In Search of Capital: Consecrating New Elites in the Late 1800s and Early 1900s in Sweden
Based on two recent studies (Holmqvist 2017; 2018), in this paper, I will discuss the creation of two of Sweden’s major elite institutions: the community of Djursholm that is the country’s foremost living area for the economic and financial elites, and Sweden’s only private university and foremost business school that educates people for leading positions in business, finance and politics, The Stockholm School of Economics (SSE). Djursholm and the SSE were created in 1889 and 1909 respectively and can both be seen as a response to a new economic elite’s need for social and cultural capital in order to promote their standing and status in society. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, a new economic class of bankers, financiers and businessmen in Stockholm had become increasingly wealthy as a result of the swift industrialization of Swedish society; but they were generally poorly regarded in relation to the established classes of priests, civil servants and most notably the nobility that dominated the social scene in the capital. As I will propose, the creation of Djursholm by banker Henrik Palme, was not only about offering the new economic bourgeoisie in Stockholm an exclusive living area, separated from other classes; it was also about the consecration of them though the acquisition of social and cultural capital: By intentionally framing and marketing Djursholm as a “cultural society” for “cultivated persons”, for example by inviting reputed writers to come and live there for free, and by hiring well-known academicians as teachers to the local school, the residents’ image as krämare, i.e., simple tradespersons with a sole interest in making economic profits, would change into something much more honorable and noble, making them appear cultivated and civilized. Similar reasons were behind the creation of the SSE by the Wallenberg family and some 200 well-known merchants and wholesalers in Stockholm; for instance, as testified by letters and statements from the Wallenbergs they suffered much from a social inferiority complex in relation to the established classes, and felt something had to be done. By creating a business school branded as a university, where economics had a central role to play in conferring the institution scientific aura and legitimacy, the Wallenbergs and other nouveau riche families would enjoy academic consecration, thus adding to their overall consecration as a socially and morally high-standing group. It can be noted that today the business and financial elites are the dominating ones in Sweden - morally, socially and politically, and that the previously dominating elites of priests, civil servants and the nobility have lost much social and moral territory. This transformation is, of course, the result of a number of factors, such as the increasing financialization of world economy that has made businesspersons all the more powerful; but in the local context of Sweden, it is probably also due to the successful creation and institutionalization of Djursholm and SSE in the sense of consecrating new elites through social and cultural capital, thus legitimizing their activities.