Social Mobility and National Character.


National character is seen here as the competence people develop in the encounter with social conditions. Using "typically Swedish" characteristics as described by Gustav Sundbärg and Åke Daun - extrospection, starchiness, efficiency, avoiding conflicts - I describe the conditions that encourage such attitudes. The basic assumption is that they characterize people with easy social mobility: only a fifth of Sweden's educated and professional class comes from homes with an academic tradition. Pictures of the national character are painted by this group. Many academics come from the conscientious working class or from lower-middle- class families striving to climb; they have been active in associations and popular movements. They have sought to prove their capability, defining themselves in relation to their work, and displaying few striking personal or cultural traits. This gave them a place in hierarchical structures of the expansive public and private sectors. The capability strategy is discussed in Ulf Hannerz's dichotomy of perspective and message. The empirical material comes from interviews and memoirs. Today there are signs that the features of the starchy Swede are being replaced by flashier personal and cultural traits, at least in the educated class. Capability no longer ensures success. I suggest that this is due to the narrowing of the influx to universities and the availability of alternative careers outside the hierarchical orders.

How to Cite

Frykman, J., (1988) “Social Mobility and National Character.”, Ethnologia Europaea 19(1), 33-46. doi:


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Jonas Frykman (University of Lund)



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