Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Moral Content of Tradition: Homecraft, Ethnology, and Swedish Life in the Twentieth Century

Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Moral Content of Tradition: Homecraft, Ethnology, and Swedish Life in the Twentieth Century

Article excerpt

During the 1970s, young Swedish folklife researchers worked hard to sever the already weakening links between their field and the "old peasant society" (det gamla bondesamhallet).1 Renamed ethnology, the discipline was to be liberated from its role as handmaiden of the cultural historical museums and the folkmusic, folkdance, local history (hembygd), and "home craft" (hemslojd) movements.2 Young sociologically and anthropologically oriented scholars such as Ake Daun, Jonas Frykman, and Orvar Lofgren questioned the role that the discipline had played in cahoots with the cultural historical museums and other institutions in creating a stock of traditions that had become symbols of a national cultural heritage. In jest or in earnest, with affection or self-irony, young and radical researchers would occasionally refer to the field that they were about to take over with such names as knatofsforskning ("pompom research") or tomteforskning ("pixie research"). The former referred to the pompoms on the pants of men's traditional clothing and the latter to the supernatural creatures that populated peasant legendry.

The message was clear: folklife research had studied and celebrated trio ial aspects of an agrarian society that was now gone forever. The new ethnology, on the other hand, was to become far more theoretical and far more closely linked to the social sciences than its predecessor. Potentially, all human life forms were to be studied from a cultural perspective. Many of the new ideas were also realized. Even though peasant culture was to be studied occasionally also during the years to come, the investigations were now often conducted in accordance with the premises of cultural analysis in an anthropological vein (Frykman and Lofgren 1987). Such mainstay concepts within folklife research as "tradition" were deconstructed, questioned, or marginalized along with the liaisons to the folklife museums and the various "folk" movements. Among these, the homecraft movement with its interest in such minutiae as stitches and weaving patterns, stood out as a particularly suitable target.3

Some of the ethnologists who were young and rebellious thirty years ago are now the leaders of the field and many of the directions that they laid out still dominate the discipline. Few contemporary Swedish ethnologists study in earnest such phenomena as homecraft. The exceptions are a handful of highly accomplished, now retired, women, such as Ingrid Bergman, Sofia Danielson, and Gertrud Grenander-Nyberg who have all been employed at the cultural historical museums. Within the homecraft movement they are sometimes lovingly called "the homecraft mafia." But their books and papers, which include important Ph.D. and M.A. theses, have not been at the center of the ethnological discussions. Indeed, neither pre-industrial craft nor the homecraft revival have been dominant topics within the discipline during the past thirty years, just as little as peasant art, legendry, or traditional medicine have been. The many ambivalent feelings toward homecraft, from irony to love, come forth in such widely used puns and word plays as hemsk slojd ("horrible craft") and slemhojden ("the slimy hill").

Ethnologists are not alone in their ambivalence. Many Swedes share it. Indeed, the home craft movement and related phenomena are a part of deeply rooted discourses in Swedish twentieth century culture, discourses that involve debates concerning the nature and status of national symbols, politics, economics, ecology, regionalism, gender, and class. To begin with, and not unlike our leading ethnologists, many people, in particular people within the cultural, artistic and radical left, are embarrassed or even disdainful when the subject of homecraft is raised. Often they speak about people in the homecraft movement as meddlesome and moralizing arbiters of taste. Others do not share these views, among them many people who represent the ecological movements or the centrist party and other rural interests (i. …

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