Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

Cultural Heritage, the Swedish Folklife Sphere, and the Others (1)

Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

Cultural Heritage, the Swedish Folklife Sphere, and the Others (1)

Article excerpt

We are in the midst of a global "cult of heritage," asserts English geographer, historian and professor of heritage studies, David Lowenthal (1998, 1-30). Indeed, cultural heritage (or simply heritage) and its many equivalents or near equivalents, such as kulturarv (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian), Erbgut (German), patrimoine and heritage culturel (French), menningararfur (Icelandic), turath (Arabic), and the recent Chinese coinage wenhua yichan, are becoming increasingly dominant in cultural politics the world over. This happens at the same time as people and ideas circulate at an unprecedented pace, as many countries are receiving more refugees and migrants than ever before, and as more and more minorities and indigenous peoples are vying for self-determination. In what way is the ascendancy of cultural heritage as term and phenomenon linked to the ascendancy of intense multicultural co-existence? How is the heritage of various ethnic Others to be understood in relationship to that which is regarded as Our Own? These questions are unresolved and controversial in many countries, not least in the one which is at the center of this paper: Sweden. As recently as the 1970s, Swedes regarded themselves as exceedingly homogeneous with respect to culture, religion, and language. However, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain such a self-image: during the past twenty or thirty years Sweden has received refugees and immigrants from all over the globe to such an extent that now almost one fourth of the 9 million inhabitants were born outside the country or are children of recent arrivals from afar.

On the next few pages I will discuss the rise of the Swedish word for cultural heritage, kulturarv, in a fairly long historical perspective. I will concentrate on an area of public culture that might be called the "sphere of the vernacular" or the "folklife sphere" (Klein 2000a). Included in this sphere are a variety of "folk" museums and "folk" disciplines, such as folklore, folklife studies, and ethnology, and such activities and phenomena as the homecraft and folk music movements. I will pay particular attention to the relationship between kulturarv and a few other terms and ideas, notably "folk," compounds with "folk," and "cultural difference." For the sake of concentration, the discussion will be linked to the Nordic Museum in Stockholm and to the scholarly disciplines that evolved out of the concerns of this museum.

In some ways, this paper can be read as an historical review of a cluster of concepts in relationship to ideological, political, and social changes. To some readers the discussion might seem to be mostly a disciplinary history touching on well-known as well as less well-known ideas. Yet, in a broad sense, this text is an attempt to enter the field of conceptual history and to address the question of how a term emerges and how this emergence affects other ideas, phenomena, and concepts (Koselleck 2002). In a still broader sense, this article is concerned with cultural politics. I wish to point to some of the forms of political activism and social planning in which the Swedish folklife sphere has been involved ever since its appearance and to point to some of the forms at issue during the current ascendancy of cultural heritage.

A Grammar of Forms to Glorify the Fatherland (2)

As early as the 1600s, at the height of its imperialist ambitions, Sweden instituted legislation aimed to protect its monuments, churches, and other remains and traditions. The ultimate goal was to glorify the royalty and the nation-state and, in 1666, the Antikvitetskollegium ("Board of Antiquities") received the task to search all around the kingdom to find (upspana) and preserve not only material antiquities but also orally performed legends and ballads. As time went on, these ambitions were modified and, during the 1700s, the official interest turned to searching out and describing that which was economically useful for the country; in particular, Linnaeus' explorations and travelogues contributed to a new sense of discovery of the land. …

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