En välbyggd maskin, en mardröm för själen : det svenska fängelsesystemet under 1800-talet

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The general aim of the thesis is to study 19th century Swedish prisons from the point of view of the surrounding discourse and also as a social system. The prison phenomenon grew out of the meeting between prisons as a discourse-produced norm system and the social practice consisting of the reality as experienced by the prisoners and the prison staff. The growth and development of the Swedish prison system was to a certain point part of an international trend. However, it should be emphasized, this development took different roads and produced different outcomes in the different countries depending on socio-economic, political and cultural contexts. During the second half of the 19th century Sweden built a uniform and regionaly based penitentiary system. This large build up was accompanied by a number of legal changes which gave as a result that by 1900 over 90 per cent of all Swedish prisoners spent their whole prison term in solitary confinement. Together with the introduction and gradual expansion of new disciplinary techniques and modes of control this led to an ordered and regularized milieu with high security against escapes and outbursts of violence. This process also applied to the prison staff, especially the guards. By the turn of century the guards appered as an increasingly well-disciplined and loyal corps where clear features of a specific prison guard culture can be discerned. The emergence of the prison also entailed the creation of "the prisoner", both as an abstract category and as a subordinated subject as well as a new problematization of the relations between criminality, punishment and society. In this last process a special role was given to the prison chaplains' and other prison administrators' observations, accounts, reports and judgements. Ever since the middle of the 19th century, prisons have formed the centre in the punishment systems of most countries. Its unsurpassed strength in comparison with other penalty institutions should be viewed in relation to the fact that it has been possible to claim its superiority from a number of different interests and starting-points. Depending on the preferences of those who make the judgement, prisons may be regarded and may function as retaliation, deterrence, incapacitation or rehabilitation.


  • Roddy Nilsson
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History


  • Swedish prisons, prison guard, prison chaplain, punishment, prison, penitentiary, normalization, Discipline, discourse, Contemporary history (circa 1800 to 1914), Modern historia (ca. 1800-1914)
Translated title of the contributionA well-built machine, a nightmare for the soul : The Swedish prison system during the 19th century
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date1999 Oct 22
  • Lund University Press
Print ISBNs91-7966-583-7
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 1999-10-22 Time: 10:15 Place: Department of History, LUND External reviewer(s) Name: Svensson, Birgitta Title: Docent Affiliation: Department of Ethnology, University of Lund ---