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Civil servants talk back - political subjectivity and (re)construction of the nation

Journal article
Authors Lena Martinsson
Eva Reimers
Published in Critical Sociology
Volume 46
Issue 3
Pages 429-442
ISSN 0896-9205
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies
Pages 429-442
Language en
Keywords civil servants, critical education, gender studies, political subjectivity, social workers, teachers, unaccompanied newly arrived refugee children
Subject categories Other Humanities, Educational Sciences


This article discusses the emergence of political subjectivity and politicization among social workers and teachers. We present situations that have induced teachers and social workers to become politically active and examine what their struggle might imply for these unaccompanied children. We also ask how the nation state is interpellated and transformed. Drawing on Laclau, Mouffe and Biesta, we find that political subjectivity emerges in situations with conflicting norms and contradictory interpellations. When Sweden deported unaccompanied refugee children, numerous social workers and teachers found themselves torn between acting as loyal civil servants or acting in accordance with their professional ethics. When representatives from this category emerge as political subjects directed at political change, the nation state becomes unstable and porous, creating possibilities for change.

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