Centrum för genusvetenskap

Close Relations: Representations of Family and Kinship in 21st Century Swedish Culture

Cultural representations are central to producing understandings of lived experience and identities. This applies to understandings of family and kinship, which also vary across cultures, space, and time. Yet, to date, there is no comprehensive study that addresses representations of family in contemporary Swedish culture. Such a study is needed in order to understand how family and kinship carry meaning, and how such cultural representations of these phenomena are linked to a national imaginary. This project examines representations of family relations and kinship formations in a broad and diverse selection of Swedish literature (fiction and nonfiction), film, and newspaper articles, but also analyzes the meanings of such representations for writers, publishers, reviewers and readers. It investigates family and kinship as culturally sited, politically and ideologically shaped phenomena. To accomplish solid and relevant results, the project uses mixed methods, combining textual analysis, discourse analysis and interviews. An integral aim is to contribute to theorization of family and kinship. In terms of focus, scope, selection and methods, the project is a unique contribution to Swedish family studies (currently dominated by social science research) and literary/cultural studies.

Family has gained considerable ground as a theme across genres of text in Sweden in the past 15 years. Family relations and family constellations are at the center of fiction and fictional film, memoirs, non-fiction and self-help books. During this period, too, ideas about family take shape in many different arenas, and in competing discourses that often stress kinship as either “natural” or “constructed.” As well, “new” or “alternative” family lives are becoming increasingly visible. New legislation during the twenty-first century has made reproduction accessible for people who were previously excluded from reproductive rights. Same-sex couples gained the right to be considered as adoptive parents in 2003, and since 2005 lesbians have been eligible for assisted reproduction in Swedish hospitals. In 2013 the sterilization requirement for transsexuals who sought sex reassignment was abolished, and as of 2016, single women will have access to artificial reproduction technologies. Transnational migration, adoption practices and (inter/national) surrogacy put additional pressure on ideas about family life. As a result, family is perceived by some as rapidly changing, by others as experiencing a state of crisis. That family is involved in so many burning social questions – and central across many genres of writing – raises the issue of what the limits of family may be, and what forces maintain or disrupt such limits. The heterogeneous ways that value is ascribed to (certain forms of) family foregrounds the fact that its boundaries are constantly both policed and (re)negotiated. Family, indeed, can be used to maintain norms, but also to challenge them, in social life as well as in the realm of cultural representations.

Close Relations comprises the following subprojects:
1. Mommy Books and Daddy Books: (En)gendering Parenthood in Contemporary Literature
2. ’Other’ Families or New Ideals? Family Constellations in Swedish Literature and Film
3. Crisis, Renewal, or Status Quo? Family in Swedish Newspapers
4. Publishing Swedish ‘Family Relations’
5. Reading Family: Book Clubs and Other Audiences

Helena Wahlström Henriksson and Jenny Björklund