative measures in order to attain equality (meaning likeness)
throughout the country; in the 1960’s, however, the urban workers
became this underprivileged target group. Thus, welfare policies
ceased to have the same symbolic impact on people’s lives in the countryside
they had had during the previous decades.
The focus shifted even on
the level of local identity construction. During the first decades
of the Swedish welfare state, people utilized their refractory behavior
to diminish the influence of what we may call the ‘disciplinary effects’
of welfare policies. This behavior gradually became meaningless as
the state withdrew. Instead, local discourses became preoccupied
with migration and depopulation. Since it was the villagers themselves,
their sons and daughters, neighbors and colleagues who moved away, the
discourse could no longer reinforce the earlier self-image that the villagers
were morally superior to ‘others’ in the towns or other parts of the country.
The emphasis shifted to the conditions for and problems of modernization,
which resulted in the politicization of local identity; but at the
same time, definitions of local identity became more vague, mainly because
it became more difficult to reach consensus in the local community.
The development or, rather,
decomposition of the welfare state during the last fifteen years or so,
has induced a breakdown of the cultural and economic ‘double equality’.
The idea of equality-by-likeness, of course, can have only limited credibility
at a time when immigration and racial issues occupy the forefront of political
debates in Sweden. On the other hand, the redistributive welfare
system has also started to disintegrate due to the economic recession and
the crisis in public finances. In the process, the gaps between the
different social classes have widened, and the ideology of likeness-by-equality
has also lost its relevance. As a result, while the advantages of
the welfare state have evaporated, nothing changed in the marginalized
position of the villagers in Jämtland.
THE LIBERATION MOVEMENT
AND THE REGIONAL SETTING
Geographically speaking Jämtland
is, and has been, a marginal area in the sense that the county is located
far from any political or economic center. This marginality, however,
never meant economic or social isolation, since production cooperation
and trade as well as the institutional ties to the church and the state
have traditionally integrated the area into the larger society. Then
the introduction of welfare policies resulted in an increased presence
of the authorities, and the “not-present-Others” (cf. Giddens 1990) started
to play a more active role in structuring the everyday lives of local people.
The increasing integration resulted in decreasing autonomy, while it also
gave access to new resources. The discourses legitimating the large
welfare investments, however, represented the recipients as politically
and economically marginal. In addition, while during the post-war
period, Swedish economic development on the national level was characterized
by fast industrialization and urbanization, Jämtland, being a non-industrialized,
non-urbanized area, was subject to a large outmigration that led to a considerable
decrease in population. Marginality was thus complemented with the
problems of depopulation.
In the 1960’s, the regionalist
movement in Jämtland started out basically as a reaction to the outmigration
from the county. The actual event that triggered its foundation,
however, was the plan of the state government to unite Jämtland with Västernorrland,
its neighboring county to the east. This was part of a national scheme
to reduce the number of counties drastically, which was met by protests
all over the country. In Jämtland, the yearly festival of Storsjöyran12
was used to mobilize people. The initiators managed to persuade people
to send thousands of postcards to the government in protest against the
unification of the two counties. This kind of demonstration was not
unique to Jämtland, it was part of a general popular opposition against
what was regarded as too much state centralization. But a series
of events made the protests in Jämtland truly unmatched: a small
group of people (most of them related to the show-business) simply proclaimed
the region an independent republic and appointed a rather well-known TV-entertainer
president. Though the proclamation was performed in a jocular fashion,
it nevertheless expressed a strong statement of protest. The members
of the group behind the playful performance called themselves the ‘Freedom
Movement’, mimicking other, more serious liberation movements around the
world. The Freedom Movement employed humorous images in a carnivalesque
manner which gave the movement publicity, and helped it to escape serious
opposition from the authorities.13 At this early stage, the Movement
defined its aims mostly in relation to government policies, without developing
any regional alternative. Instead, in a way typical to carnivals,
the Movement used all of its energy to make fun of the people in power:
its ‘politics’ was simply populist and not explicitly regionalist.
The elements of a serious protest were thus tightly wrapped into a package
During the 1960’s, as the
population of Jämtland was steadily diminishing, the Freedom Movement entertained
itself and its audience with joking protests. Apart from the intellectuals
who had migrated out of the province, the Movement never really got any
substantive support outside the town of Östersund.14 In the following
decade, however, the population decrease stopped.15 It was partly
due to the international oil crisis, which created recession in the Swedish
industrial sector, and thus there were no more employment opportunities
in the cities to attract people from the countryside. In this situation
even the Freedom Movement came to a standstill: it suspended its
activities and the festival did not take place.
When the economic boom of
the 1980’s once again put pressure on the region by attracting its workforce
to the industrial centers, even the Freedom Movement – now renamed the
Liberation Movement – came back to life and revived the festival of Storsjäyran.
The president was new, but just like his predecessor and successor, he
came from the world of show-business. The strong emphasis on employing
persons from show-business, not only as presidents, but also as members
in the various appointed ‘governments’, shows the strategic importance
of utilizing jesting. This, of course, makes the Liberation Movement
difficult to attack, since every attack may be countered with the assumption
that the assailant is unable to read the joke. Still, in the beginning
of what we may call the second phase of regionalization, parodying the
institutions and actions of the state government played an important part.
The Liberation Movement exploited a popular stereotype of the Jämt peasants:
their image as being proud and shrewd as well as backward and marginal.
This stereotype was used to comment upon governmental politics directly,
and not in a way to reflect concrete local experiences with welfare policies
and criticize the government through these examples. It is likely,
though, that the criticism resonated with the way people in the villages
saw government officials. The Liberation Movement was thus using
an already existing, if vague, image of the Jämt as being both different
and exploited by ‘the Bigswede’, which came to be the denomination not
only for authorities and bureaucrats, but, in a more imprecise way, for
the inhabitants of Stockholm and the southern parts of Sweden.16
The vagueness of the image the Jämts had of themselves would have prevented
the development of the Movement into a more serious and broad popular movement.
Without another strong ideological element, the Movement would not have
been able to become an important political factor.
In order to examine this
crucial ideological element, we first have to point out that Jämts have
always expressed a strong sense of tradition and a profound interest in
local history. When this localism, which previously had been represented
mainly by student associations,17 was finally linked to the idea of the
Republic, the process of regionalization started to accelerate. A
central line in the construction of regional history has been to emphasize
that it is different from Swedish history. In this context, the relative
remoteness of the area gained special importance. Historians of the
region claim that, at least up until the late-fifteenth century, Jämtland
was ruled through an independent provincial popular assembly, and therefore
the claims for independence today is historically rooted.
This is precisely the point
where regional opposition turns into ethnification, where historical narratives
conceive the Jämts not simply as a regional population but as a people.18
The ethnification process in Jämtland is a textbook-example of invented
traditions. It is the ethnified interpretation of history that creates,
or invents, the Jämts as a people. Historically, there has never
existed an endogamous kinship system demarcating Jämts from other groups.
In fact, the whole idea of an independent popular assembly with parliamentary
functions is built on rather weak references, and is linked to residence
and land ownership, rather than ethnic belonging. But in the larger
geographical context, any attempt to define the differences in ethnic terms,
even between Norwegians and Swedes, would mean to miss the historical point.
In the whole area, belonging has been defined by residence and ways of
life, or in cases of war between the states, by citizenship – but never
by ethnicity. ‘Norway’, ‘Sweden’, and ‘Jämtland’ consequently function
as cultural constructions, symbols that are used in the elaboration of
various matters which from the start concerned regional development, but
which have taken on the disguise of an ethnic struggle. What the
Liberation Movement is trying to do, then, is to give a present-day political
meaning to the history of territorial boundaries.
The process of ethnification
is of course not solely restricted to the writing of history. It
also involves the production of symbols, such as flags, official seals,
anthems, maps, and literary languages. In the case of the Liberation
Movement, the production of these symbols and the drawing of sharp boundaries
that separate Jämtness from Swedish traditions, make possible territorial
claims sound justified. The Jämt flag, the most visible symbol, has
already gained a semi-official status, it is used at public as well as
private events, it flies from the flagpoles of local governments.
The image of Jämtland as ‘the land of difference’ has also been adopted
by the tourist industry, and its impact has risen accordingly. Once
it is able to establish the Jämts as a people in its own right, the Liberation
Movement might even call itself a national movement. So far, the
Movement has provided Jämts with a frame of reference and interpretation
by connecting the idea of belonging to a region with social and political
change. The image of Jämts as being a marginalized, exploited, and
different people is utilized to endorse ethnic interpretations of present
day social development. Moreover, the spread of multiethnicism in
Sweden further facilitated the conception of the Jämts as a distinct people.
In sum, it is the combination of jesting, traditional ethnic mobilization,
and the ethnic interpretation of social change that has made the Liberation
Even though one might say
that the Liberation Movement has given the political protest an ethnic
rather than a party-political flavor, the regionalism of Jämtland is not
right-wing politics. On the contrary, it is definitely leftist, its
history perhaps reaching back to the classic Swedish coalition between
peasant- and labor-parties in the 1930’s. The protests are directed
against people in power positions, the ‘Bigswedes’ of finance and central
government. As a sign of the broad support for regional ideas, in
the referendum on Swedish European Union membership, approximately 85%
of the Jämts voted against joining the EU.19
The leftist position is
not unproblematic in the process of ethnification: there is only
a thin line that separates it from a more or less clear-cut racism, especially
in a situation where general recession has led to anti-immigrant actions
throughout the country. Therefore, the situation is quite delicate
at the Storsjöyran festivals. The Jämt president usually makes his
speeches at midnight on the main day of the festival in front of a crowd
of several thousand people. Most of the listeners are drunk and could
be easily agitated into violent actions. The president’s jovial and
conciliatory words have so far prevented any violence. He opens his
speeches by addressing the crowd:
All sons and daughters of
While the Liberation Movement
generally imitates and performs the more peaceful actions of other independence
movements, the existence of certain factions within the Movement alludes
to more violent forms of ethnic or regional struggle for independence.
As the website of the organization reveals, the Liberation Movement contains
a “quasi-militant faction, the Jämtland Republican Army (JRA). The
Republic and the Republican Movement is far from being as militant [as]
their names indicate” (Republiken Jämtland 1994). The parallel to
organizations like the IRA in Ireland or the ETA in the Basque area is
both apparent and intended. So far, however, the ‘soldiers’ of JRA
have acted only as presidential guards during the Storsjöyran-festival,
or as ‘customs officers’ at the borders of the Republic, demanding customs
fees in a mocking fashion. In their playful parades, the soldiers
of the JRA march with old hay-making tools in their hands. Today,
no one would support seriously an armed uprising in Jämtland, but the idea
itself has already emerged. The members of the Liberation Movement
have recognized the dangers of such prospect, which has made the president
emphasize repeatedly the non-violent character of the Movement: “True
freedom is never reached at anybody else’s expense; it is reached through
balanced coexistence and human maturity” (The president’s speech, Republiken
It is fairly obvious that
the actions and rhetoric of the Liberation Movement have established –
consciously or not – a new political arena in the region, and a new conceptual
framework for interpreting political and social questions. Even though
very few people in Jämtland would actually want to turn the province into
an independent republic, this new conceptual framework compels most people
to a certain type of thinking and interpretation. When, for instance,
the recession in the 1990’s reached the public as well as the private economic
sector, the disintegration of the welfare system was interpreted in regional
and ethnic terms rather than in class or sociopolitical terms. Jämts
believe that their land is exploited, that the great natural resources
(timber and electric power) of Jämtland is wasted for very small compensation
– and this perspective implies that the resources are actually exported
to Sweden from the republic. In order to legitimate its existence,
it is essential for the Liberation Movement to prove the unfairness of
the state policies towards the region. And once the region is defined
as a republic, the argumentation has to support it.
Eventually, it is proved
beyond all doubt: Jämtland is not a parasite, a heavy rucksack, a burden
that the Bigswede is forced to bear. [...] Jämtland makes a great
contribution to the Swedish nation, particularly in terms of well-educated
youth. Without Jämtland, Sweden screeches to a halt. We do
not demand any ‘Thank You’ cards. All we ask is that we will not
be described as welfare addicts and scrooges. [...] Should the electricity
we export be as dreadful as our roads, the commuter trains in the Mälardalen
region21 would no longer commute ...” (The president’s speech, Republiken
SOME CONCLUDING REMARKS
It should not be surprising
that in the processes of identity construction, both on the local and the
regional level, sociogeographic interpretations of the world dominate.
It is precisely this quality that enables the researcher to speak about
place-based identities. In this paper, the marked differences between
two levels of place-based identities, the local and the regional, have
been explored. I have pointed out that it is certainly possible to
view the construction of local identity as a symbolic activity, but it
is equally relevant to see it as a reaction to changes in the social relations
that makes up everyday life. The formation of local identity in this
sense is an integrative act, a way for people to connect and unite separate
bits and parts into a whole. One might claim that ‘being local’ is
very seldom an aim in itself; the goal instead is expressed in terms
of being able to go on with one’s life. During the first decades
of the Swedish welfare state, the relative equality that dominated village
life in Jämtland did not reach out to encompass those in power. Villagers
felt that the conditions and experiences making up the base of their local
identity were different from those of the government bureaucrats, thus
they were not equal. It seems that the idea of equality was a central
part of local identity construction. On one hand, within the local
community, no one could boast without being negatively sanctioned.
On the other hand, there was a strong emphasis on individual autonomy,
but without entering into open conflicts. This, in turn, led to a
refractory behavior when villagers encountered governmental decisions and
measures that they saw as nonsensical. After the 1950’s, local identity
formation centered on cohesion and on handling the experiences of outmigration,
which was not seen as a rejection of local community, but rather as a result
of state conspiracy or inadequate anti-migration measures.
As opposed to local communities,
regions are imagined, in a way similar to the making of nations (cf. Anderson
1983). This means that identity construction on the regional level
is mediated, and therefore organized and directed. Regional identity
formation may be described as a process of awakening: the regional
identity of Jämtland did not really exist until it was initiated by the
Freedom Movement in the early 1960’s.22 At the beginning, although
regional identity shared some characteristics with the local identities,
it did not grow out of them. Based the urban intellectual milieus
of Östersund and Stockholm, the Freedom Movement was probably met with
some skepticism in the countryside. It was not until later that it
gained popular support, and then regional identity – in its ethnified version
– also influenced the way local identities were reconceptualized.
Thus, one could say that while local identity is constructed in the practices
of everyday life in the community, regional identity is, in the main, a
discursive enterprise. In Jämtland as a whole, it would be problematic
to find practices that everyone shares, and thus would confirm shared belonging
to the region. Instead, identity is built upon symbolic activities,
such as waving the regional flag, writing regional histories, speaking
in regional dialects, and so on, to create an image of common descent.
The state plays a crucial
role in both local and regional identity construction, but does so in different
ways. On the local level, people feel that the state is out of reach.
It is like the weather: it affects everyday life and it can be commented
upon, but it cannot be influenced. Therefore, when the state, through
the ‘disciplinary effects’ of its welfare policies, interfered into village
life, people defended themselves with refractory behavior. Regional
identity construction, however, targeted the state from the very beginning.
The organized form of the Liberation Movement and its campaigns made it
possible to present one dominant and directed discourse on ‘Jämtishness’.
By determining the uniqueness of the Jämts, the Movement was able to create
a sense of Jämt belonging. And by pointing out the difference in
relation to the rest of Sweden and the state, a sense of common cause was
created. The emphasis on uniqueness and difference creates the conception
of Jämts as a distinct people, and this idea is the basis of ethnification.
The ethnification process itself was probably not planned by the initiators,
but the power of the discourse structured the space of the actors in predictable
ways. Today, it would be impossible to pursue successful oppositional
regional politics in Jämtland without entertaining the idea of the Jämts
as a people.23 Thus, the Liberation Movement is potentially a serious
challenge to the state. The Movement provides a frame of reference
for interpreting (welfare) state policies in regional-ethnic terms, which
overrides traditional divisions in party politics. The referendum
on Swedish membership in the EU is an example of this: the Jämt rejection
was more a vote against the Swedish political establishment than against
the EU as such.24
On the regional level, the
question is not so much about the level of interference, because the Swedish
nation-state and its policies have always influenced the region.
It is rather about reinventing and reconceptualizing it as unwelcome, outside
interference, a threat to the region. The future of the Jämt Liberation
Movement is, of course, hard to guess. The success of this endeavor
naturally depends on the degree to which it corresponds to the experiences
and reflections of the people living in the region. The role of the
state as enemy will be crucial, since regional identity is meaningful only
when its protagonists actively seek opposition and initiate resistance
rather than reconciliation. And as the sense of regional belonging
becomes stronger, the mythology of Jämt uniqueness may very well be constructed
in ethnified terms.
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Barnes, John A. (1954):
Class and Committees in a Norwegian Island Parish. In Human Relations.
Studies toward the Integration of the Social Sciences, 7(1): 39–58.
Barth, Fredrik ed. (1969):
Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. The Social Organization of Cultural Difference.
Brox, Ottar (1988):
Ta vare på Norge. Sosialdemokratiet under höyrebölgen. Oslo: Gyldendal
Cohen, Anthony P. ed. (1982):
Belonging. Identity and Social Organization in British Rural Cultures.
Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Cohen, Anthony P. ed. (1986):
Symbolising Boundaries. Identity and Diversity in British Cultures.
Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Cohen, Anthony P. (1989):
The Symbolic Construction of Community. London: Routledge.
Ekman, Ann-Kristin (1991):
Community, Carnival and Campaign. Expressions of Belonging in a Swedish
Region. Stockholm: Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology.
Giddens, Anthony (1984):
The Constitution of Society. Outline of a Theory of Structuration.
Cambridge: Polity Press.
Giddens, Anthony (1990):
The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hanssen, Börje (1953):
Fields of Social Activity and their Dynamics. In Transactions of
the Westermarck Society, vol 2.
Hobsbawm, Eric (1973):
Peasants and Politics. In Journal of Peasant Studies, 1(1): 3–22.
Kleivan, Helge (1970):
Culture and Ethnic Identity. On Modernization and Ethnicity in Greenland.
In Folk, 11–12: 209–233.
Knight, John (1994):
Questioning Local Boundaries. A Critique of the ‘Anthropology of locality’.
In Ethnos, 59(3–4): 213–231.
Knudsen, Anne and Lisanne
Wilken (1997): Kulturella Världar. Kultur och kulturkonflikter
i Europa. Lund: Tiedlund.
MacClancy, Jeremy (1993):
At Play with Identity in the Basque arena. In Inside European identities.
Sharon Macdonald ed., 84–97. Oxford and Providence: Berg.
Massey, Doreen (1994):
Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Paasi, Anssi (1996):
Territories, Boundaries and Consciousness. The Changing Geographies of
the Finnish– Russian Border. Chichester, Brisbane, Toronto, and Singapore:
John Wiley and Sons.
Redfield, Robert (1989):
The Little Community. Midway Reprint. Chicago and London: The University
of Chicago Press.
Republiken Jämtland (1994):
The Official Homepage of the Republic of Jämtland. http://omega.studo.mh.se/
Scott, James C. (1985):
Weapons of the Weak. Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven
and London: Yale University Press.
1 The article is drawing
on field-material and discussions being developed in my forthcoming thesis.
2 Since the beginnings of
history, there has existed a Saami minority in parts of northern Sweden,
and at least from the 16th century on, a Finnish immigrant population in
different areas of the country. By and large, these groups, together
with others, like Gypsies and Jews, were not considered to break the monoethnicism
of Sweden. Thus, the collective rights of ethnic groups were not
recognized officially until new groups of immigrants settled in the early
3 The system, in its similar
Norwegian variant, is described by Ottar Brox (Brox 1988). He also
points to the problematic aspects of the combination of equality and likeness
in welfare state policies, from which I have developed the idea of ‘double
4 ‘Refractory action’ here
stands for the reluctance to accept the measures people not originally
approve. It is similar to the notion of the ‘resistance of the weak’
as described by Scott (Scott 1985), and does not involve open or organized
opposition. It is thus a partial acceptance of being overpowered
by the authorities, or rather an acceptance of the authorities’ right to
exercise control. On the other hand, the term also implies an aspiration
to do things one’s own way, as long as it can be done without a direct
challenge to the authorities. As opposed to other types of resistance,
refractory behavior can easily be taken as willfulness or obstinacy.
5 The term ‘social relations’
is thus used here in a rather vague and imprecise sense. My main
point is to underline that only those things/events will matter in the
formation of the villagers’ lives that are made part of their social relations.
Experiences are personal and become social when communicated to others.
Experiences become part of the social relations only to the extent they
affect other people’s lives or apprehensions. Of course, it can be
argued that in this way anything can be made part of a group’s social relations.
On the other hand, this does not mean that things can be excluded from
social relations as a matter of free will.
6 This was pointed out as
early as in the early fifties, when the British social anthropologist John
Barnes introduced the concept of ‘field’ to characterize these relations
on the basis of his fieldwork in a small Norwegian community (Barnes 1954).
His views were elaborated upon by, among others, Robert Redfield (cf. Redfield
1989). The Swedish ethnologist Börje Hanssen reached the same conclusions
through a somewhat different track (Hanssen 1953). For a more recent
research elaborating on this point, see the work of Finnish geographer
Anssi Paasi, who have shown how the small community of Värtsilä, on the
border between Finland and Russia, formed its identity in the encounters
between the local, the national, and the transnational (Paasi 1996).
The anthropologist John Knight’s critique of Anthony Cohen’s ideas on the
symbolic construction of community is also relevant here (Knight 1994).
7 Cf. Cohen 1982, 1986,
1989. The logic of this apparent paradox has been noticed by quite
a number of researchers. See, for example, Barth 1969; Ekman 1991;
and Kleivan 1970.
8 Cf. Giddens 1990.
9 The material on Stina
and Bertil, Maja and Frans, and Edit is collected within a research-project
on the rise of housing policy in the parish of Alanäs in the northernmost
part of the county of Jämtland.
10 The loans were granted
by the state but applications were sent to the municipality, which would
give recommendations to the regional state housing committee, which would
eventually approve or disapprove of the application. The municipal
committee did have most of the contacts with the applicants, but their
freedom of action was restricted by government regulations.
11 Cf. Giddens 1984.
12 Storsjön is the name
of the lake in the center of the region on which shores is the only regional
town, Östersund. ‘Yra’ roughly means frenzy.
13 At one time ‘the president’
succeeded in being received by the Swedish prime minister Tage Erlander,
himself a great humorist, in a mock version of a state visit. They
were being filmed for the TV-news in the same rowing-boat where Mr. Erlander
a few months earlier had met with the Soviet general secretary Nikita Krustschev.
14 For example, none of
the presidents have been permanent residents of the region. All of
them are outmigrated intellectuals (here including show-business people).
15 The small growth in population
that could be registered in the county was concentrated to the town of
Östersund. The growth in the town’s population increased even further
through the immigration of people from the region’s countryside.
The countryside was thus still being depopulated and people still trying
to get by through the strategies of refractory behavior.
16 ‘Bigswede’ is actually
used by the Liberation Movement as a word of abuse to denominate everything
that is seen as bad for Jämtland. One could perhaps claim that its
use demarcates the forces of power from the powerlessness of the people,
but since the meaning of the term ‘Bigswede’ varies according to user and
situation, this is not always the case. Sometimes it is enough to
come from the southern part of Sweden, and to ‘show an attitude’ to be
called ‘Bigswede’, even though this person may not exercise power in Jämtland.
The ‘Bigswede’ is thus solely defined by the Jämts, and does not exist
outside of the Liberation Movement’s discourse, even though the powers
it is made to represent may very well exist.
17 One of the main movers
in this process was the student fraternity Jämtamot at Uppsala university.
18 There are obvious parallels
between this process and what has been happening in many other parts of
Europe, for instance the ethnification-process in northern Spain concerning
the Basques, even though this latter process is much more dramatic (cf.
MacClancy 1993; Knudsen and Wilken 1997).
19 In Sweden, unlike in
many other countries, the EU is seen as a right wing project.
20 All quotations from the
president and/or the Liberation Movement are taken from their homepage
on the internet: http://omega.studo.mh.se/~verner/dfr/presidenttal94.html.
In the presentation of the Republic of Jämtland it is said to consist of
three parts: Härjedalen, Ravund and Jämtland. Tröndelag is the Norwegian
county bordering upon Jämtland. In the region there is also a Saami
population, sometimes in conflict with the Swedish/Jämt inhabitants.
The important thing, however, is the inclusion of immigrants, ‘in-migrants’
from other parts of Sweden as well as ‘real’ immigrants who have come from
a farther distance.
21 The Mälardalen region
is the area surrounding Stockholm and has roughly the meaning of ‘home
of the exploiters and the ignorant’.
22 In the past, of course,
several regional historians tried to describe the area and its history
and thereby naturally emphasizing its uniqueness. However, they did
not create any widespread regional discourse on identity.
23 Even the regional state
authorities seem to have been caught by this image. For example,
the former county governor is a member of the present Jämt ‘government’.
24 The Swedish–Norwegian
relations are not affected, since on the level of the two states, there
is no support for any present-