An awkward technocracy

Mosques, churches, and urban planners in neoliberal Sweden

by JENNIFER MACK

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In Sweden, an ostensibly secular‐majority society, urban planners facilitate the construction of new churches and mosques for minority religious groups. In this work, they typically perceive themselves as neutral professionals relying on a technical education. But since the 1980s, Swedish civil servants, including planners, have transformed from experts to managers, and their interactions with clients for mosques and churches often reveal their opinions and preferences, including for modernism and secularism. These awkward encounters challenge the planners’ technocratic understanding of their work, forcing them into a new kind of productive labor: as uncomfortable arbiters of difference and its public presence. This is a result of neoliberal governance, which has ambiguously expanded the types of European civil servants asked to manage minority groups, as well as the professional roles they must play.

Planning meeting for the Chaldean Catholic Cultural Center at Södertälje City Hall, Sweden, 2009.
Planning meeting for the Chaldean Catholic Cultural Center at Södertälje City Hall, Sweden, 2009. (Jennifer Mack)