The parochialism of Swedish universities

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One of the things made painfully obvious by the Judith Butler Affair is the parochialism of Swedish universities. Parochialism –“characterized by an unsophisticated focus on local concerns to the exclusion of wider contexts; elementary in scope or outlook” — is a condition that happens to anyone who is convinced that he or she has nothing to learn from others.

Judith Butler’s statement in defense of the right of university teachers to teach their own courses in their own fashion was eloquent and forceful, but it was not as such surprising. This is how all academics think, except Swedish ones. It is funny, but also sad, that my colleagues at Lund University were surprised by her words. It is sad, but also worrying, that no one seems to have protested against the quota system for reading lists until I came along. To me Butler’s points were obvious, but then again I have my education from the US and I spent a majority of my life working abroad. I always resisted being socialized into the Swedish system.

Consider what this means for international student recruitment. Today universities are constantly ranked. These rankings are crucial since they determine where students will spend their money. But it seems to me the existence or otherwise of academic freedom should feature as one of the variables that make up the metrics. Universities where academic freedom is assured give far better courses than universities where reading list are determined by committees. Taking this variable into account would produce more accurate rankings. Differently put, Lund University is today ranked far too high on these lists.

And when Swedish universities try to recruit foreign students, shouldn’t they tell them that what they are getting is not an education as such, but rather a Swedish education, a Swedish version of the world? Shouldn’t they be told, for example, that all courses in the social sciences will include a “gender perspective”? Combining ignorance with smug self-assurance, the Swedes don’t realize how limited their outlook is.


  1. Hej,

    På vilket sätt blev dina kolleger överraskade av hennes svar? Det vore intressant att höra mer om reaktionerna bland personalen.


    1. Framför allt var det väldigt få kommentarer. När Judith rutit till blev det helt plötsligt väldigt tyst bland barnen i sandlådan. Några tvivlade på att vi verkligen kommunicerat med Butler och att det var hennes egna ord vi citerade; andra hävdade att Butler inte vet någonting om Sverige. Ingen verkade förstå hur hon kunde sätta principer högre än tillfälliga egna fördelar.

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