The Haunted People's Home

Fear and sorrow in the Swedish welfare state


  • Pär Wikman Ekonomisk historia Uppsala universitet


Social engineers, Welfare State, Gothic, Att lägga livet till rätta, Welfare Gothic


In this essay I read the historical study Att lägga livet till rätta (1989) by Yvonne Hirdman as a gothic text. I propose that its most important contribution to Swedish political history – social engineer – should be understood as an aesthetic rather than an empirical category and that it should be interpreted as an expression of a gothic mood. I understand aesthetics as an emotional judgement and I argue that the emotions that are expressed through the social engineer are fear and sorrow. I refer to this specific aesthetic as welfare gothic. This aesthetic approach is useful to understand the emotional history of the welfare state in general and the Swedish welfare state in the 1980s and 1990s in particular. The social engineer was used to give form to anxieties that were particular to the welfare state. The fear of state overreach, sorrow over the egalitarian society that never materialised, and anxiety about what social order would replace it together creates a welfare gothic mood.