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Research article2017Peer reviewed

The realm of freedom in new rural governance: Micro-politics of democracy in Sweden

Arora-Jonsson, Seema


Voluntary associations are at the heart of Swedish rural policy and strategies for governance as partners in bringing about 'development from below.' Examining the implications of this new responsibility being placed on the civil society in new modes of multilevel governance, I ask: do these changes presage greater political space for individuals vis a vis the state or is Swedish rural policy premised on ideas about an institutional context that might be disappearing? In comparative research in rural Sweden, I discuss state and civil-society relations at the macro level in light of the gendered micro-politics of associational life on the ground. Through ethnographic research with people involved in development work of different kinds, I examine how ideas about community associations are used to mobilize rural policy. I analyze its' political implications and argue for the importance of analyzing macro in relation to the micropolitics on the ground for a better theoretical understanding of democracy and power in rural governance, in particular its gendered implications. I argue that past collaborative relations between the civil society and the state's administrative apparatuses as well as the current focus of rural policy have enabled the state to hand over service functions to the civil society and diluted their 'voice,' incongrously endangering the institutional basis of rural policy itself. Further, attention to the gendered micropolitics of associational life makes apparent cleavages within civil society and its underlying relations of gender and power that challenge current conceptualizations on the neoliberalization of rural policy. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Civil-society; State; Rural governance; Gender; Sweden; Democracy

Published in

2017, Volume: 79, pages: 58-69

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG5 Gender equality
    SDG10 Reduced inequalities
    SDG16 Peace, justice and strong institutions

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Social Anthropology
    Human Geography
    Gender Studies

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