The get-to-know: Peter Bennesved

Peter Bennesved is a PhD-Student in the History of Science and Ideas at the Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies, Umeå University (see profile here). His forthcoming dissertation (est. 2019) concerns the introduction of Civil Defence Technologies in Sweden and tries to provide an answer to how Sweden managed to produce an enormous Civil Defence apparatus and security infrastructure over the course of the twentieth-century. His main focus is the  introduction of Air-Raid Shelters during the Inter-war- and Second World War period and how that period shaped Civil Defence in the coming Cold War decades. Setting forth from a STS- and material history perspective, Bennesved’s research asks how military intellectuals, politicians, engineers and entrepreneurs, as well as ordinary city dwellers understood and handled Civil Defence and the ”Shelter Issue.” This proposed method set outs to explain how ideas from different interest groups facilitated a public and political domestication of civil defence technologies in the urban fabric, that eventually helped underpin a long-lasting institutionalization of shelters and other Civil Defence technologies.

As of yet Bennesved has no academic publications more than two theses on related topics. Bennesved has also made some attempts at Digital Humanities approaches which have resulted in a interactive spatial analysis of Air-Raid Shelter construction in Sweden from 1938-2002.

Sheltered Society: An analysis of Swedish shelter building technology and practice 1935-1950 [Master’s thesis (first year) 2013, Umeå University, written in English]

This thesis sets out to study how Swedish shelter building practices progressed and developed throughout the period 1935 to 1950. By analyzing shelters through Thomas P. Hughes theory of technological systems this thesis uncovers both the material aspects of shelters and the discourse surrounding them. Mainly the concepts of technological style, momentum and transfer from Hughes theory has been stressed.

As material for the thesis government reports concerning civil defence and shelters publicized during the period are used. The results is then put in relation to Langdon Winner’s philosophical discussion about inherently political technologies and somnambulism, and Gabrielle Hecht’s work on national identity and technology.

The result shows that the shelter building practices established during the late 1930s remained even though the atomic bomb was introduced. After the atomic bomb, the Department of Civil Defence started to emphasize mass evacuation to a greater extent while new shelters in city centers were to be constructed as permanent living quarters but this new practice did not replace the old practice. The main difference between the two is a shift from temporary evacuation and decentralized solutions to permanent evacuation and centralized solutions. The thesis also shows how this development was connected to a national identity discourse. The shelter became a domesticated urban phenomenon connected to the modern city life.

Shelters and Nuclear weapons: A discourse analysis of the Swedish dfense and civil defense debate during the Cold war [Bachelors thesis 2012, Umeå University, written in Swedish]

Sweden during the Cold War set into motion one of the world’s largest civil defense policies at the time, second only to neutral Switzerland. The governments expenditure was far greater per capita than both that of USA and Soviet Union and included massive evacuation plans for Stockholm and other large cities in Sweden, with the hopeful expectation to bring down the amount of people in each of them to 15000 in case of a foreign hostile nuclear attack. The policies included construction of shelters with room for 2,5 million of about 7 million citizens in total at the time along with gasmasks for the whole population. Not only this, Sweden was considered one of the biggest military powers of that time in relation to its size and population. This brings the question what kind of discourse allowed such an expansion in military as well as civil defense?    The aim of this study is to examine what conception of a coming war was discussed in Swedish press and how it was interconnected with the defense and civil defense debate during 1954, 1960 and 1966. Using the theoretical framework of discourse analysis – including the two branches Nukespeak and Conceptual history – the study wants to bring forth firstly how the threat of nuclear war was discussed in Swedish press. Secondly if the conceptions of this future war was presented and used by a dominant group for political gains. And third, if so, what strategies was used to keep this dominance and how did this situation change as we move towards the mid 1960´s?

The result is then compared with the work of other Swedish historians in the field of Cold War culture as Marie Cronqvist, Jonas Anshelm, Henrik Sjövall, Jerry Määttä and Michael Godhe to give a plausible explanation of the development.    The results show that the dominant perspective of a coming nuclear attack was built upon an authoritarian ideology with the following attributes: 1) The coming nuclear war was a terrible plague that would destroy the whole world’s civilization, even humanity as a race was threatened by it. 2) The threat of war was considered realistic and plausible. The local conflict in Scandinavia and the global conflict is also considered being one and the same which grants the Swedish military a key position in preventing the east and west superpowers from unleashing a total annihilation. 3) A requirement to be able to keep peace between the superpowers and survive the war as it is presented is that technical innovation is maintained at all costs. This is presented as a necessity given by the atomic age as a deterministic historical epoch. 4) It is possible to survive this apocalyptic war with good planning, well built shelters, a strong will of resistance to foreign power and a well equipped military.    This hegemonic perspective is maintained by methods described by Edward Schiappa and other linguistic scientists as domestication and bureaucratization, and also with a plea of a ‘male’ rationality, thus expelling female criticism. 1966 this hegemonic perspective is challenged and the reason of this change could be that of saturation of the concept of the atomic age and what it could bring to human civilization. Also a merging of military expertise and foreign politics could have played a part in this and a general relaxation of the superpowers foreign politics which meant that the war that was expected and planned for by the military advisers was more and more unlikely to occur.