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The mass-production of quality ‘human material’: economic metaphors and compulsory sterilisation in Sweden

Nordensvard, Johan (2013) The mass-production of quality ‘human material’: economic metaphors and compulsory sterilisation in Sweden. Critical Discourse Studies, 10 (2). pp. 172-186. ISSN 1740-5904

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Identification Number: 10.1080/17405904.2012.744323


Compulsory sterilisation was one of the most provocative aspects of the history of Swedish Social Policy. Much has been written about the topic from a social discourse perspective, while the economic discourse of compulsory sterilisation has not been fully recognised. This paper suggests that one needs to use an economic discourse to fully understand some aspects of compulsory sterilisation in the Swedish welfare state discourse between the 1910s and the late 1940s. This paper is based on a discourse analysis: by using metaphors it analyses how pragmatic economic considerations played an important role in creating public support for compulsory sterilisation. This paper suggests that economic motives became the dominant factor in the social democratic eugenic discourse over time and thereby replaced the racial and conservative elements of the dominant Swedish eugenic discourse. The network around Herman Lundborg, director of the Government Institute for Race Biology, changed the focus on costs as an important motive for compulsory sterilisation which was also used by the social democratic scholars Gunnar and Alva Myrdal. The paper indicates that using economic metaphors could create a more diverse understanding of the Swedish welfare state that had other motives than just social ones.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
Divisions: Social Policy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
Date Deposited: 09 May 2013 15:45
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:38

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