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Steriliseringar i folkhemmet
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of History.
1998 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The chief motive for introducing the sterilization laws of the 1930s and 1940s was to prevent mentally ill and ‘feeble-minded’ individuals from reproducing, mainly for population-policy and social reasons. When the ‘feeble-minded’ were set apart and classed as different or deviant, this was done on medical, racial hygiene and moral grounds and also to some extent on social grounds. The race-biologists argued that social and cultural deviations and the overstepping of moral boundaries stemmed from mental illness and abnormality. This was used as a cornerstone in the construction of a new social problem based on recent racial-biological findings and on medical science. The proposed solution to such problems was surgery on the human body. This in fact was the policy that was later manifested in the sterilization laws. Why was it considered necessary to prevent certain people from becoming parents? What players were the driving forces on the political and professional level?

The traditional image of Swedish sterilization policy emphasized nationalism, conservatism, notions of popular degeneration and dreams of racial purity. Some observers drew parallels with the Nazi sterilization policies of the 1930s and 1940s. In my thesis, 1 have drawn a picture of a social project that was in essence politically radical and collectivist and that was based on a powerful belief in science and its capacity to improve human beings for the common good of society. In what way was sterilization of individuals consistent with the Swedish "folkhem" ideology? What social category of individual did one want to reach through the law?

With the creation of new family laws and reforms during the 1930s and 1940s. certain set norms were institutionalized the object of which were to teach people to live ‘in the right way' so that they would be to the greatest good for both their children and for society as a whole. Physical and mental health grew into ideals in welfare Sweden’s ‘Home of the People’ utopia, the folkhem. Right-living’ members of the community were to be helped and encouraged in various ways so that they would be better equipped to contribute to the country’s material production as well as in the reproduction of healthy, ‘capable’ children. ‘The others’ those targeted by the sterilization laws - represented the flip side of the social coin, the opposite of the norm. Onto them were projected the negative counterparts of desirable qualities like diligence, good conduct, thrift, responsibility, adjustment, conformism, sexual moderation, etc. It was the ‘shiftless’ from poor social environments and ‘unsuitable parents' who the state wanted to stop having what it assumed would become 'maladjusted' or ‘morally defective’ children or simply financial burdens on society.

Various kinds of sexual behaviour were interpreted as innate personal characteristics - uninhibited sexuality was associated with ‘feeble-minded’ women. The morals of the day dictated that social problems associated with sexuality, morality and negligent child care were primarily a ‘female’ problem. Deviant males for their part were taken to task for economic rather than moral reasons. Men were associated with work, supporting a family and shouldering responsibility. Were they to fail on any one of these counts, they too risked being considered ‘feeble minded'. Such men could be used as labour if they were sterilized and released from whatever institution they were in. whereas women in similar cases were thought likely to become even more ‘depraved’ as after sterilization they would be able to engage in sex even more promiscuously, this time without the risk of unwanted pregnancies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Ordfront , 1998. , p. 370
National Category
History
Research subject
History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-45921ISBN: 91-7324-592-5 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-45921DiVA, id: diva2:370379
Public defence
1998-06-05, Hörsal 6, hus C, Universitetsvägen 10, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Available from: 2010-11-16 Created: 2010-11-16 Last updated: 2018-05-24Bibliographically approved

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