Alva and Gunnar Myrdal

Alva and Gunnar Myrdal : Social Engineering in the Modern World

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As two of the leading social scientists of the twentieth century, Alva and Gunnar Myrdal tried to establish a harmonious, "organic" Gemeinschaft [community] in order to fight an assumed disintegration of modern society. By means of functionalist architecture and by educating "sensible" citizens, disciplining bodies, and reorganizing social relationships they attempted to intervene in the lives of ordinary men. The paradox of this task was to modernize society in order to defend it against an "ambivalent modernity." This combination of Weltanschauung [world view], social science, and technical devices became known as social engineering. The Myrdals started in the early 1930s with Sweden, and then chose the world as their working field. In 1938, Gunnar Myrdal was asked to solve the "negro problem" in the United States, and, in the 1970s, Alva Myrdal campaigned for the world's super powers to abolish all of their nuclear weapons. The Myrdals successfully established their own "modern American" marriage as a media image and role model for reform. Far from perfect, their marriage was disrupted by numerous conflicts, mirrored in thousands of private letters.
This marital conflict propelled their urge for social reform by exposing the need for the elimination of irrational conflicts from everyday life. A just society, according to the Myrdals, would merge social expertise with everyday life, and ordinary men with the intellectually elite. Thomas Etzemuller's study of these two figures brings to light the roots of modern social engineering, providing insight for today's sociologists, historians, and political scholars.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 382 pages
  • 154 x 223 x 27mm | 558g
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 0739198742
  • 9780739198742

Table of contents

1. Introduction: A Path through Modernity 2. Orchestrated Lives 3. Exploratory Steps 4. The Project of Modernity 5. The Power of Cold Reason 6. Rebuilding Society 7. Project Child 8. An Exemplary Life? 9. America 10. World Citizens 11. Conclusion: Latitude
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Review quote

The relationship between the personal, the political, and the public is at the core of modern politics. By focusing on the self-presentation in words and media images of the Swedish social scientists and reformers Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, Thomas Etzemuller offers a fresh perspective both on their one-time international celebrity status as "rational modernizers" and on the deep contradictions in welfare state ideology between individualism and collectivism, cosmopolitan liberalism, and nationalist state authoritarianism. This book is a compelling and highly readable story that feeds well into contemporary welfare state controversies. -- E. Stina Lyon, London South Bank University
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About Thomas Etzemüller

Thomas Etzemuller is adjunct professor of modern history and Heisenberg Scholar at the University of Oldenburg.
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