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Moving central knowledge to a northern periphery: exploring logics of public sector job relocation in Sweden
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of culture and media studies. (Arcum)
2012 (English)In: Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, ISSN 0435-3684, E-ISSN 1468-0467, Vol. 94B, no 4, 333-350 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Through the means of Swedish relocation politics, the capital of Stockholm has been constructed as a governing centre with the ability of giving something to a periphery thought of as unable to survive on its own. The relationship between centre and periphery, furthermore, produces images of what kind of knowledge can be located to central or peripheral regions. In this article I research the move of a knowledge-intense government agency from Stockholm to Ostersund, a smaller inland town in the north. The data were collected through an ethnographic case study of a government agency. I adopt a discourse theoretical approach that provides a clear ontology of identity and processes of identification. This enables research on how ideological images of places create geographical identity positions. The aim of this article is to explore how groups of professionals at the government agency identified with geographical identities dependent on whether they were seen as experts or generalists. In conclusion, identity positions became important for how the relocation was organized. The establishment of the two identity positions functioned to stabilize the social environment during the move, a time when many things at work seemed to be in turmoil. At the same time the positions worked to exclude other ways of identifying with (work)place, and in this way sustained asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination between centre and periphery.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Vol. 94B, no 4, 333-350 p.
Keyword [en]
public sector, professionals, identification, logics, centre, periphery
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-54665DOI: 10.1111/geob.12002ISI: 000313777800003OAI: diva2:524930
Decentralisation of government agencies, work force mobility and rural development
Available from: 2012-05-04 Created: 2012-05-04 Last updated: 2016-05-26Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Moved by relocation: Professional identification in the decentralization of public sector jobs in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Moved by relocation: Professional identification in the decentralization of public sector jobs in Sweden
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Berörd av omlokalisering : Professionell identifikation under flytten av en svensk myndighet
Abstract [en]

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Swedish civil service underwent some extensive changes, such as the relocations of public sector jobs, initiated by the government in 2005. This thesis follows an ethnological tradition of focusing on employees’ perspectives as a way of exploring power relations and changes in society. In this study, I draw attention to the fears, joys, anxieties, hopes, and dreams of employees in the Swedish civil service at a time when their workplace was being relocated from one city to another.

The study especially focuses on the fact that a decision to relocate initiates processes that change employee’s images of their work life and future. They become forced to rethink life and work and re-identify with professional positions. Such processes are described in this thesis as processes of professional identification.

The aim of the study is to analyze professional identification among employees during the relocation of a government agency. It is based on four articles that highlight different aspects of the relocation and the conditions under which research was conducted. The overarching question that runs through the thesis is: what did processes of professional identification mean in relocation practice?

I argue that such processes should be taken into account as pivotal to civil service practices such as relocation work. Such knowledge could also be used as a tool for thinking about work life change in a wider sense. Because relocations entail moving people’s entire lives, points of interest are formulated that tell stories of how social norms and rules are formed, maintained,

and contested. The results in this thesis could also serve as a departure for discussing the localization of knowledge-intensive institutions.

The case study builds on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2005 and 2009 at a government agency that moved from the capital of Sweden to a smaller town in the north of Sweden. The ethnographic source material was analyzed using discourse analysis.

The analysis centres on a discussion of how processes of professional identification became conditioned by social structures in terms of gender, age, and social class in relocation work. I furthermore discuss the ways in which images of geographies and emotions could be regarded as social categories that conditioned professional identities and had implications for how the move of the agency was organized and conducted, for example for the transferring of competency, travelling on business, and setting up new work practices. 

The establishment of professional identity positions functioned to stabilize the social environment during the move - a time when many things at work seemed to be in turmoil. At the same time the positions worked to privilege some ways of professional identification and exclude others. Attention should be drawn to the ways in which agency staff became enmeshed in power structures, norms, ideals, images, and plans for the future that limited their actions in various ways. It is therefore important that the features of professional identification in this relocation process should be further discussed, not primarily as individual concerns of particular individuals, or even a particular agency or location, but as a vital issue of the greatest concern to the welfare state.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2012. 81 p.
Etnologiska skrifter, ISSN 1103-6516 ; 58
relocation, public sector, discourse, logics, professional, identification
National Category
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-58887 (URN)978-91-7459-410-2 (ISBN)
External cooperation:
Public defence
2012-09-28, Humanisthuset, Hörsal F, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 13:15 (Swedish)
Decentralization of government agencies, work force mobility and rural development
Swedish Research Council Formas
Available from: 2012-09-07 Created: 2012-09-06 Last updated: 2016-08-29Bibliographically approved

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