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Democracy the Swedish Way? The Exclusion of ‘Immigrants’ in Swedish Politics

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Official declarations state that Sweden is today a multicultural society. At the same time, ethnic hierarchies have become increasingly conspicuous in contemporary Sweden. Recently, a governmental inquiry on structural discrimination in Swedish society presented a report analysing the relationship between the multi-ethnic composition of the Swedish population and participation in Swedish politics. This article discusses some of the main findings of the report. On the basis of a number of case studies, it illustrates how inequalities in terms of participation and influence in Swedish politics are (re)produced. One of the main conclusions drawn in the article is that all citizens that participate in Swedish politics are faced with a series of routines, conventions and idea(l)s categorising citizens according to their perceived closeness to a Swedish ‘normality’. Thus, democracy not only constitutes a formalised system of impartial procedures and conventions, routines and norms that regulate the political process in a way that guarantees freedom and equality to all participants. Rather, political participation also reflects exclusionary practices long well-documented in, for example, the housing and labour markets. In order to understand these practices, it is necessary to examine the historical interconnections between nationalism and democracy. By means of the recurrent characterisation of Swedish democracy as specifically Swedish, it becomes the job of Swedes to ‘enlighten’ the ‘immigrants’ to become ‘Swedish democrats’. This specific conceptualisation of democracy is founded on the ideal of an archaic national community, which in contemporary multi-ethnic Sweden is not capable of including the whole population on equal terms.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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