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När-demokrati: Jämlikhet och ledarskap i en gotländsk strandbygd
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology.
2002 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Leadership in an egalitarian society is a contradiction in terms. Still, a collective has to be vocal in order to gain a bargaining position, and to have its identity reflected and accepted. This is not the least true for a marginalised society like När socken, on the Swedish island of Gotland.

In this farming community of some 550 inhabitants - as on Gotland in general - there are, in the conventional sense of the word, no leaders to perform this presentation. However, the concept of spokesperson is well established. They are locally defined by the use of labels, which in turn are based on descriptions or adjectives like "firebrand", "nay-sayer", "good", "balanced" etc. I propose that this way of defining spokespersons is founded on a strong egalitarian notion and is best described as a semantic field, rather than in hierarchical terms.

Throughout the centuries the geographical and social base for the individual spokesperson has been the farm or ensamgård, i.e. a group of economically, jurally, ritually, as well as spatially linked homesteads. Thus, the socken of När may be described as an example of a house-based society. Successively these ensamgård have given place to more individual farms and these in turn have become linked directly with the socken as such. Presently the socken itself has ceased to exist, at least as a formal unit within the administrative set-up of Sweden. Nevertheless, locally När socken continues to act as the prime key organising symbol. As such, När socken forms the prime focus for the processes of identity formation and the most important forum for passing information, decision-making and implementation.

On the one hand, the individual farms, with links of kinship, neighbourhood, co-operation, and co-ownership, constitute the basis for the formation of social ties within the socken. On the other, such ties are also established by popular participation in an astounding amount of voluntary associations as well as quite a few projects benefiting the community as a whole. These are undertakings that mobilise the absolute majority of the population. These processes have here been summarised as När’s socken-democracy. To the outsider the projects are the most obvious result of localised popular participation. From a local point of view these projects are, apart from being socially and economically significant, primarily regarded as sources of enjoyment - the satisfaction of which is considered in itself the single most important reason to participate in any collective social action.

När socken is successfully represented as a thoroughly dynamic "modern" industrious and thriving community. At the same time it

is regionally regarded as one of the most traditional Gotlandic farming socken with all the connotations of a warm-embracing but also somewhat backward, marginalised community. These rather contradictory rhetoric tools are successfully employed by the spokespersons as they, in unison, represent the community.

However, the spokespersons of När socken are not a homogenous group with a single goal. Local solidarity obscures the fact that the presentation is based on a complex process. One can find strong urges among farmers/farms not only to be good enough (duga) but to excel at the cost of one’s neighbours, there is also a continuos competition to define what is to be the dominant local paradigm.

This way of consciously devising rhetorics and keep a firm line between the community and the outside may be interpreted as a result of an expressed need to come to terms with political and economic, as well as moral marginalisation of the individual and community. Still, these rhetorics do not directly determine the ways in which the community members interact on När or vice versa. Everyday practices, be they socialising or engaging in a project, answer to a felt need to smoothen out everyday community life. The duality of a symbolically constructed rhetoric identity and local practice may be regarded as complementary ways to construct a viable collective identity in an increasingly individualised and globalised world. The combination of rhetoric and practice can be seen as answers to the expressed local concern as how to make life in the margin a feasible proposition.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Institutionen för kulturantropologi och etnologi , 2002. , p. 313
Keywords [en]
Cultural anthropology, local community, marginalisation, egalitarian society, leadership, spokesperson, duga – be up to standard, rhetoric, practice
Keywords [sv]
Kulturantropologi, Gotland
National Category
Ethnology
Research subject
Cultural Anthropology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-3308ISBN: 91-506-1652-8 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-3308DiVA, id: diva2:162367
Public defence
2003-03-07, 1022, Institutionen för kulturantropologi och etnologi, Uppsala, 13:00
Opponent
Available from: 2003-02-07 Created: 2003-02-07 Last updated: 2010-08-25Bibliographically approved

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