Who belongs in Social Democracy? Xeno-cultural resentment and hegemonic whiteness in Norrköping, Sweden

Authors: Carl Truedsson*, London School of Economics
Topics: Political Geography, Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Swedish Politics, Populism, Nationalism, Post-Industrialism, Ethnography, Social Democracy,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The 2015 migrant ‘crisis’ highlighted a new socio-cultural cleavage in Swedish politics, reflected in the meteoric rise of the populist Sweden Democrats party, challenging the dominance of the Social Democrats among traditional blue-collar voters. I draw on findings from my fieldwork in Norrköping, Sweden to explore some of the key tensions facing the Social Democrats. Since the late-1990s, Norrköping has undergone a visible transformation from a stagnating post-industrial city towards a more ‘optimistic’ service/knowledge economy. Not able to entirely cast off its legacy, however, Norrköping still faces comparatively low-educational levels and high-unemployment. In addition, the changing experience of a growing presence of non-European migrants and the perception that the Social Democrats no longer advance a beneficial materialism, has heightened ‘xeno-cultural anxieties’ and seen a surge of support for the Sweden Democrats. This dynamic has not entirely been lost on the Social Democrats, hence why the party (ahead of the 2018 general election) increasingly articulated a distinctively harder tone towards immigration/integration than before. Simultaneously, however, the party has sought to retain the vote of ethnic minorities. Drawing from interviews with Somali-Swedes and critical race theory, I argue that the party’s allegedly ‘new’ hardened position towards immigration traces a much longer and complex history that deeply implicates the Swedish labour movement in the construction of an exclusionary hegemonic whiteness. These tensions, I argue, complicate the image of Sweden as a bastion of equality and progressiveness and what role the Social Democrats believe can and should play in a demographically changing Sweden.

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