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Gengas och ohälsa: den medicinsk-vetenskapliga kontroversen kring kronisk koloxidförgiftning 1944-1961
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies.
2010 (Swedish)In: Lychnos, ISSN 0076-1648, 61-85 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Chronic carbon monoxide poisoning as a contested disease 1944–1961. By Helena Ekerholm. During World War II, wood gas became the primary fuel for Swedish motorists. Although reliable as an emergency fuel, wood gas caused concern due to its high percentage of carbon monoxide, leading to acute and chronic carbon monoxide poisoning mainly among workers in the transport sector. Chronic carbon monoxide poisoning became an intensely debated diagnosis within the medical community. The article discusses this controversy with specific regard to Thomas Gieryn’s boundary theory and the concept of culture-bound diseases in Sweden primarily associated with Karin Johannisson’s research in the field of the history of medicine. Source material includes medical scientific publications and archive material from a state research centre handling chronic carbon monoxide poisoning. Politically the diagnosis reached high credibility, but within the medical profession the diagnosis and its clinical practice were criticised. Symptoms were diffuse and included general fatigue, headache, vertigo, sleeping problems, apathy and decreased libido. Doctors diagnosing patients with chronic carbon monoxide poisoning had primarily to rely on patients’ own descriptions of their ailments, although some clinical tests were also executed. The first clinic specifically aimed at carbon monoxide poisoning, Sabbatsbergs gengasklinik, received criticism for over-diagnosing. The clinic was accused of creating a wood gas scare in the Stockholm region and causing an epidemic of imagined chronic monoxide poisoning, spurred on by extensive writings in the popular press. The controversy concerned problems of discerning those who were considered to be “objectively ill” from those who through fear had induced chronic carbon monoxide poisoning upon themselves. Notions of working-class masculinity, boundaries between physical and mental illness as well as a clash of interests between the labour movement, national social insurance offices and private enterprise are some of the facets within a complex controversy ultimately focused on drawing boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate patient demands and achieving epistemic authority.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Lärdomshistoriska Samfundet , 2010. 61-85 p.
Keyword [sv]
gengas, generatorgas, omtvistad diagnos, kontrovers, kultursjukdom, koloxidförgiftning, legitimitet, neurasteni
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-43876OAI: diva2:416988
Available from: 2011-06-08 Created: 2011-05-13 Last updated: 2012-08-28Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Bränsle för den moderna nationen: Etanol och gengas i Sverige under mellankrigstiden och andra världskriget
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Bränsle för den moderna nationen: Etanol och gengas i Sverige under mellankrigstiden och andra världskriget
2012 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[en]
Fuelling the Modern nation : Ethanol and Wood Gas as Alternative Fuels in Sweden during the Interwar Years and World War II
Abstract [en]

This thesis investigate Swedish policy-making concerning promotion of wood gas and ethanol distilled from fermented sulphite lye as domestic fuel alternatives in the Interwar years and World War II. With a departure point in the theories of social constructions of technology (SCOT), the sociology of expectations and Thomas P. Hughe’s socio-technical systems I analyse the measures that were undertaken in these efforts, the arguments put forward for and against the ethanol and wood gas projects and how the efforts turned out. I also investigate how the interpretations of ethanol and wood gas as fuel alternatives changed from the Interwar period on through World War II and what consequences this had for ethanol and wood gas policy immediately after World War II. Source material includes Parliament and Government records, cabinet meeting files, governmental commissions, authority archives, technical evaluations and handbooks and scientific medical publications.

Ethanol and wood gas were promoted from a nationalist vantage point. The Interwar debate was imbued with visions of national techno-scientific prowess in a perceived ongoing global contest for technological and scientific advancement, of which achieving autarky, self-sufficiency on important raw materials and industrial products, was an ideal for some. Ethanol and wood gas were also promoted as means for creating a lucrative new market for the forestry industry, which also held a prominent position in nationalist visions of technology. Expectations of a new war also motivated the promotion of ethanol and wood gas as national fuels. Measures for promotion included tax exemptions, sales guarantees and legislation for mandatory ethanol purchase for all petrol importing companies and gasifier loan funds. Political conflicts mainly centred around the principles of free trade as opposed to protectionism, proper use of tax funds and whether the potentials of the fuel alternatives were rhetorically exaggerated. During World War II ethanol and wood gas in particular served as important petrol surrogates. The increased wood gas use led to negative interpretations of wood gas a fuel alternative due to its hazardous, dirty and time-consuming maintenance and the changed driving behaviour it required from its users compared to petrol or ethanol fuelled automobiles. Compared to wood gas, ethanol was appreciated for its socio-technical similarities to petrol, but production was after the war deemed difficult to maintain during wartime. Whereas wood gas remained an important stand-by surrogate during the cold war, Swedish politicians lost interest in ethanol of the kind that was promoted in the Interwar years. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2012. 72 p.
Historiska studier: skrifter från Umeå universitet, 4
alternative fuels, ethanol, wood gas, energy policy, controversy, history of biofuels, alternative technology, social constructions of technology, socio-technical systems, political debate, socio-technical debate, history of technology, automotive history., drivmedel, etanol, generatorgas, gengas, drivmedelsalternativ, biodrivmedel, förväntningar, kontrovers, sociotekniska system, sociala konstruktioner av teknik, alternativ teknik, politik, teknikdebatt, energipolitik, mellankrigstiden, andra världskriget, autarki, socioteknisk debatt, automobilhistoria, motorhistoria
National Category
History of Technology History History of Ideas
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-57904 (URN)978-91-7459-466-9 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-09-21, Humanisthuset, Hörsal F, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:15 (Swedish)
Fuel of the Future? A Research Programme on the Science, Technology and Selling of Biofuels in Sweden
Available from: 2012-08-30 Created: 2012-08-21 Last updated: 2012-08-28Bibliographically approved

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