Presentation of New Research Projects

  • Date: –15:00
  • Location: Engelska parken 6-3025 (Rausing Room)
  • Organiser: Department of History of Science and Ideas
  • Contact person: Hanna Hodacs
  • Seminarium

Higher Seminar in the History of Science and Ideas

Petter Hellström, Ylva Söderfeldt, and Linnea Tillema present their new research projects: "Unmapping Africa: Enlightenment Geography and the Making of Blank Space", "Acting Out Disease (ActDisease): How Patient Organizations Shaped Modern Medicine", and "The Emotional Citizen: Quality of Life Debates and the Transformation of Democracy in 1970s Sweden".


"Unmapping Africa: Enlightenment Geography and the Making of Blank Space" (Petter Hellström)

In the eighteenth century, European maps of Africa became increasingly empty. Rivers and mountains, kingdoms and cities that had been mapped for centuries, suddenly disappeared and were replaced by blank spaces. The blanks continued to characterise maps of the continent throughout the nineteenth century, a period of intensified exploration, expansion, evangelisation, and violence in the course of European empire building. Whereas earlier studies have investigated the role of blank spaces in creating and sustaining the perception of Africa as an unknown and unclaimed continent, the blanks themselves have long been understood as the unintended bi-product of improved scientific standards. While this explanation originates with the geographers themselves, it does not hold in the face of the empirical evidence.

Through detailed examination of the maps and writings, drafts, sketches, notes and letters of Jean-Baptiste d’Anville and other leading geographers of the French Enlightenment, I reconstruct the epistemological concerns and practical priorities that motivated and informed European geographers as they transformed Africa into a largely unwritten sheet. In thus shifting the focus from critically reading the finished maps, to critically examining their production histories, I explore the ways in which not only the employment of colonial maps – but also their making – was fundamentally shaped by contemporary power relations.


"Acting Out Disease (ActDisease): How Patient Organizations Shaped Modern Medicine" (Ylva Söderfeldt)

ActDisease is funded with an ERC Starting Grant and led by Ylva Söderfeldt. The project investigates the emergence and role of patient organizations as central actors in medicine in the 20th century. These organizations include allergics’ organizations that pushed for the acknowledgement of their ailments as somatic illnesses around 1900, diabetics’ associations that helped enable an advanced self-management regimen from the 1930s, and organizations for neurological diseases that coordinated rehabilitation resources in the 1950s. ActDisease studies how such organizations reshaped medical concepts and roles, and in expanding the reach of medical modes of thought. 

ActDisease will address the relationship between these processes with a large-scale, comparative historical study of patient organizations in Sweden, Germany, France and the UK, using a mixed-methods analysis combining distant and close readings of the sources. The patient organizations' print media will be digitized and analyzed through the adaptation and development of text mining methods to suit fragmented and heterogenous source materials and research questions about the development of scientific concepts and the circulation of knowledge.


"The Emotional Citizen: Quality of Life Debates and the Transformation of Democracy in 1970s Sweden" (Linnea Tillema)

Measurements of experienced "quality of life" have become an important resource in policy development, in Sweden as in other western democracies. Yet, when quality-of-life analysis was first introduced to Sweden in the 1970s, it stirred heated debate. This project explores political and academic debates about quality-of-life measurements in 1970s Sweden, in order to understand challenges to and changes within Swedish democracy. Combining the perspectives of governmentality studies with insights from the history of knowledge, I scrutinize the emergence of a new citizen category, the "emotional citizen", and its co-production with "emotional democracy", a new democratic ideal. I also investigate how the emotionalization of citizenship contributed to political challenges to the Swedish welfare state. In three case studies – concerned respectively with welfare research, psychosocial research, and urban planning – I investigate key arenas for knowledge production about quality of life, while also affording careful attention to the dynamic between the knowledge produced and the debates provoked by the new concept in media and parliament. In so doing, the project makes a historical and theoretical contribution to the research field devoted to the politics of wellbeing, and to research concerned with the role of emotions in politics. It also contributes important insights to historical research about the transformations of the Swedish welfare state in the late 20th century.