An article exploring the disappearance of the Swedish ‘tvättstuga’ (communal laundry). It’s historically common in Swedish apartment blocks to have a shared laundry, usually in the basement. Recently however more and more househoulds have their own washing machine, a bad sign for the sharing economy.
I had a really nice correspondence with Leif recently after Aftonbladet published a piece about my research. He wrote about growing up in the 50s, using a wash cloth to clean up for the day ahead, suggesting that these things could help bring more sustainability into everyday life. I thought that this was very interesting and asked if he would like to write something about it. In the following he explores his memories from the 50s with its much smaller environmental impact.
När jag skrev min bok PÅ SPANING EFTER MINNEN insåg jag hur klimatsmarta vi var på femtiotalet. Mycket berodde på vårt sätt att handla. Jag minns när all mat vi handlade på femtiotalet köptes över disk. Kunden stod helt still på ena sidan med en köplista i handen och på andra sidan disken fanns expediten som sprang som en skållad råtta efter varenda vara och när varan sattes på disken skrevs priset på en papperslapp. Man köpte precis det som stod på köplistan. Varorna var inte placerade för att locka kunden till inköp, de fanns på hyllorna inne på lagret eller bakom expediten. De skulle vara lätta att nå, de mest frekventa varorna låg närmast för att minska springet för expediten. En expedit på femtiotalet måste vara duktig på huvudräkning eftersom hen måste kunna räkna samman hela den långa listan som låg på disken. Det gick oftast mycket fort. När sammanräkningen var klar kunde specerihandlaren stoppa pennan bakom örat medan hen tog emot betalningen. Sedan stoppades allt ned i de medhavda shoppingväskorna. Vi hade tre shoppingväskor, två beiga och en blå. Ingen använde bärkassar, de fanns bara inte. Det var helt otänkbart att bege sig ut för att handla utan en eller flera rymliga väskor. En titt på inköpslisten gav besked om det behövdes en eller flera shoppingväskor. Hos specerihandlaren på landet fanns ett litet ställ på väggen där det hängde papperskassar med rephandtag men det var ingen som skulle komma på den befängda iden att köpa en sådan när man hade behändiga shoppingväskor med sig. En del använde också en virkad nätkasse. Våra väskor som stod på golvet i det rymliga skafferiet var sällan helt tomma, där fanns tomglas som vi lagt där för att de skulle returneras vid nästa inköp. De läckte och det var ofta kladdigt i botten. Där hamnade även mjölkflaskorna som var av genomskinligt glas. Kapsylerna var i olika färger och tillverkade av stanniol, en tunnvalsad plåt av tenn som ersattes av aluminiumfolie. Vi sparade på olika sätt. Mina systrar fick ärva varandras eller mina kusiners kläder. Alla kläder syddes i Sverige och de var inte speciellt billiga så det var återanvändning som gällde i första hand. Även lagning och konststoppning. Skomakare fanns det ofta flera i varje kvarter och skor sulades om, flera gånger innan de kastades eller gavs bort. Jag minns Lappcentralen där man kunde lämna in damstrumpor med maskor eller ett plagg med hål. När kläder var dyra lönade det sig att laga dem och kvinnorna som arbetade där – det var ett dussintal som satt vid sina maskiner – kunde få fula hål i kläder att se nästan osynliga ut. Och damstrumpornas maskor fixades också.
Vi sparade på vatten. Den dagliga tvättningen på femtiotalet var vid handfatet och en tvättlapp som man tvättade kroppen med – först ansiktet, sedan under armarna, skrevet och sist fötterna som man lyfte upp och satte i handfatet. Någon gång i veckan blev det av att bada i badkaret. Det där med vattenslösande dagliga duschar kom senare. Jag minns en tid när rinnande varmvatten inte var något man tog för givet. På landet värmde vi vatten på spisen i en kastrull och hällde det på emaljerade kannor som bars upp till andra våningen. I min barndom kunde man höra någon äldre kvinna säga “nu passar vi på och tvättar av golvet när vi har lite gott vatten”. På sommaren hade fastighetsägare i stan rätt att stänga av varmvattnet. Det skulle vi inte acceptera idag. Idag har vi fjärrvärme i de flesta hus i stan som via värmeväxlare levererar hur mycket varmvatten som helst, dygnet runt. Underbart bekvämt, så länge som det finns vatten och energi till uppvärmning. Vi behöver spara på vatten idag och kanske vore det intressant att borsta och vädra kläderna lite mer? Jag minns att min mormor hade ett rum som kallades för “borstrummet”. Det var avsett för klädvård. Idag hade nog utrymmet använts till tvättstuga men då tvättades och torkades tvätten i bykhuset i källaren. I borstrummet strök man tvätt och höll kläder fräscha genom att borsta dem och använda fläckborttagningsmedel och laga eller sy i knappar. Kanske man handtvättade de vita löstagbara kragarna som ofta användes i klänningar för att spara in på tvätt. “Svettlappar” användes i armhålan av samma anledning. Sådant tänker vi kanske inte på idag när vi lämnar in våra kläder till kemtvätt eller kör tvättmaskinen med ull, silke och fina material som tidigare hade krävt handtvätt. Jag minns när de nya självbetjäningsbutikerna i början av sextiotalet började bli vanliga. De kallades för snabbköp eftersom det sades att det gick snabbare när man själv plockade sina varor. Det var ett lyft att få strosa bland varorna och bli inspirerad att köpa sådant som inte fanns på listan, så kallad “merförsäljning”. När vi nu riskerade att plocka på oss mer varor än vi tänkt från början och kanske inte hade med oss en extra shoppingväska då började de nya snabbköpen ge bort bärpåsar gratis. Vi liksom andra kunder, plockade med några extra hem, de kostade ju inget. Det inbjöd naturligtvis till ett onödigt slöseri i all synnerhet när det så glatt talades om “köp-slit-och-släng”. Inte ett ord om att spara eller tänka på miljön.
Together with Stephen Woreniecki we wrote down some of our thoughts about Extinction Rebellion, the new wave of climate activism sweeping not only Europe but also Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We had some intense experiences participating in a demonstration that really opened up how we see direct action playing a role in decision making, especially as current decision-making is dragging us closer to climate disaster. This post was published by Cecilia von Arnold on the LUCSUS Blog in December.
Many readers may have noticed the increasing frequency of climate protests organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR) across Sweden. But what do these protests represent? Is this just another group of tree-huggers being a public nuisance? Or is this a needed development in taking our climate goals further? Two Lund University researchers argue that there are critical ideas to take away.
The Extinction Rebellion is a non-violent direct-action
movement challenging inaction over dangerous climate change and the mass
extinction of species which, ultimately they argue, threatens our own species. XR
originated in the United Kingdom and has spread to more than 35 countries
including Sweden in under 6 months. People are taking to the streets to express
their incredulity that the climate crisis has been left unattended so long by
the international community; inaction that dramatically increases the risks and
leaves us with ever diminishing timescales and range of options. One of the key
tenets of Extinction Rebellion is challenging the political class for its deep
lack of commitment to addressing these very real problems.
We have had the
chance to get to know the activists in Skåne and found that overwhelmingly XR
comprises articulate, caring, well-read and surprisingly normal people; amongst
them nurses, engineers, receptionists, teachers and a biologist. Many have
never been involved in protests before. They have one thing in common however:
the feeling of urgency to take peaceful direct actions to halt the growth
obsessed paradigm of capitalism that is destroying our common future. From
their perspective responding appropriately to the scale of the climate crisis
as self-evident. None of them can comprehend why the so-called decision-makers
have not responded appropriately, why the world is not taking climate change
For instance, it’s
not commonly acknowledged that emissions reductions in Sweden have to occur
much faster than currently to keep us on track. Neither is it common for the
media to address the mass extinction we are currently facing. XR draws attention to the scale and magnitude
of damage and loss that we can expect if the world warms more than 1.5
degrees. At this point all coral reefs
will be lost, crops will fail, millions of people displaced. Many of these
changes are becoming slowly inevitable through repeated inaction.
The sorts of responses that XR have been involved with in Sweden have been blockading roads by displaying banners, singing, dancing and handing out fliers and cookies, with breaks to let the traffic flow. XR have also brought attention to companies who blatantly ignore environmental responsibilities. These actions have been warmly received by the public, with bystanders expressing their support of these efforts, especially the home-make cookies. One driver wrote to XR Sweden afterwards saying “I was stopped by your demonstration in Malmö today. I wanted to say that I like your initiative and the way you met me was friendly and nice. It was a good reminder that I need to improve myself even more for the sake of the climate and environments, which I promise to do.” (Translation by authors).
These sorts of
peaceful protests are part of wider social movements to make normal people’s
concern over climate change visible. People taking to the streets can be a
powerful way to not only share values, but also give a mandate to those in
positions of power: to show politicians and business leaders that citizens are
ready for change. They are prepared to start questioning our everyday
assumptions around carbon intensive activities such as eating, transport,
housing and leisure activities. Since starting just six months ago the movement
has already witnessed some significant environmental policy successes,
including Ireland divesting from fossil fuel and London declaring a climate emergency.
XR are right in
that current efforts to protect the earth are not ambitious enough to match the
scale of the threats. A new global deal for the earth, backed by concrete
commitments from global leaders and businesses to tackle those threats, is imperative.
There are answers to the climate crisis. But these answers don’t mean much if
the rules and structures for organising society don’t change. We need to
out-build – eliminate – carbon from society. But not without reference to
There was a strange symbolism a couple of weeks ago when cities on either side of English Channel were locked down by – at least superficially – matters of climate. XR shut down the bridges across the Thames in London, whilst at the same time Paris was on lockdown by the Yellow Vests, resisting what they saw was a regressive carbon tax hitting the poorest hardest. To be relevant, XR needs to acknowledge these politics and recognise that top down action like Macron’s carbon tax has consequences. Like the impacts of climate change, the poor can be hardest hit. Climate politics cannot be separated from the politics of inequality.
What can we learn
Combatting climate change needs to be part of
We need to fight the climate crisis together
Grass roots governance has potential in
tackling climate change in a socially inclusive way
We can only hope that actions like those that are
becoming increasingly more frequent across Sweden can help shift the
conversation and help establish inclusive, forward facing climate policy. Regardless of what you might think of XR’s
tactics, climate change impacts, or the social movements that arise from the
recognition of such impacts, will change the global environment. In a world
struggling to come to terms with climate change, one thing is sure: leaders
need to look to the people.
I have just participated in a panel on ‘everything is going to hell and we just go on like normal‘ at Sweden’s Architects Association, with two other very interesting thinkers. Obviously there was a very interesting discussion about working towards sustainability, and how designers can create sustainable systems and stories. One comment, however, really provoked me. One attendee let out some frustration, arguing that architects and designers are seen as the good guys, caring about the environment and society, but that they don’t actually have that responsibility. Doctors, for example unlike designers, take the Hippocratic Oath to make people healthy. Designers only have to build a house that won’t fall down, or a car that won’t crash. I think that facing the environmental challenges that are looming, requires us all as human beings to respond. Whatever line of work we find ourselves in, and whatever skills and knowledge we gather along the way, make us uniquely response-able. Being able to respond by choosing sustainable materials, suggesting eco-alternatives, requesting our unions to act and pressuring politicians to implement sustainability policies are all valuable in shifting the discourse around what is expected of our line of work. The ability to respond is also the responsibility to do so. I think we should all stop going on like normal ‘towards hell’ and start to respond and be responsible for sustainability.
I have to send my PhD thesis to the printers in four weeks, and right on cue nearly anything else seems fascinating. The view through the window for example. I can see the turning torso. It’s hard to miss. Two cyclists heading toward Västra hamnen. Four cranes. There is a lot of construction going on. I should probably open word and do some work on my kappa. Is that someone walking their dog? Yes! How nice. What is that up-side-down ice-cream-cone tower thing to the right? It’s covered with leaves and looks so beautiful in Autumn. I wonder what they are going to do with that beautiful old factory? Not more luxury flats I hope. But there are lots of people who want to live in Malmö. It’s an amazing city. It looks like an amazing day. I wish I was outside. No, I want to be writing my thesis. I have so much left to write, my supervisors probably think I’m an imbecile. Maybe I can write something really interesting and surprise them! I hope I am as opposite-to-imbecile, interesting and accomplished as they are one day. There are so many interesting and accomplished people in sociology. Especially the PhDs, we have a super quirky and also passionate cohort. I hope they all come to my defense party. My family are coming, it’s going to be so much fun. I should book a venue! Maybe after I send my thesis to the printers. Only four weeks left!!!
Alison and I have been exchanging emails the last few days. We are both weary of Tim Jackson’s adage of “being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about.” We are both aware of looming sustainability problems and lifestyles, and we are both trying to live low impact lives. However despite my best attempts I am using more than my fair share according to the WWF Footprint calculator. We are not alone; a study published this year shows that conservationists often engage in environmentally harmful behaviours.
We are sharply aware of the impetus to save water and energy, emit less carbon and live more sustainably. Wanting sustainability drives us to engage with society. Between the two of us we subscribe to local veggie boxes, drink fair trade coffee from keep-cups, cycle, ride-share, train commute, carbon off-set flights, go to concerts and festivals, live collectively, use green energy tariffs, eat at vegan restaurants, buy organic cotton clothes, attend seminars with international speakers, travel to participate in sustainability conferences, write articles, teach in sustainability courses, blog… There is a lot of doing stuff.
This is a phenomena observed by Veronika Kalmus, Margit Keller & Maie Kiisel who write. “Green Consumerists have developed a critical awareness of problems and hazards inherent in consumer society and are trying to adjust their lifestyle and everyday practices to come to terms with the late modern ethic of sustainability… These people are, however, also active consumers who willingly purchase non-green goods and for whom self-expression and lifestyle are, to a large extent, linked with consumption of goods and services.”
Maybe we could have a better environmental footprint by doing less. Less food, less entertainment, less travelling, less energy use, less time at the office, more time snoozing in trees. I think the koalas have it figured out.
And evenings steep’d in honied indolence; O, for an age so shelter’d from annoy, That I may never know how change the moons, Or hear the voice of busy common-sense! John Keats, 1819
A recent article exploring how the increasing cleanliness affects water and energy consumption in Sweden. My conclusions are that we should ‘Shower less often, Wash dishes less often and do laundry less often.’ (Click on the image to go to the Sydsvenskan page).
This week I had a really nice correspondence with Anna who emailed me about her experiments with washing less. I was very much touched by her enthusiasm and curiosity and asked her to write about her experiences. Here is what she sent.
Hi there, my name is Anna, I am a 18 y/o girl living in France. I follow a horticulture training and I hope to become a gardener and landscape designer. I am a vegetarian and I love animals (deeply involved in animal protection). I feel also strongly concerned in environmental protection, saving resources and sustainability. I am also involved in charity and help to homeless girls.
As an example of my ecological commitment , I constantly try to decrease my energy and water consumption as much as possible by wearing warm clothes when cold (so maintaining 18-19°C at home), switching off light when lighting is unnecessary and limiting the frequency and duration of showers. In fact, I usually shower twice a week, more if necessary but also less in winter and during weekends and vacations.
I exclusively wear heavy cotton sweatpants (so comfy!) with soft hoodies, and blue jeans and sweaters. I am aware that such garments made of cotton are not environment friendly to make. For this reason I mainly purchase unwashed dark blue denim jeans (the making of which consumed less water) rather than stone washed jeans. Moreover the way they naturally fade and become well-shaped and worn on my body make them unique(so cool!). I have a limited number of clothes: 2 blue cotton sweatpants and hoodies (one for home and sleeping, the other for sport training) and 3 pairs of jeans and 3 sweaters,1 jean overall and a blue work coverall. In my ecological approach, I also decided to space out their washing. I must admit that they go for a wash only when looking really dirty and stinky. No problem for that since I have no washer in my small studio flat! As an average, I wash those pants and sweaters only after wearing them 3-5 months each. Although they get a strong smell of me, they do not seem to be too messy and stinky. I must admit that I do not keep them all so longer for environmental reasons only but also because I love the way they look and smell, the smoothness of their fabric and the history they keep and bring. I was even wondering if I could simply keep them all unwashed… Should save much water and energy!
Of course, I tried to convince my parents however they are quite reluctant to reduce showers and laundry frequency. My little sister (16 y/o), who is a low washer too, was keen to keep her jeans, sweaters and sweatpants bottoms unwashed for longer time and even for not washing them at all. Actually she has to deal with our mother and she got used to wash them every other month (and less frequently when possible). My cousins also accepted to decrease showers and laundry frequency to the strictly necessary as did some of my friends as well. We frequently meet wearing dirty jeans and if it is true that we noticed that their smell is more intense after 3 months, nobody found that disgusting. Jeans and sweatpants smell like our bodies though they tend to concentrate smell. Somebody told us that (when meeting in a room) it smelled like dirty linen, but this was not really bothering.
From this viewpoint, I mainly got derogatory remarks from my mother who stated that my unwashed clothes smell bad but most of those who were asked about found that the smell was rather “strange”, “human” or “not bad at all” and defined it as “intense and mysterious”. Presently, one of my jeans is turning yellow-grey on the thigh, the butt and the pockets edges with a strong smell of dirty linen and the fabric has got a “cold” touch which means (I fear) that time has come to wash it. My two pairs of sweatpants have also reached the “go to wash” point however I hesitate to put them to the laundry because they are too comfy (I do not mention my blue work coveralls which are filthy as any coverall must be ;). Any comment will help me to take the decision ;). Anyway, I keep to the low washing style and try to communicate about that in order to popularize these laundry habits because it is cool and it contributes to reduce our impact on the environment.
Som en del av min forskning har jag läst 5 populära tidskrifter från 80-talet fram till nu, och analyserat deras innehåll. Nu undrar jag på vilka sätt tidskrifter överensstämmer med vardagen. För att ta reda på detta ska jag genomföra fokusgrupper där vi kommer att läsa och diskutera olika tidningsartiklar och jämföra dem med vår verklighet.
Fokusgrupperna genomförs i mars 2017. Jag kommer att sätta samman grupper om mellan 5 och 7 personer och intervjuerna kommer att pågå i 1,5 timmar inklusive fika på sociologiska institutionen, Paradisgatan 5, Lund. Deltagarna får en ICA kupong (värd 50 kr) som ett litet tack. Låter du spännande? Anmäl dig till vilken grupp samt vilka tider som passar dig via doodle (tänk på att du kan anmäla dig till båda ‘kvinna’ och/eller ‘alla’):
In the last years compassion has been slowly cannibalising solidarity. Sympathy numbed by terrorism clickbait: children dead on Turkish beaches, children buried under Alleppoean rubble, Yemeni children bleeding to death. It’s becoming impossible to feel any sort of connection with this plethora of foreign images. My life is far removed, the only dead person I’ve ever seen is my grandfather. I can’t relate. I feel no solidarity. I feel only pity.
“Distant suffering” is how Boltanski (1999) refers to this outcome of exploitation and repression in places seemingly far away from the “West”. Solidarity is hard to muster even if people suffering in these (not-so-far-away) places are actually similar to us. They have parents, siblings, friends, lovers. They study, work, think, write blogs, probably binge on chocolate just like me. But there is some difference, some removal and I can’t see myself in their position. The suffering is distant. I can’t relate. I feel no solidarity. I feel only pity.
Even local suffering is hard to relate to. I am becoming more used to walking briskly past the beggars at Lund Central Station. They seem so different to me. I don’t need to offer them a cup of coffee or to use my washing machine. They are distant. Used to their suffering. I feel no solidarity. I feel only pity.
Pity is one way of dealing with undeserved privileged. Washing one’s hand with donations to the deserving poor. Recreating social stratification. Not dealing with the need to create a society where everyone has equal worth, an Australian ‘fair-go’. A society where there are no poor, deserving or otherwise. If you feel pity you are a good person, there is no urgency to tackle our in-egalitarian system. Compassion exonerating the need for solidarity.
Solidarity is not a moral obligation of the privileged to feel compassion for those in need. It’s the ability for people to feel each others’ feelings. Solidarity is empathy plus unity. To feel and then share: to be able to see from others’ perspective and create mutually beneficial outcomes. Understanding those with more privileged is just as important as understanding those with less. How else are we going to deal with the Trump palava in the coming years?
How else are we going to deal with the coming climate change challenges? As a researcher I’m interested in the social repercussions of climate impacts. Unlike predicting responses from natural systems, there is a risk with social science that the way in which we discuss social responses to climate change may contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies. The sea will rise, regardless of the political discussion, but the social response is very much tied to dominant discourse. If we don’t feel solidarity with different forms of humanity, the way we talk about responding to climate challenges will exclude certain ways of being, and lead to oppression of groups who are not like researchers.
This is happening already. Up to 50,000 people in Sweden are paperless. Without claim to legal employment they work on the black market, often under poor conditions. To handle this, parliament is currently discussing lowering legal working conditions. The people deciding seem unable to imagine themselves in the precarious position, and so use pity, and economic forces, rather than solidarity to frame the discussion. However, if we do widen gaps between working conditions there is a clear danger that this will only legitimise inequalities, and not provide a better life for all. Not create a society where everyone has equal worth. We need solidarity to create rules that care about everyone having the best chance to contribute.
We need solidarity to make us care about positive global conditions for everyone. To create a world where we all have equal opportunity to thrive. And equal opportunity to contribute to improving the human experience. As evolutionary biologist Gould (1979) put very nicely ‘I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.’ More solidarity will provide better chances for everyone to make an Einsteinean contribution. Let’s have more solidarity in 2017.
Solidaritet Värmer – a Swedish solidarity initiative from Kontrapunkt.
Moments of solidarity
Having dinner with a new friend at Open Table Melbourne