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Who Are We Now Then? The Swedish Welfare State in Political Memory and Identity

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MI-AN Publishing, 2014.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Swedish welfare state underwent a crisis which led to a transformation of society that has continued up until today. The main node of this has been an adjustment to the global ideological trend of privatization and individualism with a down-sized public sector ruled by market logic. Parallel with this Sweden has also changed from being relatively mono- cultural to becoming a more multicultural nation. Throughout these processes one constant has been how the memory of the traditional Swedish welfare state has been used and fought over by different political parties. This article deals with the struggle to appropriate this memory. The Social Democrats, in power for most of the twentieth century, are seen as the architects of the Folkhem (“The Home of the People”). But it was also the Social Democrats who – under pressure from global economy – initiated the neoliberal transformation through a series of decisions in the 1980s. Rhetorically they have treated this in two ways: one is through arguing that nothing really changed and one is through pointing out how much has changed but without acknowledging their own part in it. The ruling right-wing party The Moderates has done so through changing their rhetoric from criticizing the Social Democratic welfare state to now being the only ones representing its core values and the only ones capable of adapting them to a new situation. Furthermore, the Folkhem-metaphor has also been central for the xenophobic far-right (Sweden Democrats), claiming that the demise of the welfare state is the result of excessive immigration.
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