«Do you talk about God in this nursery school?». Rhetoric and experience of the sacred in the reform of the Swedish childcare system (1968-1980)

Piero Simeone Colla


In the second half of the 20th century, the Swedish educational system was subject to two parallel processes of secularization and moralization. The decline of the state church’s hold on schools was accompanied by a growing emphasis on ethics, sense of community and social commitment in curricula and teachers’ mission. The establishment of a state-run nursery school (förskola) in the mid-1970s is a striking example of this cultural dynamic. Drawing on the development and promotion of the new guidelines for förskola in public debate, the article focuses on the interweaving of political and transcendent expectations linked to this project, beyond its patent utilitarian rationale: facilitating women’s participation in the labour market. While standing as the culmination of the most authoritative psycho-evolutionary theories of the time, the ‘work plan’ for day-care staff converted these theories into a practical doctrine, regulating everyday interaction between adults and children: so-called dialogue pedagogics (dialogpedagogik). State-supported campaigns aimed at popularizing the förskola among broader segments of society (parents of young children, immigrants, etc.) were paralleled by the sacralisation of esoteric rituals, spatial arrangements and lexical choices that identify it. Systematically opposed to suffocating family bonds (or to the alienation of the commodity society), the förskola emerges – in the rhetoric of officials of the welfare state – as something greater than a childcare provider. It embodies an enchanted realm, where modern society may enact its redemption from harmful conflicts and detrimental bias, but also a non-adversarial universe impervious to rational assessment.


Nursery school; Welfare State; Swedish Model; Protestantism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12869/TM2020-3-03


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ISSN 2282-0043 - Registered at the Court of Rome on Nov. 8, 2012, no. 305/2012

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