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Honorary Doctor 2021

Author Klas Östergren is the Faculty of Social Sciences 2021 honorary doctor. The decision is motivated by Östergren’s ability to write thought-provokingly about the society in which we live, with a curiosity befitting social sciences research. Klas Östergren will be awarded his honorary doctorate at the doctoral degree conferment ceremony in Lund Cathedral planned for May 2021.

Portrait photo.
Klas Östergren. Photo: Frankie Fouganthin.

The faculty’s motivation for the award:

“If literature can be said to have any purposes, one of them could be to portray  destinies that go unnoticed everywhere else, to give a voice and words to those who disappear in the anaesthetising hum of chatter, to shed light on overlooked abuses and injustices…” 

In many cases, Klas Östergren’s formulation of the purpose of literature applies to the social sciences as well. The will to understand, explain and highlight the various forms and expressions of society is the very basis of a social scientist’s everyday life. It is also a recurrent theme in Östergren’s writing, as in his most recent book, ”Renegater” (Renegades). This novel confronts the reader with one of the most thought-provoking literary narratives about Swedish society and its transformation. One sentence is particularly evocative: 

”The fundamental solidarity which was a prerequisite for the Swedish model had been surreptitiously replaced by team spirit.” 

Social scientists have written about solidarity, its ideologically loaded history, inherent meaning and undermining for as long as the discipline has existed, but few have found a term as precise as team spirit to describe the transition from one model to another. Thus we find team spirit in a society that is not characterised by the usual thesis about the “death of ideologies”, but in an era that is ”marked by even more politics, hidden and disguised, not at all as loud and provocative, but more effective.” The concept acquires a particular brilliance because of its inherent complexity: after all, team spirit also means cohesion, or – why not - community. Yet in a different way. It is not a question of a break in time, it is not a new era replacing another, it is about new expressions and forms of an existing sense of community. Furthermore, the sense of community is conditional; human beings are created and transformed by the institutions that confront them and in which they live. The ability to describe this is a great art, but also the expression of a profound understanding of society. 

Social sciences research in Lund is characterised by a similar curiosity. We safeguard a tradition that embraces a ’sense of wonder before society’ and encourages originality and innovative thinking. This tradition includes literature as an important source of new insights and thoughts. In various ways, and with various perspectives, we have used literature as an opportunity and an opening to develop our thinking and writing. In this context, it must be added that Klas Östergren visited the Department of Sociology and Johan Asplund’s course for doctoral students (On the art of writing), which focused on literature specifically to develop our writing skills. Many of the faculty’s teaching staff members also use literature in their teaching and have discussed the peculiarities of society with the help of various authors. Klas Östergren’s work has often been involved in these instances. It has not only given rise to challenging reading experiences but has also generated unforeseen, unprocessed and newfound opportunities to understand the Sweden we know so well, but which is in constant transformation. 

By nominating Klas Östergren, we hope that literature will continue to inspire and enable social sciences research that elicits surprise, and thus contributes to understand, explain and change our world.”