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In a Red Little Cottage: Icons of Identity and Nation in Sweden


The image of a red cottage with white corners in a rural idyllic setting holds an iconic status in visual representations of Sweden, and has been produced and reproduced in commercial advertising and tourist industry as well as in the visual rhetoric of contesting political parties for over more than a century. The cottage’s conspicuous position in visual representations of Sweden speaks to the need for an in-depth analysis of the cottage as a trope of national identity. Despite this, it has not received greater attention in research on national symbols and national identity in the field of Scandinavian studies. My dissertation aims to fill this gap by a sustained, close reading of the red cottage as a continuous symbol through which national identity is manifested, and problematized.

To fully understand the contemporary position of the red cottage’s position as ”key-symbol” in visual representation of Sweden or ”Swedishness”, it is crucial to put it in its socio-historical context. In this dissertation, historical analysis is paired with semiotic visual studies. The broad use of the red cottage furthermore calls for an interdisciplinary approach. The theories used in the different sections are therefore drawn from the broad field of cultural studies, anthropology and consumer culture theory.

The stereotypical picture of a red cottage in a rural idyll emerged from the dovetailing of the urgent housing situation for the working class and the quest for a new, democratic nationalism during the early twentieth century. By using examples from education, tourism, advertising and politics, the dissertation shows how the red cottage over time was transformed into a Barthesian “myth”, where all possible meanings has been condensed and naturalized to the “Swedish home.” Through this overdetermination the rural idyll attracts users from a wide spectra, and has often been used to manifest opposing interests. Despite the stereotypical representation of the Swedish countryside, the cottage-idyll is part of a dynamic process of becoming rather than being. Although the depiction of the cottage idyll has remained quite static over the century, the question of who is to inhabit this home is a matter of constant negotiation.

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