Accepted paper:

Culture non grata: a Swedish example of a concept in distress


Simon Ekström (University of Stockholm)

Paper short abstract:

Recent controversies concerning honour killing and culture racism have shown that the concept of ‘culture’ nowadays has severe difficulties being accepted in the same field as it has, up to now had most success, namely, the field of understanding the Other.

Paper long abstract:

The aim of this paper is to discuss how references to culture, as well as any other form of conceived differences between majority and minority, may have the effect of provoking a wide range of negative reactions. The empirical example is the ongoing Swedish debate concerning honour killings in juxtaposition with other recent debates in the daily press including a frequent use of the concept of culture. To a certain degree 'culture' in the former debate become an explication non grata, something that a great deal of the commentators (both academics and non-academics) whished to see abolished from the analysis of the murders and the violence. However, the debates are also a reminder of the present risk that the concept of culture is somehow going weaker in some areas, as it is popularised in others. References to culture, even sceptical remarks concerning some peoples presumed 'culture', has often been done in the Swedish daily press under the recent years, without any intense debate as a result. But these latter topics have all been understood as concerning phenomena in the vast majority. Recent controversies in the same press, as well as in academia, concer-ning honour killing and the emerging tendency of islamofobia and culture racism, has made it clear that 'the problem with culture' is somehow evoking when the concept is related to some statements of the Other. Actually, with regards to the use (and abuse) of the concept of culture in these debates, we are facing a specific dilemma. When culture is comprehended as a tool for better understanding what is conceived as exotic of unfamiliar circumstances, this is also the moment when the user of the concept is criticised for exaggerating, or even create, the same differences that the concept is used to analyse. As a consequence, paradoxically, 'culture' nowadays has severe difficulties being accepted in the same field as it former has had it's most successes, namely, the field of understanding the Other.

panel W014
Anthropology and the politics of multiculturalism (a friendly merger of W014 & W030)