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Modern Nature for a Modern Nation:An Intellectual History of Environmental Dissonances in the Swedish Welfare State

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In the mid-1990s, the concept 'ecological modernisation' was established to characterise the perception that environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive but rather comprise a solid foundation for sustainable development. We argue in this essay that believing that modernisation, economic growth and a healthy environment could go hand-in-hand was nothing new as far as Sweden was concerned. Rather, it is a belief that developed during the 'folkhem era (1930s-1970s) due to an extensive dialogue about the proper relationship between nature and society in the construction of the welfare state. We highlight the idea of 'dissonances' as a salient metaphor describing the disharmonic relation between old and new and modern society and modern nature. According to advocates of modernisation, it was important to overcome dissonances - backwardness, inefficient use of natural resources and negative 'side effects' of societal progress such as pollution and environmental damage - between society and nature. Instead, by rational thinking and new technology it would be possible to make society and nature go hand-in-hand and thereby enhance human welfare. However, broadened knowledge and intellectual horizons and critiques of progress have brought new problem complexes and dissonances to light. Like the dream of Sweden the modern Model Nation, the definitive answer to the difficulties of the environmental issue has constantly been deferred.
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Keywords: Ecological modernisation; dissonances; environmental thinking; welfare state

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2020

This article was made available online on March 26, 2019 as a Fast Track article with title: "Modern Nature for a Modern Nation: An Intellectual History of Environmental Dissonances in the Swedish Welfare State".

More about this publication?
  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2019) of 0.698. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.806.
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