Working class culture in a time of change: Reflections on cultural history, the new cultural history and the history beyond the new cultural history in Swedish working class history

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Culture has, during the last two decades or so, come to influence historical research in such a way that it is no understatement to speak of "the cultural turn", a change in paradigm fully comparable to "the social turn" in the 1960s. Cultural history, as a concept, has changed over time, from a classic cultural history in the first part of the twentieth century, where culture is seen as "the great arts", to anthropological cultural history from the 1960s, where culture is seen as symbols, rituals, traditions etc, an finally to what has been called the New Cultural History (NCH), from the 1980s and onwards, where culture as a concept has come to be influenced by "the linguistic turn" and its focus on semiotics. There is thus today reasonable to speak of two closely interconnected changes in paradigm, "the cultural turn" and "the linguistic turn", both leading up to what can be seen as an interesting time of change in historiography. The question is: what comes "beyond the cultural turn"? The article discuss the increasing interest anthropological cultural history from Swedish working class historians in the 1980s and its impact on the historical research in working class culture on the period from the 1840s to the 1940s. This research has come to focus on the concepts of "roughness" and "orderliness" as ideal types of working class culture and what has come to be seen as a disciplinary process from a "rough" artisans; and early working class culture in the 1840s to an "orderly" working class culture in the 1940s. The focus on "roughness" and "orderliness" came to be increasingly criticised in the early 1990s. As a result of this and the overall decline in working class history after 1989 the debate and research on working class culture more or less ended. In the article the argument is that there indeed was reason to criticise the research that was done on the "rough" and "orderly" working class cultures. Not least the fact that the change from "roughness" to "orderliness" seen in this research fit all too neatly into the dominating national discourse of modern Swedish history - that of "the special case of Sweden", or "the Swedish model". This, if nothing else, or so the article argues, should be a reason for renewed studies of working class culture. In the last years there has been an increasing debate among Swedish historians (and not only working class historians) on the impact of the working class movement on the writing and research of modern Swedish history. The article argues that there is a discourse "consensus" and "orderliness" that is dominating this writing and research, and that analysis of the (re)construction of this discourse is an interesting subject of research seen from a semiotic concept of culture. The article also argues that cultural history beyond the cultural turn would gain from being a history in which both the social and the cultural aspects are equally important and theoretically interconnected in the historical analysis.


  • Stefan Nyzell
Enheter & grupper

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Historia
Sidor (från-till)79-94
Utgåva nummer1
StatusPublished - 2007
Peer review utfördJa