New book: The Humanities in the Postwar Public Sphere

In a new book, Johan Östling, Anton Jansson and Ragni Svensson Stringberg examine the circulation of humanistic knowledge in postwar Sweden and with West Germany as a point of comparison.

The empirical chapters comprise comparative studies of public arenas of knowledge. Johan Östling analyses humanistic knowledge in postwar mass media. In a first study, he takes his point of departure in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet’s daily essay-page “Under strecket” and its leading actors. Based on this, he expands his scope to the role of the press as an arena for the circulation of academic knowledge. In another study, he focuses on certain dimensions of broadcast media, especially early television.  Several of the leading figures who appeared here in the 1960s had a solid academic background and were instrumental for promulgating scholarly knowledge.

Anton Jansson in his first study investigates the postwar Christian public sphere. This period is often regarded as relatively secular, but there were strong Christian movements, opinions and institutions. This is thematised as a specific segment of the public sphere with its own actors, arenas and audiences. In focus in this study is Christian cultural journals, wherein humanistic knowledge had an important function. In Jansson’s second study, he analyzes the labour movement and its popular education activities, in particular in Gothenburg.

Ragni Svensson Stringberg’s two contributions to the project examine the circulation of humanistic knowledge from a book market perspective. The first study analyses the popularization of the humanities through the so-called paperback revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Particular attention is paid to Bonnier’s popular science series, Aldus, published between 1957 and 1977. Aldus is one of the most important Swedish examples of a paperback publication with a popular-educational ambition, partly based on patterns from West Germany. In her second study, Svensson examines the circulation of humanistic knowledge within the Swedish book cafe movement during the 1970s. The socialist book cafes were examples of how a knowledge arena can act simultaneously as an outward-looking activity with the purpose of influencing a public opinion, and inwardly as part of a kind of counter-public, or alternative knowledge arena.

All in all, the book has several overarching purposes. Firstly, the authors strive to develop the discussion on the circulation of knowledge in theoretical terms, not least by applying the concept of knowledge arena. Secondly, they hope to offer empirical concretion to the often general and programmatic statements that so far have characterized the history of knowledge. Thirdly, the authors would like to challenge the recurrent notion of “the crisis of the humanities” during the postwar period and instead demonstrate the importance that humanistic knowledge had in the public sphere. Finally, they believe that with their focus on the pre-digital world of the 1960s and 1970s, they can help to put today’s increasingly digital existence into a historical perspective.

Humanister i offentligheten: Kunskapens aktörer och arenor under efterkrigstiden (Gothenburg and Stockholm: Makadam, May 2022) is available open access: https://lucris.lub.lu.se/ws/portalfiles/portal/117704858/Humanister_i_offentligheten_ISBN_9789170618796.pdf An English edition is under consideration.

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