“Sweden’s culture of consensus leads to intellectual inbreeding”

Sweden | 2008-10-18

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Bo Rothstein.
Photo: Göran Olofsson

That is the opinion of Bo Rothstein, Professor in Political Science at Gothenburg University, who is one of the leading social scientists in Sweden and a well know controversialist in the public debate.

Rothstein is a frequent writer of op-eds in Sweden’s leading newspapers and that is not a coincidence.

- Scholars, especially social scientists, have a moral responsibility to be engaged in the public debate. It is too common in Sweden today to be quiet, adopt and “stay low”. Not at least in the world of academics there is no longer any substantial room for differing opinions, partly because of an increased politicisation of research. In the hunt for new research funding, winning propositions are those compliant to the politically passable mindset.

In his new book Förargelseväckande beteende – om konsten att inte sitta stilla i båten (Misconduct – the art of rocking the boat) Bo Rothstein describes his own experiences of how it is to be a “whistleblower” in a number of areas, such as the preconditions of politics, the possibility of equal opportunity, the future of the welfare state and the threats against a free and noncommittal research.

- The lack of critical voices could to some extent be blamed on the Swedish political culture that so strongly emphasises consensus and cooperation. There is also a highly exaggerated image about what kind of risks that awaits someone who dares to be critical in this Swedish culture of consensus, Bo Rothstein says.

He claims that Swedish universities do not foster creative researchers neither are there any creative research environments.

- On the contrary, not at least in social science and arts subjects, large parts of Swedish research have a structure that leads to what best could be described as intellectual inbreeding, the Professor claims.

Quality, freedom and noncommittal research are particular interests of Bo Rothstein. He has for example been one of the leading critiques of the low quality of research when it comes to Swedish Gender Studies. After a hot debate about a certain research case he even proposed that the Uppsala University should be shut down.

Recently he also has criticised economic scholars for not being able to defend “neoliberal” theories in the shadow of the financial crisis.

His strong engagement for free and noncommittal research does to some extent carry personal motives. In the opening chapters of his book he describes the consequence of having the holocaust in the family and the importance of remembering and never to forget. He states that it is people of his own trade, political scientists, if any, that knows that evil could reign unrecognized in our society. The spirit of the time can make us blind.

- History gives us a number of bad examples of what lack of moral courage among the intellectuals can lead to. Many, for example Albert Einstein, explained the Nazi’s accession to power with the opportunistic tendencies among German scholars in the 1930s, Rothstein concludes.

David Jonasson


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