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Treatment of what?: Class, gender and work ethics within the compulsory institutional care of alcohol abusers in Sweden during the 20th century
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of History.
2005 (English)In: Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Vol. 22, 45-61 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]


The aim of this article is to investigate the problem formulations – the preconceptions about causes and effects and the possible solutions to the problems of alcohol abuse – that characterized the compulsory institutional care of alcohol abusers in Sweden in the 20th century. The article focuses on problem formulations that – beyond institutional and a discursive levels – actually were practised in the institutions.

Methods & Data

The main source material is to be found in the archives of four institutionalized care establishments and consists of official reports, correspondence, supply estimates, circulars for consideration and – above all – patient records. From this material you can learn about the institutions’ struggle for autonomy, expansion and legitimacy, and also about the clients’ characteristics and how the clients were viewed. The study of the archives allows you to form a picture of the problem formulations that affected the activities in the institutions directly, a picture that goes beyond the more abstract expectations preferred by official reports and legislation.


Within the compulsory institutional care actually carried out, the problem formulations that were stipulated in the sex-neutral legislation and vague regulations became sex-specific and precise. Here it was made clear that the treatment of alcohol abusers was a class and sex related project, aiming not only at encouraging male diligence and the fulfilling of a man’s maintenance obligation but also at female virtuousness and concern for the family.


The historical development of care services for alcohol abusers shows that the abuse need not necessarily, or even primarily, be seen as a problem to do with the individual’s relationship with alcohol. Alcohol itself has been a secondary factor in problem definitions which have let themselves be attached – via perceived links with either cause or effect – to more overarching social issues in Sweden. The concerns of emergent family policy in the 1940s, the developmental optimism and scientistic passions of the 1950s, and the systemically critical protest movements of the 1970s are all clearly reflected in trends within social care services for alcohol abusers – albeit much more often at the level of discourse than of praxis.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2005. Vol. 22, 45-61 p.
Keyword [en]
alcoholic care institutions, compulsory care, class, gender, problem formulations, treatment of alcohol abusers
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-17348OAI: diva2:183869
Available from: 2009-01-14 Created: 2009-01-14 Last updated: 2011-01-12Bibliographically approved

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Edman, Johan
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