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I fattiga omständigheter: Fattigvårdens former och understödstagare i Skellefteå socken under 1800-talet
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Historical Studies.
2005 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this thesis is to shed light upon the Swedish nineteenth century poor relief system, how it operated in a local rural context, how it changed over time, and not least, who was supported and why. It raises questions about how the poor laws were interpreted on the parish level, how the welfare systems interacted with local society and about who was considered to be poor and entitled to support. The geographical setting of the thesis is Skellefteå, a rural parish in northern Sweden, and it concentrates upon the period 1830–1875.

Swedish poor relief was governed by the fundamental principle that each parish had a duty to support their own poor and each parish was allowed a large amount of freedom to adjust their welfare arrangements according to local conditions. In Skellefteå, the main incentive for modification of the poor relief system was not new regulations from the national level, but social and economic transformations on the local level. This implies that local requirements were put before national legislation and suggests the existence of several regional, and perhaps also local, poor relief systems in nineteenth-century Sweden.

On the local level, the results indicate the existence of a parochial social citizenship based upon a common understanding of social rights and duties in the community, and grounded in a strong sense of affiliation with the local society. Generally there was a larger distance between the poor and their providers in the wealthier and more socially stratified villages, hence a more egalitarian context seem to have facilitated identification and empathy with the poor. The local provision for the poor created and maintained bonds within a community, as well as it helped to build and reinforce boundaries towards those who did not belong. A sometimes suspicious and negative attitude towards outsiders was to some extent caused by a fear of increased poor relief expenses, but it also bears witness to a rural culture with a strong sense of belonging to one’s own village or hamlet.

The majority of men and women supported by poor relief in Skellefteå belonged to the lower strata of society long before they became welfare recipients. They were landless rural people with weak kinship networks, that in most cases were unable to mobilize any significant support in times of need. Childhood, early middle age, and old age were identified as phases in the life cycle that seem to have entailed an increased risk of poverty and dependence. A substantial proportion of the poor were breadwinners, middle aged men with large households to support, while the widowed and unmarried paupers usually were women. For many of these households the life cycles’ vulnerable periods were further reinforced by other factors: a breadwinner’s illness or disability, the death of a spouse, a major subsistence crisis, or a larger marginalization caused by a deviation from society’s moral standards. In most cases there seems to have been a delicate interplay between several social risks that determined if and when a person or a household was to end up being supported by poor relief.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2005. , 368 p.
Report from the Demographic Data Base, ISSN 0349-5132 ; 25
Keyword [en]
History, poor relief, poverty, social welfare, family history, rural society, nineteenth century, Sweden, social citizenship, social affinity, microdemography, pre-industrial society, social networks, life-course
Keyword [sv]
Historia, Skellefteå
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-503ISBN: 91-7305-870-XOAI: diva2:143639
Public defence
2005-05-20, Hörsal F, Humanisthuset, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:00
Available from: 2005-04-19 Created: 2005-04-19Bibliographically approved

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