About The Swedish Institute for North American Studies (SINAS)
The Swedish Institute for North American Studies is in part a research institute that has a social studies profile. SINAS focuses on two kinds of studies: those that are concerned specifically with North America and those that compare social problems and phenomena in Sweden and North America, principally the United States. Prompting this type of study is the claim that American society is unique, or exceptional. If the claim is to hold, then a very good way to explore the contention is by viewing aspects of American uniqueness in the light of what is not thought to be so unique and different. That means making use of some kind of a comparative method or perspective. As noted historian Louis Hartz once put it, "The rationale for a separate American study, once you begin to think about it, explodes the study itself." In other words, the uniqueness of American society only comes to the fore when it is compared with other countries and cultures.
Since January, 2003, when SINAS became part of the Department of English, we have collaborated closely with our colleagues in the American literature section. Currently the American Studies group is conducting research in two main areas: Transnational American Studies and Verbal-visual crossovers. Keeping pace with the transnational turn in American Studies, we do research on how America is disseminated and received across the globe, from Sweden to Shanghai, and what the consequences of this situation are for our understanding of the nation and nationhood. Second, our colleagues in American literature are currently examining the intricate interactions between verbal and visual representations in literary and other cultural artifacts. In particular, they address the proliferation of images in contemporary North American culture and the impact of the ubiquitous presence of the new media.
Researchers at SINAS have previously been working on two main projects. The first one deals with American influences in Swedish society. It is an interdisciplinary project aimed at studying U.S. influences from both an historical and a contemporary perspective. In part the project is inspired by recent ethnological and anthropological debates about national and transnational processes of culture. The concept of "Americanization" is critically examined, and instead of viewing it as a mechanical transfer of different cultural elements from a center to a periphery, American influences in Sweden are considered to be part of a larger global process. How various "American elements" are incorporated and contextualized into Swedish cultural patterns is a pivotal aspect of our research. By focusing on the incorporation process we will not only be able to illustrate the existence of particular "American elements," but also the construction of a certain kind of "Swedishness."
American influences can be traced in many different spheres of Swedish society, but they are more visible in some areas than in others. In our project we make an analytical distinction between manifest and latent influences, where the former are influences that are fairly easily discernible on the surface (sometimes leading to heated discussions about excessive "Americanization"). The latter influences are incorporated into a Swedish context in ways less easily perceived. The empirical areas that we are studying involve both manifest and latent influences, and focus falls on three important fields during the 20th century: the Swedish debates over American influences and "Americanization"; rhetoric and communication in contemporary election campaigns; and the analysis of the transformation of American literature into Swedish culture. The first study is being carried out by Dag Blanck, an historian affiliated with the Centre for Multiethnic Research, the second by Erik Åsard, and the third by Elisabeth Herion-Sarafidis of the Department of English.
The American influences in Sweden project came into being in January, 2000, when SINAS and the Department of English obtained the necessary funding from the Faculty of Languages at Uppsala University.
A second research project dealt with affirmative action in Sweden and the United States. Funded by the Swedish Council for Social Research (SFR), the project was an interdisciplinary undertaking involving seven scholars affiliated with SINAS and the Centre for Multiethnic Research. The primary aim of the project has been to make a theoretical contribution to the growing debate on discrimination and affirmative action programs in Sweden and the U.S.
In many countries today, groups of different backgrounds and color increasingly regard themselves as victims of discrimination. Representatives of these groups often argue - sometimes rightly, sometimes less so - that they are discriminated against with regard to employment opportunities and/or access to higher education. In the United States the debate started early, and was intended to correct the wrongs brought about by the long period of slavery endured by the African-American population. The landmark legislation of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, were important events in the process of ameliorating the position of blacks in American society. So too were the more specific affirmative action rules and regulations enforced during particularly the Nixon and Carter years.
By contrast, in Sweden the affirmative action debate started much later than in the U.S. and occurred against a very different backdrop. In Sweden, calls for affirmative action measures were intended first and foremost to address gender inequalities in society. The term positiv särbehandling (affirmative action) was first used in 1986, when it appeared in a Swedish newspaper article discussing the low number of women employed at Lund University. Only recently has the Swedish debate started to include the concerns of ethnic minorities who are seeking equal treatment and access to the labor market.
The project derives its theoretical inspiration from three schools of thought: research on discrimination; theories of equality and social justice; and the debate over multiculturalism. Among questions dealt with are: How did specific affirmative action policies in the two countries originate and develop? How have American affirmative action programs in hiring, contracting, and college admissions actually worked? Why do affirmative action policies in Sweden and the U.S. differ so markedly? What are the most important arguments used in the American debate over affirmative action? What has been the position of the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue during the 1978-1998 period? What are the challenges currently facing affirmative action programs in the two countries?
In May, 2000, the results of the project were published in Erik Åsard and Harald Runblom, eds., Positiv särbehandling i Sverige och USA ("Affirmative action in Sweden and the United States"); Stockholm: Carlssons, 2000. 342 pp. ISBN 91-72039-38-8. The book can be ordered from Carlsson Bokförlag AB, Box 2112, SE-103 13 Stockholm, Sweden, tel: 08-411 23 49 or 08-411 05 12, fax: 08-796 84 57. Price: SEK 305 (postage and VAT not included).