Constructing the Desirable Reader in Swedish Contemporary Literature Policy




Literature policy, Politics of reading, Discourse, Knowledge practices, Sweden, Critical studies of reading


This study contributes to a growing number of critical studies of reading that are seeking to understand how reading is constructed socially and politically. It addresses issues concerning why certain types of reading are deemed more appropriate than others in various contexts and historical eras. The aim of the study is to explore constructions of reading, reading promotion, and readers that can be identified in Swedish literature policy 2012-2013 in order to make explicit the implicit assumptions embedded in the politics of reading. This is achieved through a discourse analysis of the Swedish Government Commission report on Literature from 2012 and the subsequent Government Bill from 2013. The analysis focuses on the construction of the ‘problem’ that reading is supposed to solve, the subject-position of the reader, and the knowledge practices that underpin the construction of the ‘problem’. The analysis reveals that the main ‘problem’ is the changing reading habits of the Swedish population and the decline in the reading ability of Swedish children and youth. This is seen as a threat to several important societal values, such as children’s learning and development, democracy, “the culture of reading”, Sweden’s economic competitiveness, and the market for literature. Responsibility for the problem is placed on the school system, parents, and the use of computers and the Internet. The remedy is seen as the promotion of the right kind of literature. Furthermore, the analysis illustrates how the subject position of the appropriate reader is formed around the notion of the harmful non-reader. Similar dividing practices are constructed around youth/adult, pupil/teacher, child/parent, and son/father where the latter is expected to make the former a reader and thereby a desirable subject. The analysis also shows how two contradictory knowledge practices are joined together in the policy texts, where seemingly rational, objective, and empirical research is paired with humanistic Bildung values.

Author Biographies

Linnea Lindsköld, University of Borås

Linnéa Lindsköld is senior lecturer at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science and affiliated to the Centre for Cultural Policy Research, University of Borås. She has conducted several discourse-oriented studies of cultural and literature policy focusing on quality and diversity. Her research interests include the aesthetics of cultural policy, the politics of reading and the function of literature in the welfare state

Åse Hedemark, Uppsala University

Åse Hedemark is associate professor in Information studies, at the Department of Archival Studies, Information Studies, and Museum & Heritage Studies at Uppsala University. She has conducted several studies analyzing the public image of public libraries using discourse analysis. Her current research interest includes children's contemporary and historical literacy practices in relation to cultural institutions such as public libraries.

Anna Lundh, University of Borås

Anna Lundh is associate professor at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science at the University of Borås, Sweden and Senior Research Fellow at Curtin University, Perth, Australia. Her research interests include contemporary and historical reading practices in educational contexts; reading by listening; and discourses about reading and literacy


Alexander, Stephanie & John Coveney (2013): "A Critical Discourse Analysis of Canadian and Australian Public Health Recommendations Promoting Physical Activity to Children", Health Sociology Review, 22:4, 353 - 364.

Arbetsgruppen för ett läslyft i Sverige (2018), Ett läslyft för Sverige: (accessed 07/02/2020).

Bacchi, Carol (2009): Analysing Policy: What's the Problem Represented to be?, Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.: Pearson.

Bacchi, Carol (2012): "Why Study Problematizations?: Making Politics Visible", Open Journal of Political Science, 2:1, 1-8.

Bacchi, Carol & Susan Goodwin (2016): Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Belfiore, Eleonora & Oliver Bennett (2009): "Researching the Social Impact of the Arts: Literature, Fiction and the Novel", International Journal of Cultural Policy, 15:1, 17-33.

Bjørnsen, Egil (2012): "Norwegian cultural policy - A civilizing mission?: The Cultural Rucksack and abstract faith in the transforming powers of the arts", Poetics 40, 382-404.

Chartier, Roger (1994): The order of books: readers, authors, and libraries in Europe between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, Oxford: Polity.

Darnton, Robert (2014): "First Steps Toward a History of Reading," Australian Journal of French Studies, 51, (a reprint with a new preface), 152-177.

Davenport, David & Jeffery Jones (2005): "The Politics of Literacy", Policy Review, 130, 45-58.

Deacon, Roger (2000): "Theory as Practice: Foucault's Concept of Problematization", Telos, 118, 127-142.

Dolatkhah, Mats (2013): "Skolbibliotek och läsfrämjande: Tre problemområden", Louise Limberg & Anna H. Lundh (eds.) Skolbibliotekets roller i förändrade landskap: En forskningsantologi, Lund: BTJ förlag, 111-141.

Dolatkhah, Mats & Anna H. Lundh (2016): "Information and experience: Audiovisual observations of reading activities in Swedish comprehensive school classrooms 1967-1969", History of Education, 45:6, 831-850.

Foucault, Michel (1990): The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Foucault, Michel (1992): The history of sexuality, Vol. 2: The use of pleasure. Repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Frenander, Anders (2007): "No Discord, or, an Area Without Significant Political Stakes?", International Journal of Cultural Policy, 13:4, 393-406.

Föreningen Läsrörelsen (2017). "Om Läsrörelsen",, (accessed 07/02/2020).

Hamilton, Mary (2012): Literacy and the Politics of Representation, London: Routledge.

Hedemark, Åse (2020): "Constructing the literate child: An analysis of Swedish literature policy", Library & Information History, 36:2, 73-88.

Hedemark, Åse & Jenny Lindberg (2018): "Babies, Bodies and Books: Librarian's Work for Early Literacy", Library Trends, 66:4, 422-441.

Hylland, Ole Marius & Erling Bjurström (2018): "The Relational Politics of Aesthetics: An Introduction", Ole Marius Hylland & Erling Bjurström. (eds.): Aesthetic and Politics: A Nordic Perspective on how Cultural Policy Negotiates the Agency of Music and Arts Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-24

James, Allison, Chris Jenks, & Alan Prout (1998): Theorizing Childhood, Cambridge: Polity Press.Johanson, Katya (2010). "Culture for or by the child?: 'Children's culture' and cultural policy", Poetics, 38, 386-401

Kann-Rasmussen, Nanna & Gitte Balling (2015): "Ikke-læsning som «problem» i dansk kulturpolitik: En analyse af læsekampagnen Danmark Læser", Nordisk kulturpolitisk tidsskrift, 18:2, 250-266.

Kelly, Stephen (2015): Governing Civil Society: How Literacy, Education and Security were Brought Together, Brisbane: Queensland University of Technology.

Kittler, Friedrich (2012): Nedskrivningssystem 1800/1900, Göteborg: Glänta. Klockar Linder, My (2014): Kulturpolitik: formeringen av en modern kategori, doctoral dissertation, Uppsala University.

Lauristin, Marjuu & Peeter Vihalemm. (eds) (2014): Reading in Changing Society, Tartu: University of Tartu Press.

Lindsköld, Linnéa (2013): Betydelsen av kvalitet: en studie av diskursen om statens stöd till ny, svensk skönlitteratur 1975-2009, doctoral dissertation, Gothenburg University & University of Borås.

Lindsköld, Linnéa, Mats Dolatkhah & Anna Lundh (2020): "Aesthetic reading as a problem in mid-20th century Swedish educational policy", Nordisk kulturpolitisk tidskrift, 1.

Lundh, Anna .H. & Dolatkhah, Mats (2016): "Reading as dialogical document work: Possibilities for Library and Information Science", Journal of Documentation, 72:1, 127-139. Mangset, Per, Anita Kangas, Dorte Skot-Hansen, & Geir Vestheim (2008): "Nordic Cultural Policy", International Journal of Cultural Policy, 14:1, 1-5.

Mäkinen, Ilkka (2014): "Reading like Monks: The Death or Survival of the Love of Reading?", Marjuu Lauristin & Peeter Vihalemm. (eds): Reading in Changing Society, Tartu: University of Tartu Press, 13-27.

Nielsen, Henrik Kaare (2003): "Cultural Policy and Evaluation of Quality", International Journal of Cultural Policy, 9:3, 237-245.

Persson, Magnus (2012): Den goda boken: Samtida föreställningar om litteratur och läsning, Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Persson, Magnus (2007): Varför läsa litteratur?: om litteraturundervisningen efter den kulturella vändningen, Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Prop. 2009/10:3, Regeringens proposition (2009): Tid för kultur, Stockholm: Regeringskansliet.

Prop. 2013/14:3, Regeringens proposition (2013): Läsa för livet, Stockholm: Regeringskansliet.

Rose, Nikolas (1999): Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ross, Catherine Sheldrick, Lynne McKechnie, & Paulette Rothbauer (2006): Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community, Westport: Libraries Unlimited.

Røyseng, Sigrid (2007): Den gode, hellige og disiplinerte kunsten: forestillinger om kunstens autonomi i kulturpolitikk og kunstledelse. Diss. Bergen: Universitetet i Bergen.

SOU 2012:10, Carlsson, Ulla & Jenny Johannisson (eds) (2012): Läsarnas marknad, marknadens läsare: en forskningsantologi, Stockholm: Fritze.

SOU 2012:65, Litteraturutredningen (2012): Läsandets kultur, Stockholm: Fritze. Stooke, Roz & Pamela McKenzie (2009): "Leisure and Work in Library and Community Programs for Very Young Children", Library Trends, 57:4, 657-675.

Wesner, Simone (2010): "Cultural Fingerprints: The Legacy of Cultural Values in the Current Cultural Policy Agenda in Germany", International Journal of Cultural Policy, 16:4, 433-448.

Widding, Ulrika (2011), "Problematic Parents and the Community Parent Education: Representations of Social Class, Ethnicity, and Gender", Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 23:1, 19-38.




How to Cite

Lindsköld, L., Hedemark, Åse and Lundh, A. (2020) “Constructing the Desirable Reader in Swedish Contemporary Literature Policy”, Culture Unbound, 12(2), pp. 256–274. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.20200527c.