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  • Globalization as "The White Man's Burden":Modernity and Colonialism in a Swedish Travelogue
  • Peter Forsgren

Introduction: Ludvig Nordström's Vision of Modernity

In all his writings, the Swedish author and journalist Ludvig Nordström (1882–1942) was devoted to the modernization of Sweden and to the country's new identity as an industrial nation and a modern society. This is especially apparent in the series of nonfiction works he wrote during the 1920s and 1930s, many in the form of travelogues. One of them, published in 1932 in two volumes, with the titles Jag reste ut som svensk … and … och blev helt enkelt människa (1932a; 1932b; I Departed as a Swede … and Became Simply a Man), will be the focus of this article. Two themes will be analyzed: Nordström's travelogue will be seen as an example of Nordic colonialism—particularly of Nordic colonial thinking—from the period between the two World Wars, and as an example of the strong connections between Western ideas of modernity and colonialism. It is especially interesting to examine these connections in a Swedish context, since the idea of Sweden as a modern nation has dominated Swedes' self-image since the interwar years. At the same time, it has rarely been discussed how this idea is related to colonial discourse. This article will demonstrate these connections using very explicit examples from this travelogue.

Ludvig Nordström had established himself as one of the leading writers of prose fiction of his generation during the 1910s, and he was, from the very beginning, interested in the modernization of contemporary [End Page 222] Swedish society. By the end of this decade, he began to develop a theory of modernity, which he called totalism, a theory that dominated everything he wrote during the 1920s and 1930s in his works of fiction as well as his travelogues, reportages, and numerous articles. During these decades, his works were frequently cited by strong supporters of Sweden's transformation, and many of his ideas about industrialization, urbanization, and the need for collaboration between industry and the labor movement began to become political reality during the 1930s when the Social Democratic Party came to power. This theory of modernity, which, among others, was influenced by the evolutionary and sociological ideas of Durkheim and Spencer, emphasized the need for industrialization, urbanization, and the globalization of the economy. It was mainly used in two ways by Nordström: first, as a way to explain the development of global history and society, and, second, as a didactic or pedagogic instrument to educate and encourage the reader to become a modern citizen (Forsgren 2015, 71–85).

Northern Sweden—Norrland—had a particularly important role in Nordström's ideas of modernity and modernization. He believed that it was this part of the country that played the central role in Sweden's transformation to a modern industrial nation-state. This is especially obvious in his nonfiction work Stor-Norrland (Great Norrland), published 1927, as well as in his extensive novel Petter Svensks historia (The Story of Petter the Swede), published in four volumes between 1923 and 1927. Both describe Norrland, with its abundant natural resources (woods, water, mines), as the key factor behind Swedish industrialization as well as the most industrialized and economically globalized part of Sweden. Nordström, who himself came from Norrland, repeatedly stated that the modernization and industrialization of Norrland had finally transformed the region from a kind of internal colony on the periphery of the nation-state to the most modern and economically important part of Sweden. For him, each new industrial plant in northern Sweden was a kind of ideal modern society. Nordström's writings from this period must also be seen in relation to a broader debate on the consequences of the industrialization of Norrland, which took place in Sweden during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the benefits and dangers of industrialization were intensively discussed, as well as the question of control over natural resources (Forsgren 2015, 28–30).

Because of his vision of modern development, Nordström mainly saw nature as a resource to be exploited for industrial production. This...


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