David Östlund

Associate Professor

Senior Lecturer

I am Associate Professor in History of Ideas, also teaching within several programs, e.g. teacher education, where I am the coordinator of our programs for extended education.

+46 8 608 50 37 +4686085037

Historical and Contemporary Studies


From September 2018 through February 2019 I am working half time as a visiting researcher at the The Swedish Institute for North American Studies (SINAS), Uppsala University.

I have taught intellectual history since 1990, mainly at Stockholm University and Södertörn University. My teaching has comprised the whole Western tradition of thought, but also courses problematizing its canon. Among other things, I have developed thematic courses on Marshall McLuhan, Margaret Mead, and W.E.B. Du Bois as classics in the History of Ideas. I have also been teaching within several education programs, since 2009 especially within the teacher education programs at Södertörn. Since 2016 I am also coordinator of internationalization within the Södertörn teacher education programs. 2004, 2011, and the academic year 2017-18 I was a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. During my stays in 2004 and 2011 I created and taught a course on "The Swedish Model" (in the many senses of the term), and a course dealing with issues of "biopolitics" (including population policies and eugenics) in Scandinavia and Germany during the interwar years and WWII. The course on "the Swedish Model" was during the spring of 2018 developed into a course with the title "Crystal Ball of Modernity: Sweden´s Path as a Global Comparison Case".

My research interests have taken two main directions, one theoretical and the other empirical.

In Sweden intellectual history (idé- och lärdomshistoria) has been an independent discipline since the 1930s. For decades its main focus was the history of science, and Swedish intellectual cultures in their struggles to adapt Great Thinkers abroad to local conditions. The research practice, strongly reflecting the historian’s viewpoint, applied ”contextualism” long before such terms gained currency. In several texts, e.g. a ”manifesto” in the specialty’s annual Lychnos in 1998, I have attempted to bring out and sharpen the underlying theoretical assumptions of this (anti-theoretical) research tradition. The key claim is that our everyday talk of ”ideas” actually refers to instances of a form of human action, not to a category of ethereal entities. Thus, ”history of ideas” is the study of a certain kind of praxis in the past, especially of processes of interaction between people striving to articulate and solve historically specific problems, mainly while using the technologies of the written word (thus giving their actions an illusory nature of "things").

The other strand in my research has mainly dealt with thought, on the one hand related to the advent of the modern business enterprise, and on the other hand to ”the social question” around 1900, and its forms of continuation thereafter. In short, the central theme has been the interplay between ideas of industrial efficiency and social reform. I have compared this interplay in Swedish and American contexts, e.g. in my Ph.D. dissertation, Det sociala kriget och kapitalets ansvar (Social War and the Responsibility of Capital, 2003). A key point of reference is my discovery of the origin of the terminology of ”social engineering”. Launched in the 1890s (initially in Dutch and soon in English) within efforts to professionalize what is today labeled "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR), it was relocated to political contexts in 1911. The notion of “social engineering” has in recent decades become strongly associated with Swedish society. The background is the conspicuous role Sweden received in the world from the 1930s through the postwar decades: a symbol – vilified and celebrated – of a certain kind of modernity. Sweden was seen as the epitome of the consistently developed welfare state, as well as the epitome of industrial efficiency – founded on strangely peaceful relations between strong private companies and an almost completely unionized workforce. The contested images of modern Sweden within the genre of "Swedology" (with its complex struggle between "Swedophiles" and "Swedoclasts") have become a central issue in my research. This was also a main theme in my teaching at the University of Michigan in 2004, 2011, and 2018.

Selected publications

In English:

"Ludwik Fleck as a theorist of thought as res gestae – or, Does a pair of dots in Swedish matter?", Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science, No 1 (2016). (Full textexternal link)

"Laissez-faire under a bell jar: Marquis Childs and the Sweden-fad of the Roosevelt Era", in Ērika Sausverde & Ieva Steponavičiūtė (Eds), Fun and Puzzles in Modern Scandinavian Studies. Vilnius: Vilnius University, 2014.

“’Cosmic patriotism’: Jane Addams and the Chicago Immigrants’ Cosmopolitan Experience and Ethic”, in Rebecka Lettevall & My Klockar-Linder, Eds, The Idea of Kosmopolis: Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics of World Citizenship, Huddinge 2008 (Södertörn Academic Studies 37).

“A knower and friend of human beings, not machines: The business career of the terminology of social engineering, 1894-1910”, Ideas in History, 2007:2.

“Our Preeminently Social Activity: Ludwik Fleck and Thought in History”, Ideas in History 2007:3.

In Swedish:

"Ett unikt fall och en världsrörelse: Det tidiga CSA och dess internationella sammanhang" [A unique case and a world movement: Early Centralförbundet för socialt arbete and its international context"], i Swärd, Hans & Edebalk, Per Gunnar (red.), Socialt arbete och socialpolitik: Om Centralförbundet för socialt arbete och dess betydelse. Stockholm: Studentlitteratur, 2017

"Tillbaka till framtiden? Teknik, kommunikation och förnuft i teveåldern" [on Marshall McLuhans, Jürgen Habermass and Jean Baudrillards theories of media], in Anders Burman & Lena Lennerhed (Eds), Tillsammans: Politik, filosofi och estetik på 1960- och 1970-talen. Stockholm: Bokförlaget Atlas, 2014.

"Tidiga CSA : En mötesplats över gränser och ett clearinghouse for social and industrial betterment" in Hans Swärd (Ed), Centrala skeden, viktiga personer och stora frågor i CSA:s historia. Malmö: Egalité, 2014.

"Dewey, settlementrörelsen och den reella demokratin", in Anders Burman (Ed), Den reflekterade erfarenheten: John Dewey om demokrati, utbildning och tänkande. Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2014.

” Växelverkan, bildning, sak och person: Ebba och Eli Heckscher” [Interchange, Bildung, Convictions and Persons: Ebba and Eli F. Heckscher”], in Par i vetenskap och politik: intellektuella äktenskap i moderniteten[Couples in Science and Politics: Intellectual Marriages in Modernity], Eds. Annika Berg, Christina Florin & Per Wisselgren. Umeå: Boréa, 2011.

”Från patriarkal välvilja till intressejämkning som effektivitetsstrategi” [From paternalist benevolence to adaptation of interests as a strategy for efficiency], in 125 år med Corporate Social Responsibility [125 years with CSR] (Näringslivshistoria 1), Centrum för Näringslivshistoria, Stockholm 2009.

”Maskinmodernitet och dystopisk lycka: den sociala ingenjörskonstens Sverige, upplaga Huntford 1971” [“Machine-modernity and Dystopic Bliss: Sweden as the land of social engineering, edition Huntford 1971.”], Polhem: Teknikhistorisk årsbok 2006-2007.

“CSA – en överbryggningscentral och dess idéer” [CSA – a hub for ‘over- bridging’ and its ideas], in Hans Swärd & Marie-Anne Egerö, Eds, Ligga till last: Fattigdom och utsatthet – socialpolitik och socialt arbete under 100 år, Malmö 2006.

”’Superstitio in libros’ – om verbala verksamheter, verk och artefakter” [’Superstitio in libros’ – on verbal work, verbal works, and verbal artifacts], in A. Burman & B. Jacobsson, eds, Över tid och rum. En antologi tillägnad Bo Lindberg, Stockholm 2003.

Det sociala kriget och kapitalets ansvar. Social ingenjörskonst mellan affärsintresse och samhällsreform i USA och Sverige 1899-1914. [Social War and the Responsibility of Capital: Social engineering between business interests and progressive reform in the USA and Sweden, 1899-1914.], doctoral dissertation (with summary in English), Stockholm 2003.

“Ett manifest för processtolkande idéhistoria. 100 teser om tänkandet och dess historieskrivning” [A manifesto for intellectual history as process interpretation: 100 theses on human thought and its historiography.], Lychnos – Annual of the Swedish History of Science Society, 1998.

“Gerhard Törnqvist: mönsterbildare, planekonom och marknadsprofet” [Gerhard Törnqvist: exemplar, plan-economist, and prophet of the markets] in Lars Engwall, Ed, Föregångare inom företagsekonomin [Pioneers in Swedish Business Administration Studies], Stockholm 1995.

Ständiga gemensamma känslor: Till bilden av Pehr Niclas Christiernin (1725-1799) som filosof. [Constant Common Feelings: a contribution to the image of Pehr Niclas Christiernin (1725-1799) as a philosopher.] Idéhistoriska uppsatser nr. 19, Stockholm 1989.

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