Problems and possibilities for Swedish working-class literature in a neoliberal age


  • Magnus Gustafson



Working-class literature, use of literature, Swedish literature, Sweden, neoliberalism


In recent decades, inequality has increased in Sweden. The increasing gaps are connected with policies that are often called neoliberal. How does working-class literature relate to these social problems and what literary possibilities does it open up? In this article I discuss these questions based on some literary examples from Swedish contemporary working-class literature. These literary examples have attracted much attention. My perspective is that I see working-class literature as literature with a distinct use value and a literature that has specific functions in the working-class literature context (Felski, 2008).

Kristian Lundberg, Johan Jönson and Jenny Wrangborg all give personal accounts from workplaces. Such can be valuable. The problem with Lundberg and Jönson is that they tend to be introverted and egocentric. Especially Lundberg lacks the class perspective. Perhaps Lundberg’s Yarden (The Yard, 2009) should be described as confessional literature rather than working-class literature. With Susanna Alakoski the working-class is hidden behind the concept of poverty. The working-class as actor is absent. The labor movement as well. Instead, it is the middle class who appear as actor. Through the role of jester, Jönson makes class society visible. The role of jester could be seen as a specific rhetorical strategy and a literary device to create a distancing effect, or Verfremdungseffekt. Wrangborg connects to the legacy of early working-class literature with struggle poems. From within the workplace she describes work situations and experiences of class.

Emil Boss takes a close look at language and concepts in a postpolitical age when old concepts have changed meaning. It is a crucial task for working-class literature to explain, interpret and examine old concepts that have changed meaning in a new political era, when the labor movement has lost contact with previous ideals and social democratic governments pursue rightwing politics, thus making it difficult to distinguish between left and right.