Ethnology has been called “the science of nations and peoples” and used to have an historical focus. It was a way of broadening how history was written to include things that had not been written by “trusted men” and thus preserved in archives and printed texts. Nowadays, there is a greater focus on the contemporary world, but the issues are largely the same. When you study Ethnology, you investigate issues about why people in various areas of the world, from different cultures and backgrounds, think, live and behave as they do.
One approach in Ethnology is to regard culture as something changeable, but which also comprises shared agreements about how to live and work. Ethnologists are also interested in how these shared concepts are expressed – in texts, images, clothes, objects and rituals. The material studied is broad and may be anything from archive documents and photographs, stories and storytelling, to popular culture, television and social media.
Ethnology has an intercultural perspective, with postcolonialism as its starting point, and a gender perspective, which makes the subject relevant in contemporary society. The historical elements of Ethnology help us to see the world around us using a comparative perspective. Because the subject encapsulates people’s everyday lives, ethnologists will always have close contacts with pressing and relevant societal issues.
At Södertörn University, the focus of Ethnology is on issues of diversity and migration in Sweden. There is a specific focus on issues relating to multicultural Sweden and modern Europe, and how living conditions for various groups are affected by migration.