Reimagineering the Nation

Essays on Twenty-First-Century Sweden

by Aleksandra Ålund (Volume editor) Carl-Ulrik Schierup (Volume editor) Anders Neergaard (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 376 Pages
Series: Political and Social Change, Volume 4


This collection of essays offers a critical analysis of neoliberal transformation as it has unfolded in Sweden, long regarded as exemplary in terms of social welfare, equality and an inclusive multicultural democracy. The book presents a multidisciplinary exposition on Sweden, seen in a wider European perspective. It addresses changing frameworks of citizenship, welfare and democracy, migration and asylum, urban segregation and labour market segmentation and processes of securitization. It illuminates intersecting dimensions of class, gender and racialization and juxtaposes xenophobic populism with new social justice and antiracist movements on a changing political stage. Addressing a growing alignment with retrogressive illiberal policies across Europe, the volume exposes the reach of the adverse direction in which European «integration» is currently heading.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Author Bioses
  • 1. Reimagineering the Nation: Crisis and Social Transformation in 21st Century Sweden. An Introduction (Carl-Ulrik Schierup / Aleksandra Ålund / Anders Neergaard)
  • 2. How the Swedish Model Was (Almost) Lost. Migration, Welfare and Politics of Solidarity (Carl-Ulrik Schierup / Simone Scarpa)
  • 3. The Swedish Model in Transition: Trade Unions and Racialised Workers (Anders Neergaard)
  • 4. Invisible, Burdensome and Threatening: The Location of Migrant Women in the Swedish Welfare State (Diana Mulinari / Åsa Lundqvist)
  • 5. Rationalities of Exclusionary Inclusion: Constructing Others while Combating Social Exclusion (Viktor Vesterberg)
  • 6. Swedish Retirement Migrants and Domestic Services in Spain: Informalisation and Moral Economy in Reimagining Sweden (Anna Gavanas)
  • 7. Towards a New Education Regime: The Neoliberal Turn in Swedish Education Policy (Magnus Dahlstedt / Anders Trumberg)
  • 8. Problematizing Parents: Representations of Multi-Ethnic Areas, Youth and Urban Unrest (Magnus Dahlstedt / Vanja Lozić)
  • 9. Welfare Policing and the Safety–Security Nexus in Urban Governance: The Expanded Cohesion Agenda in Malmö (Randi Elin Gressgård)
  • 10. From Racial to Racist State? The Sweden Democrats Reimagining the Nation (Diana Mulinari / Anders Neergaard)
  • 11. Workplaces on the Move: Professional Mobilisation against the Extreme Right (Paula Mulinari)
  • 12. Framing Solidarity in the Unionisation of Undocumented Migrant Workers (Nedžad Mešić)
  • 13. Reading the Stockholm Riots: A Moment for Social Justice? (Carl-Ulrik Schierup, Aleksandra Ålund / Lisa Kings)
  • 14. Renaissance from the Margins: Urban Youth Activism in Sweden (René León Rosales / Aleksandra Ålund)

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Author Bioses

Aleksandra Ålund is professor at REMESO, The Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society at Linköping University. She has published widely in Swedish, English and other languages on international migration and ethnicity, identity, culture, gender, youth and social movements.

Magnus Dahlstedt is professor in Social Work at Linköping University. His main research interest concerns constructions of citizenship in the multi-ethnic society with a particular focus on struggles over boundaries of citizenship.

Anna Gavanas is associate professor at Remeso/ Linköping University. Her research covers migration, policy anthropology, gender studies, welfare states, working life and labour studies. Areas of specialization are, among other, domestic services in the EU, privatization of elderly care as well as U.S. fatherhood politics.

Randi Gressgård is professor at Centre for Women’s and Gender Research (SKOK), and affiliated with the research unit International Migration and Ethnic Relations (IMER), University of Bergen. Her research interests include migration and minority studies, gender and sexuality studies, and urban studies.

Lisa Kings is senior lecturer at Södertörn University, Sweden. Her research and publications, nationally and internationally, in Swedish and English, are focused on issues on urban theory, social movements, social justice, civil society organization and everyday life.

Åsa Lundqvist is professor in Sociology, Department of Sociology, Lund University. Her main research interests include feminist analysis of the history of the welfare state and welfare policies, especially labour market regulation and family policies.

Vanja Lozic, Ph.D. senior lecturer at the School of Education and Environment, Kristianstad University, Sweden. His research deals with issues in education from the perspectives of ethnicity, multiculturalism, disability and youth cultures. He has published articles on integrated learning and museum-studies.

Diana Mulinari is professor at the Department of Gender Studies, Lund University. Her research focuses on issues of gender and division of labour in a global ← 7 | 8 → and intersectional perspective, relating gender and sexuality to issues of social class and ethnicity. She has studied processes of migration and changing ethnic and gender regimes and the mobilisation of new social solidarities.

Paula Mulinari is associate professor at the department of Social Work, at Malmö University. Her main research interest is on labour processes, gender, racialised and class inequalities in the labour market.

Anders Neergaard is associate professor in sociology at REMESO, The Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society at Linköping University. His research and publications span issues such as labour migration, racial discrimination, trade union organisation and extreme right-wing/racist parties.

René León Rosales is a postdoctoral researcher at the Child and Youth Studies, Uppsala University. His research focuses on local democracy and policies against discrimination with a focus on ethnic segregation and young people’s identification and life strategies in multi-ethnic societies.

Simone Scarpa is a postdoctoral researcher at REMESO, The Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society at Linköping University. His research interests are: comparative social policy research, urban studies, poverty and inequality analysis, residential segregation in cities.

Carl-Ulrik Schierup is professor at REMESO, The Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society, Linköping University, Sweden. His research and wide range of national and international publications cover issues of international migration, multiculturalism, racism, social-reconstruction in post-communist states, globalisation and the precarization of labour.

Anders Trumberg is a researcher at the Institute for Housing and Urban Research at Uppsala University and affiliated to Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CUReS) at Örebro University. His work is focused on ethnicity, identity and social segregation within the Swedish schools system.

Viktor Vesterberg is a PhD lecturer at REMESO, the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society at Linköping University. His research focuses on the governance of unemployed migrants.

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Carl-Ulrik Schierup, Aleksandra Ålund & Anders Neergaard

Reimagineering the Nation: Crisis and Social Transformation in 21st Century Sweden. An Introduction

Abstract: While for long being known as an international role model of tolerant multiculturalism and ethno-national diversity, Sweden is presently characterised by restrictive refuge policies, growing right wing populism but also resistance among civil society actors spearheaded by a variety of social justice movements. This first chapter introduces and contextualises the following 13 chapters of the book. They discuss Sweden’s current transformation from varying, but complementary, perspectives. Their authors set focus on the present crossroad in the country’s development, in terms of labour, citizenship racism and social exclusion, gender and immigration policy.

The year 2011 will pass into world history as one promising revolutionary change; by many imagined as the dawn of a brighter post-neoliberal future. But numerous manifestations of the hoped-for democratic spring mutated without notice into a reactionary necropolitical fall. In the ‘indispensable nation’ the Occupy Wall Street Movement, confronting the ‘One Percent’, was beaten down by the nation’s increasingly militarised police force, giving way to a racist neo-conservative tsunami. A much hailed ‘Arab Spring’ was co-opted or it was smothered in its infancy through ‘humanitarian intervention’ and covert imperial war games for regime change in dispensable nations across North Africa and the Middle East. Ethno-national fratricide continued to be staged and stepped up by the self-described ‘masters of the universe’1; the so-called ‘international community’ of the West.2

Yet, the empire was to ‘strike back’3 in the shape of a terrible self-inflicted Jihadist Behemoth, coupled with the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015; or more precisely ← 9 | 10 → a ‘crisis of solidarity’ as the UNHCR Regional Coordinator for Europe, Vincent Cochetel (IPI 2015) describes it. This blowback strangely appeared to catch the European Union and its member states by surprise. From an initially bold move by Germany and Sweden, as the number of immigrants seeking shelter in the early autumn of 2015 began to rise things went quickly back to closed borders, barbed wire fences and securitization. Through a Faustian pact with an increasingly authoritarian neo-Ottoman regime, the EU attempted to buy absolution by concentrating its ‘refugee problem’ into outsourced camps in Turkey, itself riven by civil war (Gelmini 2015). A truly uncomfortable choice. ‘Rarely has the EU needed Turkey so badly. And rarely has Turkey looked like such an unattractive partner’, concludes Gideon Rachman (2016) in the Financial Times. The latest ‘formal act of European disintegration’, muses Roberto Savio (2016), was the negotiation between 28 European leaders and the Prime Minister of Turkey eventuating in a deal at odds with all international treaties, meaning a total capitulation to ‘European values’. The grand European project stands denuded. We see a deformed colossus with feet of clay showing itself utterly incapable of taking responsibility for what amounts to a fraction of the monumental human tragedy, which it has itself been instrumental in bringing about, through colonialism in the past and predatory wars in current times.

‘Helping the refugees in their region of origin’ – a euphemism for this historical duplicity is indeed an allegedly ‘humanitarian’ political recipe prescribed by the right extremist Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) as an alternative to Sweden’s purportedly ‘irresponsible’ mass-immigration and asylum policy (99 SD-Problem 2014). Thus, the EU’s cynical fix of its ‘refugee problem’ allows a, for long officially rebuffed, Swedish extreme right party to appear in the guise of the Archangel Gabriel.

The Sweden Democrats is a nationalist and neo-conservative political party with a blatantly racist Nazi past, which has gradually increased the number of its voters in the 2000s and which today holds the balance of power in the Swedish parliament. It is a party which at the time of writing still tends to be morally scorned and which is still to a degree politically boycotted by established parties to the left as well as to the right. But, actually, strategies for breaking the party’s advance have, instead of effectively opposing it, lately taken the direction of a panicked step-by-step appropriation of its very agenda, to such a degree that by early 2016 decades of an open and farsighted Swedish asylum and family unification policy have been scrapped in favour of subscribing to many of the extreme right’s cardinal positions. ← 10 | 11 →

We are thus experiencing a moment of crisis. It is a humanitarian catastrophe, faced by which a vital Swedish civil society has demonstrated strong popular will to welcome and embrace those fleeing from authoritarian regimes and the emergencies produced by imperial intervention and internecine wars. But it is at the same time a moment heavily exploited by an expanding extreme right racist movement. It profits from the propagation of phantasies of invasion by aliens, imagined to import supposedly toxic cultures, beliefs and customs that threaten to infect the life-blood of a noble, yet naïve, Nordic nation. It represents, as defined by Ambavalander Sivanandan (2001), a ‘xenoracism’ denigrating and reifying ‘the displaced, the dispossessed and the uprooted, who are beating at Western Europe’s doors, the Europe that helped to displace them in the first place’.4 Nor is this solely a Swedish phenomenon. It represents a Swedish variety – distinguished by a particularly dramatic, rapid and swift shift – of political perturbations taking place in different forms all across a crisis ridden and increasingly politically fragmenting European Union. Thus ‘[t]he real crisis is not the influx of refugees to Europe per se’, concludes civil society activist and writer, Rajesh Makwana (2016), ‘but a toxic combination of destabilising foreign policy agendas, economic austerity and the rise of right-wing nationalism, which is likely to push the world further into social and political chaos’. It is a dire state of the (EU) Union, eventually with even Sweden, for long exemplary with respect to its liberal politics of asylum and refugees, failing to live up to ‘humanity’s last call for a culture of sharing and cooperation’ (Makwana 2016).

Yet, Sweden is no Ireland. No Greece. It is still a country at the top of the international division of labour – a North of the North, but with its reputation for being a ‘moral-political great power’5 and an independent geopolitical actor ← 11 | 12 → gone to a state of vassalage subject to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, NATO and the United States. Sweden is, alongside Denmark and the UK, privileged by not being part of the Eurozone. This is one reason why the 2008 economic crisis affected Sweden less than most other European Union member states. It is a country for which a continued open migration and asylum policy would have promised unique opportunities for filling gaps in the labour market, for boosting economic dynamism, for redressing a crisis in an undermanned welfare institutional system, and for successfully combating a looming demographic crisis (Pelling 2015; cf. Scocco and Andersson 2015). The breakdown of the broader solidarities needed for pursuing long term goals of sustainable economic development and resuscitated social welfare resting on broadly-based politics of solidarity scuppered these opportunities. Thus the so-called ‘refugee’ or ‘migration crisis’ is rather the symptom of a deeper structurally and institutionally grounded ‘crisis of solidarity’ – even in Sweden. But the long-looming relapse of the country’s welfare system can now be conveniently hidden behind a smokescreen of ‘the refugees’ (Gemmel 2016).

Sweden is indeed experiencing a deep seated crisis of social solidarity. It is driven by neoliberal politics which since the mid-1990s has made Sweden the OECD member with the fastest growth of social inequality. It has – using a concept coined by the historian Karl Polanyi (2001 [1944]) in his analysis of the economic and political crisis of the 1930s – been driven by a destructive ‘commodification’ of labour, money and urban and rural environments as they are subjected to a rampant self-regulating market economy. Similar processes today are analysed by David Harvey (2005) in terms of an ‘accumulation through dispossession’ i.e. looting all that is common. And there was, and in truth still remains a lot common to loot in a Sweden that used to be known as the exemplary welfare state. A deepening inequality has been produced through market driven politics of deregulation, privatisation and changes in the taxation regime favouring the well-off ← 12 | 13 → and skinning the already disadvantaged on the margins of the social welfare system. It has produced precarisation of work, citizenship and livelihoods; work and life not only without guarantees, but without predictability. However, this may be far from the end. Seen from the perspective of devoted neoliberals there remains still much to be done in bringing about the Hayekian market society that Polanyi (2001 [1944]: 3) sardonically denounced as a ‘stark utopia’ in his famous work, The Great Transformation (see also Block 2001: xxiv).

Parallel to this there is a crisis of belonging, as the role and function of the nation-state is being remoulded through the covert elite politics of market driven regionalism, internationalisation and globalisation with crucial impacts on the lives of all, but without solid anchorage in democratic processes or a sustainable institutional embeddedness. Taken together, all of this breeds existential insecurity and a crisis of the polity and of identity. It breeds as an adamant twin – similar to the proposition of Polanyi (2001 [1944]) relating to the crisis of the 1930s – contentious ‘counter-movements’; yet, as before, these are often met by securitization and a ‘state of exception’ (Agamben 2005). And some appear to be seen as more ‘dangerous’ that others and treated accordingly.

The dire state we are in is well illustrated by the fate of an anti-fascist demonstration in the city of Malmö, Sweden, in August 2014, broken by mounted police (who illegally covered the identity tags on their helmets): an armoured brigade ruthlessly charged into a crowd of helpless activists. This could not but call to memory another atrocity: the deadly massacre of demonstrating workers in Ådalen, Northern Sweden in 1931. It was a brutal overture to a great compromise between capital and labour shortly afterwards. This compromise contained a tense class struggle, and it constituted the grounds for the Swedish welfare state until the crucial advance of neoliberal policies from the early 1990s. We have consequently travelled from one Polanyian moment of crisis to another – and from one ‘state of exception’ to another (Agamben 2005). It corresponds to Antonio Gramsci’s famous definition of crisis. We live in a protracted interregnum where ‘the old is dying’ and where we can only guess what new is yet to come. It is a hiatus that harbours plentiful ‘morbid symptoms’.

From this perspective we take as our point of departure in this collection of essays on Sweden’s current transformation, the conspicuous crisis and debacle of the proud imagination of the European Union as the apogee of a tolerant multiculturalism and ethno-national diversity. It is a Messianic imaginary for which Sweden and its unique socioeconomic and political model enjoyed the reputation of being the exceptional spearhead (Schierup and Ålund 2011a). However, the EU’s complex financial, political and social crisis has given way to despondent ← 13 | 14 → imaginaries that depict ethno-cultural diversity produced through immigration as a menace to the social solidarity that supports strong welfare states, and it depicts ‘the Other’, the migrant, the ‘stranger’, the ‘Muslim’, the ‘Roma’, etc., as the main scapegoats for the crisis. The culminating despondent imagery of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ has become the dominant narrative, even in Sweden. Unravelling its causes and consequences is the overall objective of this book.

The book is divided into three main parts.

In Part One, ‘The Welfare State in Crisis: Too Much Diversity… or Too Much Austerity?’, we turn the conventional populist and academic problem of the ‘refugee crisis’ topsy-turvy. With reference to a changing European context we scrutinize the last quarter of a century’s radical neoliberal transformation of the Swedish welfare state. We question the common sense idea that blames migration and increasing cultural diversity for undermining the welfare state and look at the persistent dogma of ‘fiscal austerity’ as a threat to the solidarity of an integrated multi-ethnic society. We chart the consequences of a deep-seated neoliberal reimagineering of the Swedish labour market and welfare regime, discuss decomposition of the class compromise and the traditionally strong working class organisation on which it rests, and point to the incongruity of a grand narrative of Swedish gender equality as compared with the incapacitating racialisation of migrant and post-migrant women.

In Part Two, ‘Neoliberal Imagineering’, the notion of imagineering is brought into play as a way to capture policies and institutions which have implemented the creative ideas of neoliberal political theory in practical form (Paul 2004). In its five chapters we take a closer look at specific cases of institutional restructuring with a focus on discourses and practices of ‘exclusionary labour market inclusion’, vagaries of an increasingly commodified school system, an exploitative transnationalised old age care and a securitised management of disadvantaged multi-ethnic urban neighbourhoods with a particular focus on the monitoring of racialised families.

Finally, Part Three, ‘Reimagining Community’, focuses on the imaginings and agency of upcoming social movements. Its five chapters expose alternative imaginings of societal development and investigate different constellations of actors offering counter-hegemonic prospects. For a start the rise of Sweden’s increasingly influential racist-populist movement is discussed in a chapter with a particular focus on the Sweden Democrats. After that the book closes with four chapters focusing on different forms of anti-racist mobilisation. They tell of imaginaries in action and obstacles met by anti-racist workplace mobilization of blue collar workers. They bring into the open the dilemmas of Swedish trade unions and ← 14 | 15 → solidarity organisations in civil society confronted with a growing informalisation of the labour market. They discuss urban rebellion and new organisations fighting for ‘social justice’ and communicate the visions and ordeals of youth in the societal margin of racialised urban neighbourhoods.


Following the end of the Cold War, ‘multiculturalism’ and ethno-cultural ‘diversity’ was propagated as part and parcel of the credo of the European Commission. It grounded the commission’s self-instated authority to set standards for good governance well beyond the original western core of the EU through its mission to reform a previously ‘totalitarian’ European East. It has functioned also as a standard discursive weapon legitimising a ‘liberal’ West’s devastating ‘humanitarian’ crusades across the wastelands of the global Rest’s ‘failed states’; most notably in Northern Europe’s unruly Balkan backyard, in the Middle East and in North Africa. One of its more emphatic manifestations was paraded on the webpage, Together in Diversity, designed by the Directory General for Education and Culture in order to promote the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (European Commission 2008) and to set long term processes of ‘intercultural dialogue’ in motion in the EU’s individual member states. Here Europe’s great cultural diversity – fusing with neoliberal ‘deregulation’ – was still represented as a unique comparative advantage. ‘The enlargement of the European Union, deregulation of employment laws and globalisation’, it asserted, has ‘increased the multicultural character of many countries, adding to the number of languages, religions, ethnic and cultural backgrounds found on the continent. As a result,’ this manifesto for EU policies on diversity goes on, ‘intercultural dialogue has an increasingly important role to play in fostering European identity and citizenship’. Migration is here praised for enriching the continent’s culture and ‘the intercultural dialogue between the host country society and different migrant communities from other Member States or outside the EU’ is seen to have ‘a key role to play in strengthening citizenship values and participation for solidarity and cohesion’ in European societies.

However, by the second decade of the 21st century, this rhetoric of ‘intercultural dialogue’ rather abruptly came to sound like an empty and anachronistic moral-political invocation. Speech on good governance in the EU had now become exceedingly dominated by phrases of ‘prolonged austerity’ (CEO 2011) for which popular support was drummed up through a ‘sacralisation’ of imagined mono-cultural nations’ moral majorities (Houdt, Suvarierol and Schinkel 2011). By 2011 a tour de force played out by preeminent custodians of EU neoliberal austerity ← 15 | 16 → politics took over the Union’s political scene in an apparently synchronised move by heads of government – Angela Merkel in Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy in France and David Cameron in the United Kingdom – to contest a mounting neoconservative nationalism by cannibalising it.6 In emphatic speeches they all attempted to gain leeway in a tighter battle for political hegemony through scapegoating ‘multiculturalism’ as a threat to the ‘nation’s’ or its ‘people’s’ cultural unity, social cohesion, core values, equality and progress.

Flying banners of Western liberal democratic ‘core values’, a good deal of academic and media driven brush-clearing helped to prepare the ideological ground for this new moral-political highway crisscrossing Europe (further in Schierup and Ålund 2011b). It is a common sense and essentially racializing discourse, which in truth has for decades been present as an influential political stratagem in Western European politics (e.g. Schierup 1993). But it has come to increasingly dominate a wide realm of public-political debate across the European Union, especially after the 2008 financial crash underscored a search for legitimacy for neoliberal austerity politics combined with the discriminatory management of migration and race relations. It can lend itself to arguments put forth by certain economists, other social scientists and prominent publicists, warning that a Europe with ‘open borders’ has become ‘too diverse’ (Goodhart 2004), thus creating a situation which may putatively undermine the social cohesion and solidarity on which a large welfare state rests, and the willingness of citizens (and of the ‘working-class’ in particular) to finance comprehensive welfare programmes.

A changing European scene also impacted on Sweden via a growing mainstream media and political discourse urging ‘unity’ in terms of cultural assimilation. ← 16 | 17 → ‘[I]t is not enough to create similar conditions and possibilities for all people in the economic and social sphere’, the Swedish minister for integration warned on the eve of the 2008 depression. In order to secure social cohesion in a democratic society it is ‘as important to have [a] shared vision of and emotions of belonging’ (Skr. 2008/09:24).7 At the time of writing (April 2016) this political discourse of ‘belonging’ has started to increasingly mutate into what used to be seen as distinctive for a despicable populist, xenoracist and Islamophobic regime in neighbouring Denmark, but which could, putatively, never engulf Sweden.

The celebrated (or vilified, depending on your point of view) social-democratic so-called ‘Swedish Model’ of the welfare state, built during the first four decades after the great depression in the early 1930s, was founded on the World’s most distinctive implementation of Keynesian macroeconomics. It rested on two grand historical compacts, one political (the so-called ‘cow deal’) forging a common block of workers and farmers, and the second concerning industrial relations between capital and labour. It generated decommodification of labour through politics and institutions for labour market regulation, income insurance and social protection. Its ramified institutional structure became for decades following the Second World War geared to facilitating the incorporation of large scale (compared with most other European countries) immigration of labour and asylum seekers, in principle although not always in practice, on equal terms.

Migration has always been a part of Swedish history (Svanberg and Tydén 1998). Yet, prior to World War II Sweden had been a country of high net emigration. Sweden figures thus in the classical study of Douglas Massey (1988: 386) among the six countries of the world with the highest rate of emigration, counting 22 percent of the total population between 1846 and 1924. After the war Sweden became, on the contrary, one of the countries with the highest net-immigration relative to its population. Post-1945 migration to Sweden resembles that of other parts of North-Western Europe in terms of the shifting national-geographical background of immigrants. First labour migrants came from neighbouring Finland and were joined later by people mainly from Southern Europe (Italy, Greece) and the wider European rim (Yugoslavia, Turkey). During the first three post-war decades, refugee migration was limited and until the late 1960s mainly European, counting 20 000 from German concentration camps and after then refugees fleeing repression in the Soviet satellite states of Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Poland (1980). After a halt to non-Nordic labour migration, initiated at the behest of the Swedish trade unions, a major shift took place in the early 1970s, ← 17 | 18 → after which immigrants came mainly as asylum seekers or for family unification. After 1980 – apart from substantial immigration through family unification and a relatively small proportion of labour migrants – most came as refugees from the Western Balkans (the Yugoslav succession wars), or from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the former Soviet sphere of influence. Following Western military interventions, civil wars and state collapse the largest groups of migrants have, after 9/11 2001, come as asylum applicants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. While peaks and slumps have varied in the past due to these external factors – with a maximum of 84 000 asylum seekers in 1992 related largely to the war in Bosnia – the recent immigration of asylum applicants has exceeded all previous high points. Sweden is, thus, the EU member state that received the highest number of asylum applications in the midst of the recent refugee crisis, with 8.4 applicants per thousand inhabitants in 2014 compared with the EU-wide average of 1.2. Eighty thousand applied for asylum in Sweden in 2014, and in 2015 as many as 160 000 (Eurostat 2015).

Until 2015 most migrants have settled permanently. This is an effect of a principled policy of granting permanent residence permits and comparatively easy access to full citizenship. But the ‘Swedish Model’ has undergone a profound transformation since the early 1980s, in particular through the shift in priority from Keynesian full employment policies to neoliberal fiscal austerity from the early 1990s. This has been paired with sweeping processes of (re)commodification through decomposition of the industrial relations pact, privatisation and outsourcing of public sector services, including transport infrastructure, housing, education, health and care services, labour market management and the social services. Another important aspect of this transformation is a change in discourse and policies on immigration and the incorporation of migrants. In contrast with a predominantly – albeit often contested and compromised (Ålund and Schierup 1991) – positive political discourse that during decades depicted immigration (including that of asylum seekers) as a resource for the Swedish economy and society, the ‘immigration is bad for welfare’ discourse becoming dominant in the EU of the 2010s has today come to fuel struggles for political hegemony also in Sweden, with ‘the refugee crisis’ as its central stratagem.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
international migration neoliberal transformation racism anti-racism urban segregation
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 376 pp., 2 coloured ill.

Biographical notes

Aleksandra Ålund (Volume editor) Carl-Ulrik Schierup (Volume editor) Anders Neergaard (Volume editor)

Aleksandra Ålund, Professor at REMESO, The Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society, Linköping University. Carl-Ulrik Schierup, Professor at REMESO, Linköping University. Anders Neergaard, Associate Professor at REMESO, Linköping University.


Title: Reimagineering the Nation
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