"Det känns fel": Om det svenska samhällets reaktioner på närvaron av tiggande EU-medborgare, 2014-2016

  • Date:
  • Location: Sal IX, Universitetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, Uppsala, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Hansson, Erik
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Kulturgeografiska institutionen
  • Contact person: Hansson, Erik
  • Disputation


This thesis offers a psychoanalytic critique of ideology in order to understand the Swedish society’s reactions to the presence of begging EU citizens during the period 2014 – 2016. The so-called ‘EU migrants’ are impoverished people, often from Romania, and commonly identified as Roma. The analysis is based upon empirical material consisting of media articles, interviews, social media, and auto-ethnography. The theoretical approach blends Lacanian psychoanalysis with historical-material dialectics and is inspired by the critique of ideology as formulated by Slavoj Žižek. 

The presence causes a multilayered crisis in Swedish society along political, juridical, moral, social, and psychic lines. This because it is a symptom of the Lacanian Real and capitalism’s contradictions. This is manifested in the contradiction embodied in the Swedish authorities’ denial of social help to ‘EU migrants’ on the one hand, while seeking on the other hand to reproduce the image of Sweden as promoting welfare and equality, solidarity, and anti-racism. The contradiction’s material base is the political deadlock between left and right regarding the labor and housing markets. Providing ‘EU migrants’ (being neither citizens nor refugees) access to welfare would risk disrupting the societal moral economy, causing political turmoil. The solution to this dilemma is to expunge ‘EU migrants’ while framing this as an act of poverty-reduction.

Meanwhile, the unresolved occurrence of begging and ‘rough sleeping’ creates anxiety and provokes aggression among Swedish subjects, resulting in hate crimes and everyday racism. Poor people without shelter are forced to use public rooms as their private space, disturbing aesthetic and normative orders, which in turn is unconsciously registered as existential transgressions risking the destruction of the psychic investments of Swedes in their material surroundings.

A main focus of the analysis is the anxiety triggered by the confrontation with a begging individual on the sidewalk. Due to our human empathic transitivity, the visible suffering of the ‘beggar’ becomes involuntarily experienced as suffering within the observer. Furthermore, when the subject is forced to choose whether or not to help, s/he unconsciously experiences how the Other’s desire threatens to dissolve the subject. These anxieties are typically transformed into sympathy, antipathy or apathy.