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Give Us Back Sweden! A Feminist


Reading of the (Re)Interpretations of
the Folkhem Conceptual Metaphor
in Swedish Radical Right Populist
Discourse
Ov Cristian Norocel

a b

Department of Political and Economic Studies , University of


Helsinki , Finland
b

Department of Political Science , Stockholm University , Sweden


Published online: 12 Dec 2012.

To cite this article: Ov Cristian Norocel (2013) Give Us Back Sweden! A Feminist Reading
of the (Re)Interpretations of the Folkhem Conceptual Metaphor in Swedish Radical Right
Populist Discourse, NORA - Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 21:1, 4-20, DOI:
10.1080/08038740.2012.741622
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08038740.2012.741622

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Vol. 21, No. 1, 420, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08038740.2012.741622

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

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Give Us Back Sweden! A Feminist


Reading of the (Re)Interpretations of the
Folkhem Conceptual Metaphor in
Swedish Radical Right Populist Discourse
OV CRISTIAN NOROCEL
Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland; Department of Political
Science, Stockholm University, Sweden

ABSTRACT The present analysis investigates the discursive redenitions of the folkhem
conceptual metaphor, which accommodates centrally located heteronormative masculinities at the
intersection of gender, class, and race. It focuses on recent reinterpretations of this conceptual
metaphor as heralded by the main Swedish radical right populist party, the Sweden Democrats
(SD), and its leader, Jimmie Akesson. To do so, the main tenets of conceptual metaphor theory
are discussed, and criticisms of the present methodologies are presented, leading to the suggestion
of a new, genealogical approach. The research material is then analysed with the help of the
proposed method, evidencing Akessons use of the national family metaphor over time. An
overview of the ndings is then provided, and a feminist perspective on the study of radical right
populist discourses, with the aid of conceptual metaphor theory, is articulated.

The Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, henceforth SD) polled 5.7% of the


votes in the 2010 Swedish parliamentary elections, thereby receiving 20
parliamentary seats. The SD is a radical right populist party, with a past tainted
by close collaboration with openly undemocratic, neo-Nazi, and other radical right
groupings (Larsson & Ekman 2001; Mattsson 2009). In reaction to their election into
parliament, large demonstrations in support of tolerance and multiculturalism were
organized in the capital and other large cities across Sweden, attracting tens of
thousands of people. The demonstrators had placards reading Refugees
welcome and No racists in our parliament! Indeed, while most of the public

Correspondence Address: Ov Cristian Norocel. Email: cristian.norocel@helsinki.


q 2013 The Nordic Association for Womens Studies and Gender Research

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Give Us Back Sweden!

discussions have focused on the SDs crypto-racism, thinly disguised behind its
discourse of law and order and tightened immigration rules, little attention has been
paid to another aspect of their political platform, namely the idyllic depiction of the
Swedish national welfare project.
Until recently, the SD was treated by scholars as a failed case among the other
European radical right populist parties. Considering the parliamentary presence of
such parties as the Norwegian Progress Party and the Finnish True Finns, in the
Nordic context, or the Swiss Peoples Party and the Austrian Freedom Party
elsewhere in Europe, the SD is indeed a modest latecomer (Widfeldt 2000; Rydgren
2006; Zaslove 2009). In this context, I maintain that the SDs orientation to the right
is particularly apparent with regard to social and cultural matters. The party has an
inexible attitude towards immigration and a restrictive stance on citizenship; to that
one may add an almost authoritarian outlook on issues such as law and order
(tougher punishment) and the family (advocating traditional gender roles and
renouncing feminism) (Rydgren 2006: 11). On the other hand, the SD manifests a
strong welfare chauvinism (Rydgren 2006; Mudde 2007), presenting allegedly
unrestrained immigration as the main cause of the continuing limitations of the
welfare state, such as augmentation of social costs, a decrease in the quality and
availability of medical services, and diminishing of pensions. Hence, the SD refers to
equality in terms of uniformity, which most often intersects with experiences of
status and economic insecurity to fuel hostility towards non-majority
group immigration, towards programs that support multiculturalism, . . . towards
gays and lesbians (Laycock 2005: 134). In my view, then, the radical right populist
ideals of national purity are shored up by racism, misogyny, and homophobia.
Nevertheless, the SD has undergone a series of changes, from being founded as the
successor to several neo-Nazi and nationalist fringe parties in 1988 (Larsson &
Ekman 2001) to electing a succession of party leaders who toned down the SDs
radicalism and gave it a more mainstream appeal. Following this trend, during the
latter half of the 1990s party leader Mikael Jansson banned uniforms at party rallies
(Mattsson 2009: 19) and deleted provocative paragraphs from the party manifesto,
such as calling for capital punishment, the banning of abortion, and stopping nonEuropean adoptions (Rydgren 2006: 108). In 2005 Jansson was succeeded by Jimmie
Akesson, who was elected on a mandate to lead a more offensive politics and create a
new image for the allegedly puried party that would eventually lead to the SDs
entry into the Swedish Parliament (Mattsson 2009: 23). Arguably, the concept
employed by the SD to give coherence to its political platform and unify its
exclusionary and welfare chauvinist stances is that of the folkhem (the home of
[Swedish] people) (Hellstrom 2010; Lodenius & Wingborg 2010; Mulinari &
Neergaard 2010).
Examining the folkhem national metaphorical representation, I analyse below the
construction of radical right masculinities in Sweden. In so doing, the article
continues the tradition of feminist interrogations of heteronormativity and
masculinities with a focus on the Swedish context (cf. Johansson 2005; Eduards
2007; Norocel 2010a). Such an analytical effort is justied by the fact that Sweden is
commonly considered a textbook case of a welfare state, and the epitome of a genderequal regime. In my endeavour, I employ a genealogical approach to conceptual

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O.C. Norocel

metaphor theory and thereby unveil the centrality of heteronormative masculinities


at the intersection of gender, class, and race. The present contribution is a response to
appeals for innovative ways to explore radical right populism (Mulinari & Neergaard
2010) and particularly to examine the masculinities that are underpinned by such
political discourses (Norocel 2010a). The study focuses on Akessons editorials,
interviews, and other interventions that were published in the party newspaper SDKuriren (hereafter SD-K) from his election to the SDs leadership until the 2010
parliamentary elections. In all, there were 87 items selected; these include all the
editorials authored by Akesson, and those articles in which Akesson commented on
Swedish political matters. The choice is motivated by the fact that SD-K has
generally been the sole outlet available for Akesson discursively to elaborate the
partys social and political construction. The investigation explores Akessons use of
the folkhem conceptual metaphor, which postulates the nation as an extended family
inhabiting a specic space together, to envision a hierarchical structuring of various
family members as dependants of a centrally positioned heteronormative male gure.
The article proceeds with a discussion of Swedish radical right populism, drawing
attention to the general gender-blind literature theorizing populism and arguing for a
feminist research agenda. The folkhem construct is subsequently presented, providing
a succinct history of the concept and highlighting its relationship to issues of
heteronormativity and patriarchal hegemonic masculinities. The main tenets of
conceptual metaphor theory are then introduced, and criticisms of present
methodologies are presented, leading to the suggestion of a new, genealogical
approach. The research material is subsequently analysed with the help of the
proposed method, demonstrating Akessons use of the national family metaphor
over time. An overview of the ndings is then provided, emphasizing the contribution
of a feminist perspective to the researching of radical right populism.
The Swedish folkhem and its radical right populist (re)denitions: a feminist perspective
Scholarship addressing radical right populism commonly disregards the gender
implications of its theorizing, only to acknowledge the disproportionate presence of
men amongst radical right populist parties rank and le and their supporters
(cf. Widfeldt 2000; Laycock 2005; Rydgren 2006; Mudde 2007). The constitutive
elements of populismthe ideas of popular sovereignty embodied in the leaders
gure, and the Manichean opposition between a homogeneous people and a
purportedly corrupt and detached eliteare rarely investigated from a feminist
perspective. However, I am aware that masculinity frequently operates as implicit
shorthand for the normal individual, which is itself a generator of exclusion and
subordination of subjects who do not coincide in terms of gender, sexuality, class,
race, religion, and other alleged signs of difference and less than human status
(Carver 2008: 70). In other words, the white man remains true, without being
sexualized, and he concomitantly embodies the live and able being; he silently
represents the standard against which everyone else is measured, be they native
women or immigrant women and men (Eduards 2007: 69; Hubinette & Lundstrom
2011: 43). One approach that is especially productive for such claims of white
masculine superiority is through the depiction of the nation as a family. In its radical

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Give Us Back Sweden!

right populist interpretation, the national family is portrayed as a hierarchical


structure that naturalizes the dominance of men, presented as heads of family, and
the submission of women, who are relegated to the positions of wives and mothers
(Honohan 2008: 73; Mulinari & Neergaard 2010: 56 7). Such ideas of
kinship encompassing the whole nation are arguably most powerful when employed
symbolically and metaphorically, rather than to convey the certainty of a common
descent (Ruane & Todd 2004: 221).
In the Swedish context, the national family construct has been expressed through
the concept of the folkhem, which is deeply embedded in Swedish political discourse
and makes an implicit reference to the Swedish people and their inherent
Swedishnessin the sense of specic cultural markers that distinguish them from
the other inhabitants of the country. This concept has played a key role in modern
Swedish history (Andersson 2009: 218 20; Hellstrom 2010: 95). Initially, in the
nineteenth century, the folkhem embodied the harmonious relationship between the
king and his people, similar to the portrayal of the bourgeois family under the careful
authority of its patriarch, thereby emphasizing the ideals of organic conservatism.
In this conservative interpretation, the folkhems core values were orderliness,
national cohesion, and naturalized hierarchical structuring (Gotz 2001: 104 5).
However, the metaphorical construct of the national home became part of the
Swedish social-democratic discourse during the early twentieth century, epitomizing
the partys efforts to construct a society based on equality, solidarity, and condence
in progress, in which the gure of the worker became synonymous with the common
folk (Hellstrom 2010: 97). It was Per-Albin Hansson, Social-Democratic leader and
Swedish prime minister in four governments between 1932 and 1946, who
consecrated the folkhem founded on a trinity of democracy, the people and the
nation that contributed to the establishment of the modern Swedish national
community (Hellstrom & Nilsson 2010: 62):
The foundations of the folkhem are the social consciousness and sense of
togetherness. The good home does not know any privileged or any
dispossessed, no darlings and no stepchildren . . . . It is equality, caring,
cooperation and helpfulness that triumph in the good home. Adapted to the
folkhem . . . this would mean the breakdown of any social and economic
barriers, which at present separate the citizens into privileged and dispossessed,
dominant and dependent, into rich and poor, wealthy and impoverished,
plunderers and plundered. (Hansson 2010: 57 8)
Notwithstanding its universalistic claims, the folkhem exhibited a restrictive and
disciplining nature, drawing clear demarcation lines between those who were
included in the community and their duties, and those who were deemed unworthy of
it (Andersson 2009: 114 5). This was translated through the years into social
engineering, forced sterilizations, and overall tight social control (Hirdman 1995;
Runcis 1998; Broberg & Tyden 2005). More recently came Social-Democratic
attempts to modernize and enlarge the metaphor to include a multicultural aspect
and become environmentally conscious, while proclaiming the concepts indisputable
Swedishness (Gotz 2001: 113).

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O.C. Norocel

Nonetheless, feminist scholars have convincingly argued that the Swedish national
family metaphor was from its inception a deeply gendered structure, underpinned by
mens dominance and control over womens bodies (Hirdman 1995; Lennerhed 2002;
Eduards 2007). It posited men as protectors, as gentlemen defending dependent
women and children, as guardians of their wives and daughters, as visionary and
rightful statesmen and experts who secured the efcient functioning of Swedish
society (Eduards 2007: 21). In other words, the folkhem constituted a celebration of
heterosexuality in a modernized patriarchal setting (Hirdman 1995: 90). It conrmed
the centrality of the institution of marriagewith a strong heteronormative and
updated patriarchal subtext, which idealized women as modern housewives raising
their children, and men as steadfast, devoted breadwinnersthat was to be protected
and thus ensure the demographic survival of the nation (Hirdman 1995: 135).
In this vision, heteronormativity is underpinned by both a normative sexual
practice and a way of life that is dened as normal (Jackson 2006: 107; Ericsson
2011: 88). Importantly, heteronormativity rests on gender asymmetry, which
naturalizes the identication and evaluation of women in terms of their sexual
availability and attractiveness to men and their connement within heterosexual
relationships as wives and mothers (Jackson 2006: 114). Such normative
heterosexuality not only posits heterosexuality as intrinsically more valuable than
homosexuality, but it also creates a set of hierarchical relations between hegemonic
and subordinate forms of heterosexuality (Seidman 2005: 40). But because
heterosexuality is so fragmented, this leaves room for the establishment of different
degrees of respectability and various means of portraying what is deemed to be good
citizenship among heterosexuals. What is generally heralded as the norm is
underpinned by traditional gender arrangements sanctioned within lifelong
monogamous relationships (Seidman 2005: 59 60; Ericsson 2011: 89 90).
Having described the gendered nature of the folkhem, the next step is to discuss its
metaphorical nature. Departing from the Aristotelian denitionwhich consecrated
metaphor as a gure of speech that constructs an analogy between two different
contextsmetaphors are understood in the present contribution as more than
stylistic lexical substitutions that are able to transgress the domain of language
(Lakoff & Johnson 1980). As such, in the following section the various strands of
theorizing metaphorical constructs are reviewed, and the production of conceptual
metaphors from a genealogical perspective is suggested as a means to address the
criticisms of these earlier conceptualizations.
The nation is a family: new ways to employ conceptual metaphor theory
The discussion of metaphors and their role in discourse has a long tradition. Perhaps
one of the most debated analyses of metaphors is to be found in Aristotles works,
in which he maintained that metaphors are a powerful means to transfer meaning
from one contextsuch as events, activities, ideas, objects, attributes, etc.to
another, resting on the ability to depict unusual resemblances between the domains
involved (Aristotle 1997, 1459a: 5 15). In the context of Aristotles works,
metaphors were generally depicted as gures of speech, as decorative accessories of
discourse. As Aristotles works were subject to various interpretations, conceptual

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Give Us Back Sweden!

linguists asserted that metaphors need not be understood as mere rhetorical


embellishments, and elaborated a theory of metaphors as foundational to the human
conceptual system (cf. Lakoff & Johnson 1980; Gibbs 1998; Semino 2008). According
to conceptual metaphor theory, a sentence within any given discourse gains meaning
according to a conceptual structure. This conceptual structure is context-bound,
being founded on cultural and physical experiences, very much like conventional
metaphors (Kovecses 2008: 179). Nonetheless, a conceptual metaphor need not be
expressed literally in the text through a lexical metaphor; rather, its meaning is
embedded in the appropriation and employment of a specic conceptual system
(Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 197). Scholars have emphasized that the target domains,
those that are to be explained with the help of conceptual metaphors, generally make
reference to areas of experience that are typically unfamiliar, of a certain level of
abstraction and complexitysuch as the concept of nation in the metaphor at work
in the present text. Conversely the source domains, those that provide us with a new
explanation of the target domain, generally appeal to easily recognizable, rather
concrete and physical experiences (Semino 2008: 6)such as that of the relations
within a family. In this context, the folkhem becomes more than a simple lexical
metaphorical construct; it is in fact strikingly similar to the German Heimat in that it
synthesizes references to the home and the homeland (Blickle 2002). The folkhem thus
accounts for social structuring in the Swedish context by making direct connections
with the Nation is a Family conceptual metaphor. More clearly, the folkhem entails
an invocation of the Swedish national family.
The choice of a certain conceptual metaphor in a specic social context,
researchers have argued, has a crucial impact on how we structure reality,
determining what is explained and how and what is left outside this framework of
intelligibility, thereby highlighting the various power relations at work in that
particular discourse (Boreus & Bergstrom 2009: 267). In addition, it is worth noting
that metaphors are intrinsically products of discourse and hence dependent on the
context in which they are produced. Discourse is understood here as the complex
system of power relations in which ideas, actions, beliefs, and practices construct
both the subject and the reality she speaks of (Foucault 2000); in this context,
metaphors are considered both to be products of the specic discourse in which they
are located, and concomitantly to partake in the shaping of the discourse as
discursive nexuses that generate meaning in the interplay of text and context. In other
words, the analysis of metaphors needs to be undertaken whilst bearing in mind the
very discourse in which they are embedded (Semino 2008: 30 2; Gibbs & Lonergan
2009: 251).
Conceptual metaphors play a key role in the gendering practices of
communication, and political discourses are a case in point. Indeed, conceptual
metaphors are not innocent in matters of enforcing gendered hierarchies and are
frequently employed in order to maintain particular typologies of masculinity and
femininity (Carver & Pikalo 2008 : 3; cf. Haste 1994; Koller & Semino 2009). Feminist
scholarship has revealed that, in Western discourses, the majority of conceptual
metaphors depict a deeply gendered hierarchy, in which men and masculinities
are associated with leadership and power, reason, strength, and creativity, while
women embody deference, irrationality, weakness, and procreation Haste 1994: 11).

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10

O.C. Norocel

I argue that there is also another racialized dimension to this hierarchy, which
assimilates masculinity to whiteness, understood as hegemonic normality, while
femininity is associated with racial difference and thus subordinated peculiarity.
What is particularly problematic here, as many researchers have shown, is the
exploitation of such beliefs or emotional associations by political leaders who aim to
consolidate a specic representation of the political groups they lead and of
themselves as their representatives (Semino 2008: 97 100). In this context, it is
noteworthy that the discourses of political parties at the margins of the political
spectrum appear to be more metaphorical than those of other political groups
(Vertessen & De Landtsheer 2008: 274 5; Norocel 2010b: 707). Importantly,
conceptual metaphors are never neutral, and political actors may use them to deepen
peoples confusion, exploit stereotypical portrayals of various groups within
societyfor example, by depicting women as inherently weak and subordinateand
even stigmatize allegedly undesirable social manifestationssuch as womens
emancipation or the political participation of ethnic/racial and religious minorities
(Momani et al. 2009; Norocel 2010a, 2010b).
Conceptual metaphor theory has nevertheless been met with a series of criticisms,
especially with regard to the danger of circularity (Semino 2008; Kertesz & Rakosi
2009) and the challenge of designing an appropriate methodological apparatus
(Cienki 2005: 304; Kovecses 2008: 168 9; Boreus & Bergstrom 2009: 276 8). There
are, however, several means that can be used to address the challenges underlined by
these criticisms. In my opinion, this may be done by painstakingly depicting the
genealogical transformation of the conceptual metaphor under examination. In this
context, and in line with the terms Foucauldian interpretation, the genealogy of
conceptual metaphors need not be understood as a quest for their origins, nor for a
depiction of their linear development (Foucault 2000). Rather, genealogy involves
the investigation across time of the multi-faceted extensions and even at times
contradictory turns that metaphors reveal across a certain discourse. Furthermore,
the research is undertaken according to the principle of dominance of
irregularitya top-down approach that involves the initial postulation of
conceptual metaphors followed by their comprehensive examination (Kovecses
2008: 182). Concomitantly, the analysis needs to account for the pressure of
universal embodiment and that of local context within the metaphorical construct
(Kovecses 2008: 170).
With this in mind, the aim is to strive for a cyclic argumentation, thereby enabling
us to return to the point of departure but at a different cognitive level, since a
modied, prismatically re-evaluated, qualitatively new information state is created
(Kertesz & Rakosi 2009: 718). More explicitly, the cyclic and prismatic qualities of
such an analytical enterprise rest on the cyclic nature of dialectic reasoning, or more
clearly on retrospective re-evaluationthe continuous process through which
previous decisions are revised and corrected, and alternatives are suggested.
Nonetheless, such retrospective re-evaluation is not only cyclic; it is also prismatic, in
the sense that the various cycles of revision continuously change the perspective from
which the empirical material is analysed. Such cyclic argumentation is strengthened
from a genealogical perspective, which follow[s] the complex course of descent
through maintain[ing] passing events in their proper dispersion (Foucault 2000:

Give Us Back Sweden!

11

374). Returning to the matter at hand, such a genealogical approach is aimed at


unveiling the (re)positionings of the folkhem metaphor within radical right populist
discourse to accommodate the centrality of Swedish heteronormative masculinities.

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The folkhem appropriated by Akesson: (re)interpreting the nation is a family


Analyses of the Nation is a Family conceptual metaphor employed in radical right
populist discourses reveal that it underpins a rigid hierarchical logic that structures
various members of the national family as dependants of a strong male gure
(Norocel 2010a: 180 1; 2010b: 708). In the Swedish context, the folkhem metaphor
makes reference to the national family gathered under the same protective roof.
Akesson availed himself of the concepts ambiguity and reclaimed a conservative
genealogy for his party. He concomitantly presented the SD as the true heirs of
Swedish social-democratic heritage. In reclaiming the folkhem, Akesson contrasted
the concepts idyllic picture with the contemporary situation, depicted in terms of a
divided society, with ever-growing frictions between native Swedes and migrant
Others, experiencing increased insecurity and uncertainty, and a disconnection of the
elite from the needs of the common people:
Despite its many shortcomings, the Swedish folkhem was for quite a while a
society characterized by condence in a better future, security and community.
However, this time is past and Sweden has become a colder and more distant
place to live in. The social elite has become ever more alienated from us the
citizens. The frictions between different [social] groups, the escalation of
criminality, the dismantling of welfare and ever more blurred morality have all
created a widespread sense of insecurity and uncertainty. (SD-K 2009
Kampanj: 3)
In his portrayal of modern Swedish society, Akesson made use of the inherent
equivocalness of the concept of people. On the one hand, he drew a line between
the disenchanted common citizenry, the folkhems true inhabitants, and the remote
and unresponsive elite. On the other hand, the same true members of the folkhem
were identied with real Swedes facing the dangers of escalating criminality and
growing uncertainty as a result of the presence of undesired immigrant Others,
thereby promoting a type of (mono)culturalist nationalism that sustains social
cohesion and a sense of solidarity among culturally similar Swedes (Hellstrom &
Nilsson 2010: 62 3). He thus positioned himself and the SD in opposition to the
disconnected elites (encompassing the whole parliamentary spectrum, from the
conservative centre-right to the environmentalist and socialist left), antagonizing
the constitutive elements of Hanssons folkhem in a decidedly populist manner.
In Akessons usage of the folkhem, the concepts emphasis on the sense of national
community morphed into exclusively underlining the elements that separated and
individualized the said community from those falling outside the homes enclosure
(Hellstrom 2010: 106). Even more so, the conceptual metaphor was developed across
time in Akessons contributions to the SD-K according to a line of argument that
integrated biological and hierarchical principles, specic to the metaphorical use of

12

O.C. Norocel

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the family concept (Ringmar 2008: 60). Indeed, Akessons writings were articulated
along the lines of nostalgic welfare chauvinism and a staunchly conservative attitude,
tinged with an unapologetic xenophobic stance. Shortly after being elected to the
party chairmanship, Akesson positioned the SD rmly within the lineage of
protectors of the Swedish welfare model. The idealized folkhem was portrayed as
being on the brink of collapse at the hands of outside intruders, of norm-disrupting
social forces, in other words under threat from a foreign Other. In so doing, the
conceptual metaphor was assimilated into a logic subjected to the laws of nature,
naturalizing the portrayal of a common home that Swedish people are set to cherish:
The reasons for the collapse of the Swedish welfare state are not difcult to
identify. A generalized loosening of morals, characterized by fraud and
wangling, had its impact. . . . The pursuit of mass immigration goes against the
Swedish welfare model on at least two levels. Firstly, it is extremely costly, and
those funds could have been used for other areas in society. Secondly, it marked
the death of internal solidarity, which is a crucial foundation for a common
welfare model. It is obvious that we must choosemulticulturalism or welfare?
For us the choice is easy! (SD-K 2005 65: 2)
Depicted as a mass movement, immigration was deemed the single force
responsible for the demise of Swedish welfare, due to its being extremely costly and
bringing about the death of internal solidarity; the presence of the migrant Other in
the folkhem was thus couched in terms of economic burden and dissolving force.
Nonetheless, Akessons criticism was not only directed at the undesirable
newcomers, but also targeted the political force that could claim ownership of
the folkhem in its modern shape, the Swedish Social-Democrats (Sveriges
socialdemokratiska arbetareparti, henceforth S). Akesson criticized the S and its
leadershipin government at that timefor leniency and mismanagement of the
national nances, no less than for attempting to alter the exclusionary meaning of
the folkhem, demanding ercely that the S should give us back Sweden! By 2009,
the SD eventually metamorphosed into a party for and by ordinary Swedes, and its
political agenda was set to restore law and order, to safeguard the Swedish welfare
model, to restore society to the community and to allow Sweden to become Sweden
again (SD-K 2009 Kampanj: 3).
When the S elected a new chairperson in 2007, as a consequence of losing the 2006
parliamentary elections to the centre-right quadripartite alliance, Akesson focused
his criticism on what he considered to be a betrayal of the partys social-democratic
ideals. Outgoing leader Goran Persson was criticized for his employment of a false
image of traditionalism, rusticity and nostalgia for the welfare state. The election of
Mona Sahlin to the helm of the party was negatively portrayed by Akesson as the
dawn of a period of cultural radicalism, multiculturalism, and social
atomizing, marked by social convulsions as a result of her extreme stance on
immigration and on integration issues.
Sahlins efforts to query hegemonic Swedishness and to position it within a
wider multicultural discourse were dismissed by Akesson as contempt for

Give Us Back Sweden!

13

Swedish cultural heritage. Her attempts to open up the folkhem to


multiculturalism and feminism were depicted as sources of corruption
leading to the dissolution of moral standards; such a move could only
threaten to make the simplistic binary of good versus evil unintelligible (Lakoff
1996: 170 1).

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The predictable result, according to Akesson, was an imminent exodus of the Ss


traditional electorate to the SD (SD-K 2007 72: 12).
Akesson dismissed the counterstrategies developed by the S in 2008 as a
reaction to his manoeuvring, and claimed that the SD was mistakenly
considered anti-working class, misogynistic, anti-cultural and anti-tradeunionto name a few (SD-K 2008 75: 2). Akessons portrayal of the Swedish
working class is signicant, as it uncovers the deeply gendered terms that
structured the folkhem in his writings. The proletariat Akesson frequently
referred to comprised workers in the largely unionized, traditionally maledominated metal and paper industries (SD-K 2008 75: 4).
In so doing, Akesson employed a deeply stereotypical, masculinized view of the
working class specic to earlier representations of the folkhem (Hirdman 1995). He
thereby overlooked the reality of signicant numbers of Swedish women in low-paid
positions and immigrant women and men constrained by precarious temporary
contracts. In other words, the folkhem depicted by Akesson reveals a longing for
social cohesion understood in terms of the supremacy of Swedish patriarchal
norms, underpinned by the essentialized roles of men as breadwinners and women as
invisible Othersever contained within the private sphere of their homes, or at best
out of sight in care-taking occupations. Swedish heteronormative masculinities are
thereby positioned at the heart of the folkhem conceptual metaphor. This is coupled
with assigning Swedish femininities, understood as heteronormative and reproductive, to a subordinate position according to a patriarchal logic. Such a nostalgic
restoration of patriarchalism led Akesson emphatically to conclude in 2009 that [it]
is no coincidence that the S is taking our successes so seriously. We are the only real
threat to a pure left-wing government in 2010 (SD-K 2009 80: 1 5).
In this context, the folkhem was (re)dened by Akesson as embodying the exclusive
heteronormative domain of the Swedish male, and developed across time to proscribe
the existence of other family narratives, including ethnically and/or racially diverse or
sexually different Others. In so doing, he made use of the dual purpose of the
familyas a fundamental principle of social organization and as an ideological
apparatus which naturalizes the hierarchical structuring in terms of gender, ethnicity
and/or race, sexuality, and social class (Collins 1998: 63 4).
One should keep in mind, however, that in Akessons discourse the folkhem is also
invested with right-conservative attributes. In this regard, he constantly claimed that
the Swedish Lutheran Churchand in extenso Christianitywas an anchoring point
in these tumultuous insecure times. This move positioned the SD in direct
competition with the Swedish Christian-Democrats (Kristdemokraterna, KD).
He accused both the socialists and liberals of transforming the church beyond

14

O.C. Norocel

recognition and degrading Lutheran Christianity from a state religion to the status
of a mere cult like Scientology, or something as foreign as Islam. The generic
political elite was thereby portrayed as the SDs malevolent opponents, and its move
to separate state power from the Lutheran Church was deemed an act of aggression
against the very bre of Swedishness:

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I am obviously deeply concerned that the church of our fathers has suddenly
become just one religious community among all the others and now it can be
equated with Islam or Scientologists. In these tumultuous and insecure times,
we need a xed point in life to fall back on. Here the Swedish Church has an
important role to play. (SD-K 2005 64: 2)
Despite the fact that Sweden is considered to be among the most secularized
societies (Rydgren 2006), Akesson constructed a hierarchy of religious respectability,
with Swedish Lutheranism at the top and Islam demoted to the level of an arguably
controversial sectScientologythereby enforcing the Christian genealogy of the
folkhem. This may be regarded as an act of symbolic restitution, since the Swedish
Lutheran Church was dethroned from its status of ofcial state church on 1
January 2000. Over time, his opposition to Islam became more vehement; he later
protested the accommodation policies with regard to the Muslim population in
Sweden, and opposed the introduction of non-working holidays other than those
associated with traditional, Christian celebrations, arguing that such a move would
fall on its own absurdity (SD-K 2006 70: 10). In an extended editorial in 2009,
Akesson decried the changes that Swedish society had undergone in the past 20 years
and singled out the Muslim population as the embodiment of a menacing Other:
Twenty years ago, I think that most Swedes would have found it difcult to
imagine that Islam would become the countrys second largest religion, . . . that
leading Muslim representatives would make demands for the introduction of
Shariah laws in Sweden, . . . that Sweden would have the most rapes in Europe
and that Muslim men would be greatly overrepresented among the
perpetrators, that Swedish bathhouses would enforce separate bathing
schedules for men and women, . . . that Swedish schools would introduce
new vacation days to celebrate the ending of Ramadan, while the [traditional]
church-led commencements would be banned in more and more schools, and so
on. (SD-K 2009 84: 3)
Nonetheless, Akessons insistence on Swedish Christianity may be regarded as illdisguised crypto-racism. The non-mainstream religion of the foreign Other overlaps
racial boundaries that are camouaged under the appellation of cultural
differences, which makes direct reference to an alleged clash of civilizations
(Huntington 2002). In this context, the said cultural difference enforces the
equation of Swedishness with a specic superior understanding of gender equality;
concomitantly, the Otherfrequently assimilated to a masculine presencebecomes
the representative of a homogeneous group, characterized by a steadfastly
traditionalist patriarchal attitude (cf. Bredstrom 2003; Keskinen 2011). Migrant

Give Us Back Sweden!

15

families are thereby considered problematic: either they are strictly traditional and
patriarchal or they are absent, and as such they represent a source of anxiety for the
natives, as Swedish women could fall prey to migrant mens hyper-sexuality (Eriksen
2002: 60). Such a stance becomes apparent in Akessons intervention from 2009:

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It may be because more and more people have begun to noticeas the SD
already did a while agothat mass immigration and multiculturalism not only
convey new foodstuffs, but also honour killings, segregation, opposition,
rootlessness, gang-building, rapes, robberies and the questioning of Swedish
traditions and symbols, unemployment, lower grades and knowledge levels in
schools, religious fundamentalism, genital mutilation, oppression of women,
forced marriage, increased social costs and reduced welfare. (SD-K 2009 84: 5)
In this case, Akesson attempted to uncover what he alleged to be the dangers of
multiculturalism. The foreign Other not only introduced new foodstuffs into the
folkhem; more worryingly hebecause the Other was resolutely masculinized,
besides being assimilated to a certain race under the guise of a different religious
belonging and cultural codescame accompanied by honour killings, gangbuilding, rapes and opened up the door to religious fundamentalismfrom
which genital mutilation, oppression of women, and forced marriage were
understood to originate. Nonetheless, the depiction of a threatening racialized Other
underpins the intricacies of constructing native heteronormative masculinities and
femininities (Keskinen 2011: 118). The indirect implication of the portrayal of the
foreign Other as a hyper-sexual, hyper-violent, patriarchal masculine presence was
that native Swedish masculinity found comfort in its negation (SD-K 2008 78: 8; SDK 2009 81: 9). Native masculinity was thus reconrmed in its unquestioned
heteronormative whiteness and superior position as civilized defender of the
vulnerablea category wide enough to include native and immigrant women and
their children, the old, the sick, and the defenceless (Eduards 2007: 69).
Akessons claims to safeguard the folkhem were, from this point of view, centred
on controlling womens bodies for the reproduction of the right kind of offspring.
Swedish women were thereby assigned a compulsory heteronormative sexuality and
domesticity (Jackson 2006: 114) and as such reduced to the merely decorative
position of sexual objects for masculine heterosexual competition and reward, as
subservient wives and dedicated mothers to their Swedish descendants (Mulinari &
Neergaard 2010: 56 7; Norocel 2010a: 179). However, his intention to control
women, their sexuality, and their reproductive ability was not limited to prohibiting
their intermixing with the masculine Other. Akesson also argued for a limitation on
womens opportunity to terminate a pregnancy, claiming that a lack of tighter
control had the potential to send the wrong signals, which would in turn stimulate
an increase in the numbers of Swedish abortions (SD-K 2007 72: 12). Indeed, the
gendered symbolic language centred on the folkhem conceptual metaphor was in peril
if the notion of the organic fusion of the mother, the body and the nation in the
woman weakened (Eduards 2007: 121). Reproductive patriarchal heteronormativity
was thus to be praised as the desired ideal for the Swedish national family. In this
context, homosexuality appears especially problematic for radical right populist

16

O.C. Norocel

conceptions of the folkhem, as homosexuality in fact undermines the metaphorical


foundation of the nation by challenging the natural order reasoning, which posits
heteronormativity as the solely intelligible moral standard (Lakoff 1996: 225; Eriksen
2002: 61 2). In other words, the staunchly traditionalist denition of the Swedish
familydepicted as exclusively subjected to the heteronormative will of the Swedish
manwas projected on the Swedish nation-state to enforce a particular genealogy of
the folkhem, one that proscribed the family constellations of ethnically different and/
or sexually diverse Others.

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Concluding remarks: gendered conceptual metaphors and radical right populism


Since September 2010, which witnessed the SD being voted into the Swedish
Parliament, Jimmie Akesson and his party have been under intense scrutiny by the
media and the scholarly community. The present article has investigated Akessons
discursive construction of the radical right in Sweden with the help of conceptual
metaphor theory. The main argument of the article has been that a feminist
perspective brings much-needed attention to issues generally side-stepped by
scholarship on radical right populism. Indeed, it was the feminist perspective that
enabled the depiction of the consecutive articulations of Swedishness, and the position
of hegemony assumed by heteronormative masculinities at the intersection of gender,
class, and race, which inform the discursive construction of the SD world-view.
As such, the main tenets of conceptual metaphor theory were enlistedspecial
attention being paid to the Nation is a Family conceptual metaphorand recent
developments and critical reections were introduced. The importance of culture and
the impact of cultural specicity for the production and interpretation of metaphors,
which vary from one society to another and also over the course of time (Lakoff &
Johnson 1980: 22 4; Ringmar 2008: 58), were acknowledged and reafrmed and
constituted a main point of departure in the fresh conceptualization of conceptual
metaphor theory. With an awareness that conceptual metaphors are underpinned by
deeply gendered hierarchieswhich posit men and masculinities in terms of
leadership, reason, strength, and creativity, while women are interpreted in terms of
deference, irrationality, weakness, and procreationa genealogical take on the
development of conceptual metaphors over time was suggested in order to overcome
the danger of circular analysis and the need to design an appropriate methodological
apparatus.
Departing from these conceptual clarications, Akessons (re)interpretations of
the folkhem conceptual metaphor were analysed, and it was argued that his writings
were underpinned by a nostalgic discourse of welfare chauvinism and a strictly
conservative heteronormative stance, thinly disguising a xenophobic attitude. Firstly,
Akessons portrayal of the folkhem underlined his constant criticism of the S and its
leader, Mona Sahlin, and reied the masculine hegemony of the Swedish trade
unions. Secondly, constant references to Christianity, and particularly to the Swedish
Lutheran Church, underlined his conception of a folkhem founded on the values of
Christianity as an inherently positive demarcation from Islam and other possibly
threatening religious denominations. The implied clash of civilizations and failure
of integration justied a repositioning on traditionalist conservative grounds, not

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Give Us Back Sweden!

17

only in terms of exclusion of the ethnically and racially different Other, but also with
regard to controlling womens bodies and the restoration of traditionally patriarchal
hierarchies with the Swedish man at the centre, and staunchly resisting the opening
up of the heteronormative nuclear family fabric to include sexual diversity and
different family interpretations.
The analysis thus revealed that the demand for heteronormative hegemonic
structuring rested on the idea of nuclear family couplings as an explanation for the
reproduction of life and Swedish culture and values, which was underpinned by the
deeply entrenched fear of strangers and immigrant Others (xenophobia), coupled
with fear of miscegenation (which includes any illegitimate couplings) and fear of
sexually diverse Others (homophobia). Nonetheless, studies of radical right populist
discourses that employ conceptual metaphor theory enriched with a feminist
perspective, which highlight the role that gendered metaphors play in the articulation
of white heteronormative hierarchies, might bring more conceptual clarity if future
analyses are to be enlarged to include a comparative perspectivesuch as between
different national contextsor to assess their impact at the transnational levelsuch
as the European Parliament.

Acknowledgements
I thank the editors and reviewers at NORA, but also Cecilia Ase and Anders
Hellstrom for providing the necessary balance of support and critique. Research
support from The Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation (Ella ja Georg Ehrnroothin
saatio/Ella och Georg Ehrnrooth stiftelse) is gratefully acknowledged. Translations
from Swedish are the authors if not stated otherwise.
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Zaslove, Andrej (2009) The populist radical right: Ideology, party families and core principles, Political
Studies Review, 7(3), pp. 309318.

Ov Cristian Norocel is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political and Economic


Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland. He is also a guest researcher at the
Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, Sweden. His research
interests generally pertain to the study of discursive constructions of masculinities
and femininities, right-wing populism, nationalism and ethnic minorities and
citizenship issues, and queer studies, with a strong interdisciplinary perspective. His
publications include: Gendering violence in the school shootings in Finland,
European Journal of Womens Studies, 2011, 18(2), pp. 183 197 (co-authored with
Johanna Kantola and Jemima Repo); Constructing radical right populist resistance:
Metaphors of heterosexist masculinities and the family question in Sweden,
NORMA: Nordic Journal for Masculinity Studies, 2010, 5(2), pp. 169 183; and
Romania is a family and it needs a strict father: Conceptual metaphors at work in
radical right populist discourses, Nationalities Papers, 2010, 38(5), pp. 705 721.