(Inte)gration: connections between whiteness, deserving-ness, and belonging in the Swedish welfare state

Plan Author

  • Mikaela Geary, 2017

Fields of Concentration

  • Politics

Sample Courses

Project Description

Whiteness in Sweden: Construction of otherness in Swedish media.

Faculty Sponsors

  • Nelli Sargsyan
  • Lynette Rummel

Outside Evaluator

  • Jennifer Burrell, State University of New York at Albany


Certain unfavored newcomers to Sweden experience discrimination by means of specific boundary-making processes. My project investigates the contexts and conditions of these boundary-making situations, emphasizing that Swedishness—as it is performed in the contexts of culture and national identity—plays a hand in creating distance between Euro Swedes and non-white Swedes. The first in three in the (Inte)gration series will discuss how societal membership is negotiated in Sweden’s welfare state. Using Swedishness as a lens to examine what constitutes belonging, and therefore deservingness, is especially relevant considering the first theme mentioned: concerns of the welfare state’s vulnerability. The concept of Swedishness will be unpacked in this section, and will also be revisited in the following two papers. Part II illustrates Swedishness as whiteness in commercial breaks on Swedish television. Part III questions the use of the term “failed integration” for what it means for residents who live in Sweden’s segregated cities.


The welfare state is not simply a system by which Swedes collectively benefit. Its values stem from ideologies closely tied with Swedishness and national identity. The creation and ownership of the welfare state system was built upon values which connect with Sweden’s past as a largely homogenous nation. These stories, and the main characters casted to be challenges to the wellbeing of the welfare state, demonstrate notions of undeservingness among immigrants and refugees coming to Sweden. What angles of otherness are being deemed undeserving by Swedes in the receiving society? What facets of their identities do not belong, and therefore do not deserve? A lack of social cohesion in Sweden stems from a lack of trust within the receiving society towards newcomers who challenge Sweden’s homogenous image. Furthermore, this lack of trust, rooted in an increase in ethnic diversity, can be seen in recent lack of support for welfare expenditure.

Non-white Swedes will continue to live among a constant state of disadvantage and inequality if it is believed by Sweden’s receiving society that their identity prevents them from being racist. Given Sweden’s image as an accepting, inclusive, anti-racist society, one must wonder how silencing non-white Swedes through lagom-style integration in the media is an unrecognized form of marginalization. Smygracism (“sneaky racism”) ensures the survival of racism in Sweden, “a country imbued with official anti-racism, and with colorblindness and the societal and cultural norm.” A possible explanation as to why such drastic inequality is overlooked is the inconspicuous nature of smygracism. Such concealed discrimination is not invisible to those on the receiving end of unequal treatment, but those are the people who have the least power to make space for themselves in Sweden’s dominant culture. Smygracism serves a dual purpose: it allows Sweden’s dominant culture to maintain its norm of anti-racism while inequality is maintained by defying anti-racist norms in a concealed way, which keeps Sweden Swedish through keeping Sweden white.


I most remember pushing myself to stay focused, and not eating in the dining hall most evenings because I would stay late chatting and miss out on Plan work. I had to balance Plan with work and a SIT course. I remember not feeling done even when it was finished.

A highlight was my World Studies Program internship in Alingsås, Sweden. Ultimately I changed the foundation of my plan when I began living in Sweden. Now I have been hired at IES in Sweden, an International English School.