The aim of this project is to scrutinize the ever-changing flow of imaginaries of how to demarcate the field labelled the environment, of how to relate to the area from different ideological positions, and of which overarching goals to strive for.

The case will be Swedish environmental politics in its rich complexity.

Participants: Jonas Anshelm, Technology and Social Change, Linköping University; Rolf Lidskog, Örebro University; and Johan Hedrén, Environmental Change, Linköping University

Keywords: The political, conflicts, hope

Outputs: A monograph on Environmental Politics in Sweden, written so as to be accessible to academics, policy makers or other interested stakeholders, and 2 articles in peer reviewed journals. Such a monograph will fill a huge gap in the curriculum in the over 40 programs in environmental science in Sweden.

Context and problem to be addressed

Environmental politics was explicitly launched as such almost exactly half a decade ago, building upon a narrow number of administrative bodies responsible for separate areas such as air, water, toxic substances and “nature”. Triggered by alarming reports on eutrophication, toxification and threats to the fundamental functioning of ecosystems, a number of commissions were initiated with the target of establishing a regulation of what was now articulated as a new field demanding control: the environment (Hedrén 1994). The years to follow can be interpreted as an ever-changing flow of imaginaries of how to demarcate the field, how to relate to the area from different ideological positions, and of which overarching goals to strive for. A striking feature of this history is the tension between on the one hand the rhetorical consensus which is typical for many official actors in the field, be it political parties, Governments, central agencies like EPA and KemI or the actors in the research funding system, and on the other hand the multiple and deep conflicts between completely different understandings of the substance of the problem, as evidenced through a number of academic studies. These conflicts (e.g. over hydroelectric power development, nuclear power, wind power, infrastructure for distribution of electricity, transport systems, waste storage and treatment, logging and mining) underline the fact that the imaginaries of what proper “green” development means varies considerably. The conflict dimensions are manifold, but among the more frequent and animated ones are: different characterizations of the issues at hand; tensions between expert driven policy and participation of lay people; the role of NGOs; the future of the economic system and the pros and cons of economic growth; the desirable level and content of consumption; trust in and agreement over the role of science and technological solutions; the distribution of responsibility; the capacity to handle the demands within the current social framework and the possible need for structural change; and the very complex pattern of ethical relations. This project involves a comprehensive assessment, analysis, and narrative of the history of these tensions, from the very start of the institutionalized environmental politics to today.

Research Question

What characterizes the imaginary of Swedish environmental politics throughout its development in different settings and periods, and when read critically, which underlying patterns of thought can be traced? Which have been the main drivers for this development, and which are the potentials, demands and barriers for a sound and serious politics of the environment in the future?


The study draws upon a double reading: first, a descriptive overview of the regulation, organization, actors, explicitly acknowledged fundamental principles, overarching goals and utopias.

Programplan The Seed Box Linköpings universitet

Secondly, this narrative serves as the target for a critically informed reading, inspired by this programme’s four problems (post-politics, intangibility, negative framing and compartmentalization).


Policy materials; extensive academic investigations (articles, books, dissertations) on the abovementioned specific conflicts, sectors, and actors by scholars in political science, history, history of ideas, sociology, anthropology, and interdisciplinary social science.


Sweden has a strong image Sweden as an international pioneer in environmental politics for half a century. Critically scrutinizing this image and to present a more comprehensive and nuanced interpretation reveals the ideological aspects and thereby deepens the understanding of Swedish environmental politics which would favor coming democratic and scientific dialogues about future environmental challenges. Knowledge about how the imaginary of Sweden’s environmental politics was constructed and with what implications is pivotal for the understanding of which future spaces for environmental politics that can be opened up and which will likely be closed down.

Key Publications

Karin Bradley & Johan Hedrén (2014), Green Utopianism: politics, perspectives and micro-practices, New York: Routledge (in press).

Anselm, Jonas (2014) ”A green fatwa? Climate change as a threat to the masculinity of industrial modernity” Norma, 2014:2.

Bernes, Claes & Lars J. Lundgren (2009) Use and Misuse of Nature’s Resources: An Environmental History of Sweden, Stockholm: EPA Monitor.

Lidskog, Rolf (2013) “Transboundary risk governance: co-constructing environmental issues and political solution”.In, International handbook of social and environmental change. Eds.Stewart Lockie, David Sonnenfeld, Dana Fisher. London: Routledge

Hedrén, Johan 1994: Miljöpolitikens natur [The Nature of the Environmental Politics], doktorsavhandling, Tema Vatten i natur och samhälle, Linköpings universitet.


End: 3112 2019

Funding Structure: Seed Box funds 22,5 % of Hedrén’s time, through the Formas allocation to Core Projects Tema T’s co-financing covers 50 % of Anshelm’s time, divided between this project, and the project The Transformation of Swedish Mining Politics (Deep Earth). Lidskog’s participation is not funded by the Seed Box.