Sweden is one of the most developed and powerful countries with flourishing and advanced trade, economic, and communication systems. Its rich history and culture have long been building in the course of the last wars and invasions. This Scandinavian country emerged as the strongest and independent country in the Middle Ages and has been expanded to the Swedish Empire possessing great power and control over other states in the 17th century. This period of Swedish history can be considered as a starting point for the formation and establishment of the domination in the Baltic Sea. Nowadays, the country has the status of one of the strongest economies and cultures whose strong national identity, political neutrality, and social stability contribute to their prosperous development. In this essay, I argue that a strong feeling of patriotism revealed through individualist nationalism, religious ideologies, and flooring free trade relations have to build a solid foundation for national identity construction in Sweden. After first analyzing economic imperative perspectives as well as political and ideological trends of development, I will further focus on the analysis of the values of individualism, influence of Church, and trade relations on the current image of cultural identity in Sweden.
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The development of free trade in Sweden has considerably advanced the country’s economy. In this regard, Dowrick (1996) investigates the evidence indicated the economic growth in Sweden and outlines such aspects as high taxation, GDP, consumption, and overall economic performance. Besides, the current situation at the labor market and employment rates are evaluated as good and have the potential for future development. The structural changes that occurred to the Swedish economy in the 20th century are largely predetermined by the industrialization process, a strong framework of international communication, and trade relations established at earlier historical stages. Trade unionism in Sweden has also developed as a result of cultural identity construction in Sweden. According to Fahlbeck (1999), one of the outstanding traits of Swedish unions lies in the fact that they consider themselves as “an organization with a mission, a kind of secular religion…as the vanguard of a better society” (p. 3). Such ideology assisted in forming industrial relations throughout the unbroken history of Sweden’s economy.
Increased patriotic and nationalist sentiment is typical of the Swedish cultural identity. Due to deployment and flourishing trade, Sweden is a more xenophile country, but the presence of cultural pride with national and ethnic identity is unquestionable (Hjerm, 1998). When it comes to Swedish nationalism and national sentiment, the main emphasis should be made on the analysis of ethnicity and great power values. Hjerm (1998) specifies that Swedish nationalism “evolved historically as a regressive national romantic right-wing force”. More importantly, because the country has long been an ethnically homogenous nation, national and ethnic independence is especially valued by Swedish people. Therefore, the recent dramatic changes have a very frustrating impact on the social and cultural situation because Swedish nationalism having more conservative political roots. It is also worth saying that Swedish nationalist sentiment is more prone to negative images of alien nations because Swedish culture is more subjected to a new nationalism, namely, more internally related people within the Swedish society (Hjerm, 1998).
In general, Sweden’s cultural and national identity is based on the concept of self-reliance and individualistic nationalism due to the long history of national homogeneity. While continuing the concept of individual nationalism, one cannot omit the contribution made to the Swedish culture in the Viking Age. In particular, Swedish Vikings have contributed a considerable portion of values and features to the mentality of the Swedish society. The deep structure of the Swedish mentality focuses on such salient values as self-criticism, equality, worship of nature, and management relationships based on traditional human values (Gustavsson, 1995, p. 153). Hence, strict adherence to traditional values and pro-conservative orientations are the constitute parts identifying Swedish identity and mentality.
Because Swedish economic and political history has also affected the development of the country’s strong cultural and national identity, special consideration should be paid to the analysis of the so-called “cultural industries” promoting the concept of free trade relations and proliferation of national products. About urban and regional development, the proliferation of cultural products is also historically predetermined, making a significant contribution to the Swedish labor market and economy. Qualitative and quantitative studies carried out by Power (2002) reveal that commodity activities have had a potent impact on the formation and enhancement of Swedish national and cultural values. Social welfare and national trade are, therefore, largely dependent on cultural product manufacturing that affects the overall values at the national level. Emphasizing consumption, the Swedish society is also concerned with their national product proliferation beyond national boundaries. In general, it can be stated that the concept of ethnicity and identity is closely associated with political and free trade relations prevailing in Sweden.
When framing and shaping a complete image of Swedish mentality and cultural identity, it is imperative to consider the impact of church and religion on the formation of both. In particular, the development of the Church of Sweden has been marked by the seventeenth century’s orthodox movement and Lutheran reformation (Martin, 1944). This religious ideology had a lasting impact on the formation of the rationalist movement dictating the rise of intellectualism and formalism and withdrawing emotionalism and subjectivity. Such spiritual orientation has also formed a contemporary image of Swedish identity. The influence of the Lutheran Church is tangible as the majority of the adult population is affiliated with this religious movement (Berggren, 2002, p. 573). Therefore, religion still plays an enormous role in forming national heritance in Sweden.
Making a focus on all cultural and cross-cultural considerations, it is also worth stating that the analysis of historical heritage and cultural values toughly correlates with the concept of cultural identity construction (Martin and Nakayama, 2010). In particular, placing culture and ethnicity within economic, religious, and political frames provide a more explicit picture of how communication, interaction, and nationalist sentiment influence the overall formation of identities.
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Because Sweden is a highly developed country in economic and cultural terms, its salient features, such as self-reliance, Lutheranism, and extreme national and patriotic sentiment have been the result of the economic, industrial, and religious impact of the past. In particular, individualist national orientation, Viking Age culture, free trade relationships, and strong religious ideologies have contributed to the formation of national identity construction in Sweden. The evidence has disclosed that prominent cultural traits have been formed under the influence of the above-identified cultural and economic values and, therefore, they are considered the basic components of Swedish mentality and identity.
Berggren, N. (2002). Rhetoric or reality? An economic analysis of the effect of religion in Sweden. Journal of Socio-Economics. 26(6), pp. 571-596.
Dowrick, S. (1996). Swedish Economic Performance and Swedish Economic Debate: A View from Outside. Economic Journal. 106(439), pp. 1772-1779.
Fahlbeck, R. (1999). Trade Unionism in Sweden. Labour and Society Programme. pp. 1-33.
Gustavsson, B. (1995, October). Human Values in Swedish Management. Journal Of Human Values. 1(2), pp. 153-171.
Hjerm, M. (1998). Reconstructing “Positive” Nationalism: Evidence from Norway and Sweden. Sociological Research Online. 3(2).
Martin, E. C. (1944, December). Johannes Matthias and the Development of the Church of Sweden during the First Half of the Seventeenth Century. Church History. 13(4), pp. 289-309.
Martin, J.N., and Nakayama, T.K. (2010). Intercultural communication in contexts. (5th Ed). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Power, D. (2002). “Cultural Industries” in Sweden: An Assessment of Their Place in the Swedish Economy. Economic Geography. 78(2), pp. 103-127.