University of Gothenburg

Fulfilling the school’s democratic mission: The encounter with racist hatred and national socialism in the classroom

After World War II, the Swedish school had the task of counteracting racism. This mission has – depending on how racism has played out and how its causes have been understood – changed over time. During the late 1980s, skinhead culture received increasing attention, not least in the local communities where there was a firmer foothold. During this period, the school became an important arena for countering right-wing extremism. Research has shown that right-wing extremist groups are constantly present in the same areas, which has caused particularly great challenges for schools in these areas. The school’s mission has also been sharpened further since 2010, when Sweden received its first action plan to counter violent extremism. By introducing work against violent extremism, further expectations have been directed at the school’s responsibility for problems that are deeply embedded in society. Despite the high expectations placed on the school, there are few studies on schools’ work to combat racism. The present study intends to contribute to this field of knowledge by studying how schools located in geographical areas with a high reproduction of right-wing extremism work to counteract recruitment to right-wing extremist social practices in schools.

The project’s issues are:

  • How is the presence of racist and right-wing extremist social practitioners understood and handled by principals and school health care?
  • How do teachers describe their pedagogical work with students involved in racist social practices, or students who are perceived as at risk of being recruited to right-wing extremist and neo-Nazi groups?
  • What experiences of pedagogical interventions do students have and how do they understand the presence of racism and right-wing extremism?
  • How can the school system and education help to counteract the reproduction of racist social practices, which can lead to right-wing extremist radicalisation?
  • Under what circumstances do school risks contribute to the maintenance of a reproduction of racist social practices?

The project consists of four sub-studies and is based on an ethnographic methodology, mainly in the form of interviews, observations, and ethnography. Three schools in three locations, which have historically had a high presence of racism and right-wing extremism, form the basis for the survey.

In sub-study 1, principals and staff from school health care were interviewed about how the long-term geographical presence of neo-Nazism is understood and handled in the school context. The purpose of this sub-study is to gain an understanding of how the reproduction of a racist social practice and right-wing extremist organisations is expressed, manifested, and handled.

Sub-study 2 focuses on educators’ experiences of racist presence in school and the work they perform in the form of preventive measures.

Sub-study 3 focuses on school students’ experiences of various interventions and their thoughts on racist presence. In the selection, we will not specifically target students who are perceived as particularly vulnerable, but rather seek to capture how students at the school who are involved in different types of interventions perceive these and their situation at the school.

The project ends with sub-study 4, in which the results of sub-studies 1–3 are combined and analysed to develop a suitable theoretical conceptual framework for understanding and counteracting young people being drawn into racist environments. Theoretically, this project is based on institutional ethnography.

The project will contribute to the research situation at least at three levels. First, it leads to knowledge about the school’s significance and role in society at large. Second, at the organisational level, the project highlights the importance of and possible shortcomings in the pedagogical interventions carried out with the intention of counteracting racism and extremism in schools. Finally, the project will also contribute at an individual level, where teachers and other teaching staff, as well as students, will be able to account for their experiences of school-based intervention programmes.



The Swedish Research Council, 2020-03111

Project time

Participating institutions and researchers:
Thomas Johansson, professor of pedagogy with a focus on child and youth science, Department of Pedagogy, Communication, and Learning, and researcher at the Segerstedt Institute

Christer Mattson, senior lecturer in pedagogy, director of the Segerstedt Institute

Jesper Andreasson, Associate Professor of Sociology, Linnaeus University