The Construction of Whiteness in the Work of The Swedish State Institute for Race Biology

in Shades of Whiteness

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In 1922 a eugenic research centre, The Swedish State Institute for Race Biology, was founded in Uppsala, with the purpose being to survey and classify the Swedish people according to race. The data collected was intended to make a foundation for a rational population policy aiming at improving the Nordic (Swedish) race. This race was deemed superior in comparison with the other races living in Sweden– primarily the East Baltic (Finnish) and the Lappish (Sami) race. But due to miscegenation and a depraved urban lifestyle this Nordic race was under threat and needed to be rescued. In the scientific practice of this eugenic institute it was the external aspects of the humans, or the phenotype that decided what race a person belonged to. A vast amount of bodily data was therefore collected―bodies were measured and hair and eye colours determined to decide what race a person belonged to. Beside these records photographical portraits of the persons examined were also taken. The use of photography in the scientific practice of the institute is not surprising―with the focus on how people looked it was a convenient and efficient tool. The camera could not only rapidly produce a vast amount of photographical records but was also, in this period, deemed objective and reliable―just capturing the world as it was. But in the same time it is obvious when examine the photographs that they were most biased. The portraits exemplifying the Nordic race show young, healthy good-looking persons in prosperous environments while for instance the Finnish type often was elderly, shabby men in worn out clothes, in front of poor homes and surroundings. The photographs were used to promote the idea of the Nordic race as superior―they were far from objective but permeated by ideological beliefs.