Copyright Sociological Research Online,

Even in Sweden: Racisms, Racialized Spaces, and the Popular Geographical Imagination

Allan Richard Pred
University of California Press: Berkeley, CA
0520224493 (pb); 0520223322 (hb)
£11.95; $18.95 (pb); $48.00; £30.00 (hb)

Order this book

Even in Sweden is a difficult book. It has been difficult to write, as the author readily confesses. It is difficult to read, because of the repetitive style of Pred's writing and his use of lengthy footnotes. It is difficult, because throughout the book, Pred utilises montage form, inspired by Walter Benjamin, letting his own text, quotations from academic literature, and differently situated Swedish voices to wildly cascade on top of each other. Its layout is difficult, as these three types of text are distinguished graphically, making the pages at first seem chaotic, before one learns to use the graphics as a guide. The difficulty is motivated, though, as it helps to convey the difficult and paradoxical nature of the subject. Pred's narrative, its juxtaposition of hundreds of nightmarish stories with hundreds of wise and not-so-wise comments from inside and outside, its leaps, twists, and voids, makes the reader uneasy, leading to new and challenging thoughts. While focussing on Sweden and Swedes, Pred reveals unpleasant aspects about most of the Western societies – most of us.

Underlying the montage there is a clear overall structure. Pred starts by discussing racism(s) in general terms. He claims that the 1990s proliferation of racisms in Sweden, like elsewhere in Europe and North America, are local outcomes of the present "hypermodern moment", destabilizing people's everyday life and economic security. The second chapter, "Dirty tricks", contains the main body of Pred's argument. With admirable skill he is able to unearth the often hidden and unrecognised societal condition of de facto cultural racism in today's Sweden. According to Pred, it relies on both ontological and metonymical tricks. On the one hand, social constructions, such as otherness and race, are naturalized, made to appear in the guise of a stable thing and projected to concrete places, especially certain high-rise suburbs. On the other, single persons or events are made to stand for whole groups, racializing certain behaviour (e.g. crime), making anybody of certain skin-colour suspect and, vice versa, the whole group a scapegoat. Biased mass-media, popular imaginations, actions of the bureaucracy and judicial system, as well as Sweden's history of modernization through social engineering and institutional racism in 1920s-60s all converge, producing a landscape of sharp race- related housing segregation, evident labour market discrimination, and pervasive everyday racism.

Having presented his main argument, Pred goes deeper, giving more details and evidence. In chapter 3 he describes how two towns, Sjöbo and Trollhättan, were constructed as the 'black spots' on the Swedish map, helping "real" Swedes to project racism there and close their eyes on discrimination and xenophobia in their immediate surroundings – including their own feelings. In chapter 4 Pred's dark story reaches its nadir. Under the title "Brute facts" he describes the situated social practices, the palpable consequences and carriers of the imagined constructions and dislocations discussed earlier. The chapter is a sickening catalogue of immigrant's personal horror-stories of misunderstanding, silencing, harassment, and violence they have met in all spheres of Swedish society. Finally, in chapter 5, Pred discusses the most recent effort by the Social Democrats to fight racism, the "Acceptera" programme of 1998. He discovers that during the past decade a wider recognition of cultural racism had occurred. Despite this positive development, the policies proposed seemed to have learned little from the earlier failures. The approach of politicians was still complicit and blue-eyed. It concentrated on "multiculturalism" or "acceptance of diversity", failing to recognise that these well-intended slogans may actually strengthen the segregation in housing and labour markets as well as support the common inclination to essentialize and naturalize cultural differences. Even in the best case, the way towards really equal circumstances for all men and women is long and full of pitfalls.

The name of the book may contain its brightest idea. It is assumed that the reader will be surprised that there is racism and brutal injustice even in Sweden, even in the world-famous champion of human rights and solidarity, even in the country with most generous immigration policies and welfare system. Subtly but clearly, without ever saying it directly, Pred reveals that it is exactly this belief in being superior, in having better abilities, better culture, and better values, which is at the root of Swedish racism. One small word, even, is the prism of all the un-evenness. – But finally, who would dare to throw the first stone? Even though Sweden may be one of the most pronounced cases of using culture in (re)constructing national identity in the hypermodern flux, the same processes can be traced in many places. In fighting racisms, we need to reverse habits of our mind, re-frame major discourses in mass- media, education, and business, as well as tackle economic restructuring, which all underlie the fears and discontents, which lend themselves to the scapegoating of the stereotyped Other.

Panu Lehtovuori
Helsinki University of Technology

Copyright Sociological Research Online,