Current research projects


Self-interest versus the common good. Political disputes concerning the organization of public services in Sweden, c. 1620–2000

Egenintresset kontra det gemensamma bästa. Politiska konflikter om organisering av allmännyttig verksamhet i Sverige, 1620–2000 (ca)


Togeteher with Mats Hallenberg. Financed by Forskningsrådet för hälsa, arbetsliv och välfärd (Forte).

In this ongoing project we will study political disputes concerning the organization of public services from pre-modern to modern times. Throughout the period there has been conflicting views on how to organize administration, infrastructure and welfare services in the most efficient way; whether by public office or by private entrepreneurs. Both central and local authorities have tried different forms of organization, carefully navigating between market and hierarchy. We will analyze political discussions concerning the privatization of public services as well as debates over the re-establishment of public control. The focus will be on the concepts wielded to advocate public organization and private management, respectively. In political debates the concept of common good has been juxtaposed with notions of self-interest. Our main purpose is to analyze how such arguments were articulated in the discussions, and how they came to influence the political decision-making. We want to test whether the political discourse on these matters have been characterized by continuity or by abrupt shifts.

Project-presentation available in Swedish.

Completed projects (selected)


War by contract. The mercenary troops of the Swedish army in the seventeenth century

Krig på entreprenad. Den svenska arméns värvade trupper under 1600-talet


Financed by Åke Wibergs Stiftelse

This project examined the Swedish State Council’s descriptions and perceptions of mercenaries between 1621 and 1636. The survey shows that the Council described the mercenaries as unfaithful, unreliable and expensive. In their discussions, conscripted Swedish troops are said to be better than hired mercenaries. The State Council’s perception of mercenaries confirms a paradox in military history. During the period examined, mercenaries constituted a considerable part of the fighting forces in general, not least in the Swedish army. This study therefore shows how the ideal of soldier recruitment collided with political reality. In the project I also review the political scientist Sarah Percy’s thesis of a norm against the use of mercenaries. Percy has argued that such a norm has put restrictions on the use of mercenaries since the Middle Ages. The Swedish source material shows that this norm is found on a discursive level, but that it did not have any real impact on troop recruitment during the period studied.

Project publication:

Magnus Linnarsson, ”Unfaithful and expensive – but absolutely necessary: perceptions of mercenaries in Swedish war policy, 1621–1636”, Revue d’histoire nordique 18 (2015).

Political spaces. Control, conflict and movement in pre-modern Sweden 1300–1850

Politiska rum. Kontroll, konflikt och rörelse i det förmoderna Sverige 1300–1850


Financed by Riksbankens jubileumsfond

Politics has always played out in different kinds of places, from the political meeting rooms to the gallows outside the village. What difference did the place or space have for policy design in pre-modern times, and what was considered a political act? From a spatial perspective and with a broader view of politics it is possible to explain various conflicts that otherwise would not be regarded as political.

In this anthology project a group of historians investigates locations and areas where conflicts were played out between the powers and minions during the pre-modern period. The contributions are about politics, how politics shaped places and how space and place in turn influenced policy. In the book's various articles, the space or place is not only the scene where the policy was enacted. The authors also discuss how spatial conditions have influenced policies, and how the people's movements and actions contributed to that specific places and spaces become politically charged.

Project publications:

Politiska rum. Kontroll, konflikt och rörelse i det förmoderna Sverige 1300–1850, eds., Mats Hallenberg & Magnus Linnarsson (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2014).

Magnus Linnarsson, ”’Ett wist bequämligitt rum’. Byråkratin som platsskapare i 1600-talets Sverige”, i Politiska rum. Kontroll, konflikt och rörelse i det förmoderna Sverige 1300–1850, eds. Mats Hallenberg & Magnus Linnarsson (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2014) pp. 215–234.

Rayon for national security. Crisis, corporatism and contingency planning, 1972–1983

Rayon för rikets försörjning. Kris korporatism och beredskaps­politik, 1972–1983


Financed by Chalmers and Södra

Between 1972 and 1983 the Swedish state gave large-scale aid to the company Svenska Rayon AB (SRA). The company was Sweden’s only producer of rayon yarn during the era of the Cold War. Rayon was seen as a necessity for the Swedish state in case of crisis or war. In a situation where Sweden was shut off from the importation of cotton, rayon yarn would be the replacement material in the production of clothes and cloth. The Swedish government therefore protected the company and its production facilities, despite a poor economic performance. The government gave SRA some 250 million kronor in state aid between 1972 and 1983. What triggered the aid was the international textile crisis in Europe that began in the 1950s. The Swedish textile industry contracted and the economic results of the rayon company suffered under hardened international competition. In the beginning of the period analyzed, the aid was limited. It escalated over the years and culminated in the last agreement with the company in 1983.

In this project I argue that national security was one explanation for the large amounts of state aid given to the SRA. The government considered rayon production vital to state security. This explanation complements previous research about Swedish state aid in the time period, which has mainly been interpreted from the perspective of labour policies. A second explanation is provided by the Swedish system of corporatism. Sweden has been described as one of the most corporative states in Europe, and the analysis of the aid offered to the SRA shows that the state and the company became more and more interlinked. In the case of the 1983 agreement, most of the text was produced by the two parts together. The article ends with a discussion of the case of the SRA as an example of the dissolution of the prevailing economic policy model in Sweden. This policy had been shaped by the so-called RhenMeidner model, and the state’s aid to the company shows how the model was abandoned, starting the movement towards a new economic policy.

Project publication:

Magnus Linnarsson, ”Rayon för rikets försörjning. Kris korporatism och beredskaps­politik, 1972–1983”, Historisk tidskrift 133:1 (2013) pp. 34–64.

Postal service on shifting conditions. The organization of the Swedisch postal service, c. 1600–1720

Postgång på växlande villkor. Det svenska postväsendets organisation under stormaktstiden


Financed by the The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

This dissertation project investigates the Swedish postal service, focusing on its organization from approximately 1600 to 1720. The purpose of the study is to explain why the Swedish state, at different points of time, chose one form of postal organization over another. The principle question of the dissertation has been: How was the Swedish postal service organized during the 1600s, what were the forms of organization chosen, and why did the state shift between these? In a broader perspective, the dissertation has investigated how the answers to these questions affect our perception of how the Swedish state organized its agencies in the seventeenth century.

The analysis relies on a theoretical model inspired by economist Oliver E. Williamson’s transaction cost theory, modified to function for a study of seventeenth-century Swedish society. The concepts “market” and “hierarchy” is central to this theory. They denote the ways in which enterprises and agencies can be organized. How choices can be made between the two alternatives has been explained by the aid of a transaction cost analysis. The concept of market has been reformulated in the dissertation, and instead of market, the term “contract” has been used. This term denotes an organization where the crown handed over the leadership of the postal organization to some private individual. The analysis focuses on the shifts between the state’s centralized control of the postal organization, labeled hierarchy, and the above-mentioned form of contract. The principle question is why these shifts in the organization of the postal service took place, and what changes these shifts entailed.

The investigation is based on a wide variety of sources, complementing material from the central administration — e.g. minutes, ordinances and fiscal material — with, for example, letters written by persons who were central actors in the Swedish state. The dissertation shows that the Swedish postal service during the 1600s was organized according to both contractual and hierarchical principles. During the period under research, the postal service alternated between being incorporated into the government administration and being contracted out to some private individual. The state occasionally relinquished control over the postal service, leaving it to entrepreneurs to handle. At other times, the state centralized the postal service’s administration, putting it under direct government control.

The dissertation has problematised a formerly standard picture of the Swedish postal service. Hereafter, the Swedish postal service must be regarded as an organization in which both models coexisted. The Swedish state tried both contract-oriented and hierarchical organizations during the 1600s; indeed the organization oscillated between these two poles.

Project publication:

Magnus Linnarsson, Postgång på växlande villkor. Det svenska postväsen­dets organisation under stormaktstiden, Diss.: Lunds universitet 2010 (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2010) 288 pp.

Available in full text online: