Histories of Knowledge in Postwar Scandinavia

In June 2020, our new edited volume Histories of Knowledge in Postwar Scandinavia: Actors, Arenas, and Aspirations (Routledge) will be published. This book is the outcome of a joint Scandinavian project. We have met for two productive workshops, one in Lund in June 2018 and one in Copenhagen in December 2018, both generously funded by Einar Hansen’s Research Foundation. Our book is the second volume in Routledge’s new series Knowledge Societies in History edited by Sven Dupré and Wijnand Mijnhardt. In the weeks to come, we will publish a series of samples from the book. The first one is based on our introductory chapter.

All societies are knowledge societies. It is hard to imagine a culture or country lacking basic orders, institutions, and actors of knowledge. However, the very term “knowledge society” is of a recent date and belongs to a special phase in postwar history. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, researchers and intellectuals started claiming that the West had entered a new stage beyond industrial society. Gradually, this framing was taken over by politicians, policymakers, and others wanting to find a new formula for the contemporary condition.

Our forthcoming book is about the place and significance of knowledge in this society that was beginning to refer to itself as a knowledge society. To be more precise, it studies how knowledge was made, negotiated, circulated, contested, and used in different public arenas, shaping politics, economics, social, and cultural life. At the centre, we find Scandinavia during the 1960s and 1970s, three countries – Denmark, Norway, and Sweden – which were examples of Western European welfare states but with their own distinct features.

For historians seeking to transcend the confines of national boundaries, postwar Scandinavia offers many advantages. The three societies were in many respects similar – culturally, politically, linguistically, etc. – yet upon closer inspection also notably different from each other. If we, for example, focus on energy history, trade, and industry, or the relative strength of social democracy, postwar Scandinavia is a mosaic rather than a monolithic entity. Moreover, there were many linkages, interrelations, networks, and co-operative ventures that require a transnational gaze to study.

This volume brings together thirteen Scandinavian researchers from different historical disciplines. By concentrating on the history of knowledge rather than the welfare state, the Cold War, or the new social and political movements – which to date have attracted the lion’s share of scholarly attention – the book makes a historiographical intervention in postwar Scandinavian historiography. Thereby, the book substantiates and intervenes in ongoing international discussion on what the history of knowledge venture entails and offers.

In terms of the empirical studies, the book focuses on three larger fields of knowledge: (1) the environment and global crises; (2) economy, politics, and the welfare state; and (3) education, culture, and the humanities. These three fields were vital for the Scandinavian societies of the 1960s and 1970s, but they had different status, temporalities, and public impact. Moreover, they are rarely studied together. By analysing them as part of the same context, we are able to chart larger historical patterns and write a more comprehensive history of knowledge of postwar Scandinavia. For full table of contents see https://www.routledge.com/Histories-of-Knowledge-in-Postwar-Scandinavia-Actors-Arenas-and-Aspirations/Ostling-Olsen-Heidenblad/p/book/9780367894559

At the end of the book, the Finnish intellectual historian Johan Strang situates the volume in a larger Nordic context. He starts by making some general outsider reflections on the emerging field of the history of knowledge, before discussing what the book contributes with regard to the role of Scandinavia in the global circulation of knowledge, the relations between the Scandinavian countries, and knowledge in the welfare state and the particular period in focus in this book. In his epilogue, Strang asks if there was a Scandinavian corporatist model of knowledge in the 1960s and 1970s and what has happened to this particular “knowledge regime” since then.


Johan Östling, Niklas Olsen & David Larsson Heidenblad

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