From the personal to the global: Swedish population policy in the post-war period

PhD-project: Morag Ramsey

My PhD project investigates Swedish family planning and population policy in the post-war period. During this time period family planning advocates had to fight for their own spaces in international organizations such as the WHO. Family planning was considered a taboo topic but a few actors, such as a Swedish WHO representative at a 1952 United Nations Economic and Social Council meeting, fought to legitimize family planning practices. My project further develops the dynamics between Sweden and the international community when it came to family planning abroad. As articulated by an American chairman of a sub governmental meeting in 1966, “Sweden has pioneered in this field [of family planning assistance]…” and was thus an expert on the issue. Sweden’s position in family planning abroad during this time period is worth developing in order to better understand the nuances of a potentially controversial area of foreign aid and research.

Specifically I argue that Sweden’s family planning initiatives and consequent position in international family planning was partly the result of strategic relationships with Swedish reproductive research laboratory practices. I investigate networks between the Swedish  International Development Cooperation Agency, American philanthropic institutions (such as the Ford Foundation), and the WHO Research and Training Centre on Human Reproduction at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Networks between these actors are significant as it enables glimpses into the process of change. Family planning transitioned from being a taboo topic on the international stage, to garnering significant funding and attention within a few short decades.

My project relies on primary source material from the Rockefeller archives, Karolinska University Hospital and the Swedish Royal Library. As of now, Sweden’s position in family planning has garnered limited academic interest, although networks between Swedish, Norwegian, and American institutes have been established. My project contributes to this historiography by examining the networks between Swedish family planning agencies and Swedish laboratory practices.

This topic is important as it simultaneously sheds light on two historically controversial arenas: family planning and reproductive research. Not only does it enable us to better understand Sweden’s influence in family planning abroad, but it also highlights an important connection between contraceptive developments, family planning, and global health. Additionally, this topic allows an exploration of what was constituted as medical and how boundaries were drawn between foreign aid, laboratories, and clinical practices.

Generally I am interested in themes and topics such as: colonial experiences, feminism, reproductive rights, birth control, infertility, individual agency, and the creation of values.

Publications and presentations:

• “Creating a family planning niche: Examining Sweden's position in international family planning in the post war period”, paper presentation, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health, Universitas Medicinae Et Pharmaciae Carolus Davila, Bucharest, Romania, August 30-September 2, 2017.

• “Planning the postcolonial population: Scandinavian aid administrations, family planning and women's rights in the developing countries”, roundtable, 29th Congress of Nordic Historians, Aalborg Congress and Culture Centre, Aalborg, Denmark, August 15–18, 2017.