Mats Hallenberg

Mats Hallenberg


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Works at Department of History
Telephone 08-16 25 69
Visiting address Universitetsvägen 10 D, plan 9
Room D 971
Postal address Historia 106 91 Stockholm

About me

About me

I am professor of history and currently the deputy head of the department.



I’ve been teaching history at Stockholm university since 2001 on undergraduate, masters and doctoral level.



My main subject is the political history of the early modern period, in Sweden and Scandinavia. I focus on how rulers struggled to implement their policies, and how ordinary people met their measures with various forms of resistance. I have studied the relations between bailiffs and peasants in sixteenth century Sweden, tax farming during the period of the Thirty Years war, royal propaganda as well as war, masculinity and organised violence.

In recent years, I have broadened my research interest; investigating private–public relations in a long-term perspective. In the research project “Self interest versus the common good”, my colleague Magnus Linnarsson and I analysed political conflicts concerning the organization of the public services in Sweden from the early seventeenth to the late twentieth century. My part of the project focused on the capital city of Stockholm, and included case-studies of street lighting by contract in the age of liberty, public sanitation workers c. 1850, municipal tramways after the turn of the century 1900 and the privatisation of services for old people in the late twentieth century.

I currently work on two externally financed research projects: “Shifting Regimes: Representation, administrative reform and institutional change in early modern Sweden” address regime shifts in early modern Sweden and their impact on state administration and political representation, respectively. “Alternative Paths to the Welfare City: Public Services, Inclusion and the Common Good in Nordic Capital Cities 1870–1920” compares political discourses and analysse the incentives for investing in municipal public services.

I have also, together with Kimmo Katajala (Univ. of Eastern Finland) and Knut Dørum (Univ of Agder, Norway) initiated the Nordic research network ”State-Building from Below in the Nordic Countries, c. 1500–1800”. We have organised several workshops and conference sessions, and a joint volume is currently under publication.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2020. Magnus Linnarsson, Mats Hallenberg. Journal of Policy History 32 (4), 463-486

    This article analyses the inherent conflict between public and private interest from a long time-perspective, using the example of Sweden from 1620 to 2000. The main argument is that there have been two equally decisive historical shifts in the political discourse on how to organize public services in the past: First, a shift from an early modern patriarchal discourse to a more expansive articulation of publicness during the nineteenth century. Second, a shift toward privatization and deregulation in the late twentieth century. Both these shifts must be considered to fully explain the changing forms of public organization up to the present day. Theoretically, the concept of “publicness” is used to explain the political discourses on the organization of public services. Drawing on three discursive chains, the argument is that the political development was affected by the politicians’ conception of the political community, the form of organization, and by perceptions of values such as equal access and modernity. Our results demonstrate how and why political arguments for or against private service providers have motivated profound changes in the way public services are perceived of and organized.

  • 2019. Mats Hallenberg. Revista de historia Jerónimo Zurita 94 (Primavera), 95-119

    This essay analyze military masculinity in Sweden during the Early Vasa period, c. 1560 – 1590. Masculine notions of violence and domination were essential both for the ruling Vasa dynasty and for the soldiers that filled the ranks of the domestic army. The investigation explores royal propaganda, the military experiences of peasant soldiers as well as protests and grievances from those who came back from war. The development will be analysed as a struggle for hegemony, while the military ideals that had traditionally been reserved for noble warriors was successfully appropriated by commoners, now sanctioned by the monarch.

  • 2018. Mats Hallenberg.

    Vilka samhällstjänster bör vi gemensamt ta ansvar för? Vem ska sköta exempelvis skatte indrivning, kollektivtrafik och äldreomsorg för det allmännas räkning?

    Motsättningen mellan egennyttan och det allmänna bästa har diskuterats under långa tider. I Kampen om det allmänna bästa utgår historikern Mats Hallenberg från Stockholmspolitiken och visar hur konflikterna om detta evigt aktuella ämne har tett sig under fyrahundra år.

    I det förmoderna samhället var det självklart att kung och överhet skulle avgöra vad som var av allmänt intresse men de praktiska göromålen kunde skötas av olika utförare: anställda tjänstemän, privata entreprenörer eller medborgarna själva. Från 1800-talets mitt började politikerna koppla samman idéer om rättvisa och modernitet med behovet av en offentligt styrd organisation. Denna utveckling bröts först under det sena 1900-talet då individens valfrihet i sig själv kunde definieras som det allmänna bästa och allt fler välfärdstjänster fördes över i privat regi.

    Boken sätter de politiska argumenten i centrum och ger ett historiskt perspektiv på de begrepp och tankefigurer som används i dagens debatt om vinster i välfärden.

  • 2017. Mats Hallenberg, Magnus Linnarsson. Scandinavian Economic History Review 65 (1), 70-87

    This article explores political conflicts about the organisation of public services in Sweden c. 1900–1920. The authors argue that political decisions play a vital role in shaping the political economy of public services. The case studies analysed are the political debates about the communalisation of the tramway system in Stockholm, and the nationalisation of Sweden’s last private telephone company. In both cases, the transfer of the service to public organisation was a lengthy process, ending in the late 1910s. This is explained using the concept of publicness. Drawing on three discursive chains, the argument is that the political development was affected by the politicians conception of the political community, the form of organisation and by perceptions of values such as equal access and modernity. In the case of the tramways, public organisation was seen as the best option to defend the public against corruption and self-interest. In the case of the telephones, free market competition was seen as a guarantee for an efficient and cost- effective service. The reason for this difference, is argued, was that the debate on the tramways articulated a clearer notion of publicness, where equal access and public opinion carried larger weight. 

  • 2016. Mats Hallenberg, Johan Holm.

    Den svenska statens historia under 1500- och 1600-talen handlar inte bara om kungar och krig utan också om de undersåtar som tvingades bära stormaktsdrömmen på sina axlar. Genom mer eller min­dre våldsamma protester lyckades bönderna tvinga de styrande att förhandla om den förda politiken.

    Historikerna Mats Hallenberg och Johan Holm studerar de konflikter som skattekraven och rekryteringen av bondesol­dater gav upphov till. Myterier, upplopp och förhandlingar skärskådas – vilka grupper stod bakom motståndet, varför protesterade de och vilket infly­tande fick deras handlande på centralmaktens utveckling?

    Författarna visar på sambandet mellan militarisering och bondeinflytande och problematiserar förhållandet mellan de besuttna skattebönderna och lokalsamhällets fattiga. Böndernas politiska agerande och de kompromisser som följde på förhandlingarna kom att få avgörande betydelse för den moderna statens utformning. Effekterna av dem ser vi än idag.

  • 2016. Mats Hallenberg, Magnus Linnarsson. Historisk Tidskrift (S) 136 (1), 32-63

    This article explores four political debates in the Swedish diet and among the ruling elite in Stockholm on the organization of public services. The results demonstrate how in different ways notions of the common good permeated the discourse on all occasions.

    When the Swedish government tried to initiate public street lightning in Stockholm in 1749, there was a broad consensus among government and city officials that this should be done by the creation of a municipal organization financed by tax income. The burghers of Stockholm, however, opposed the proposal and argued that they were themselves better suited to care for the streetlights. The common good should be provided by individual action of responsible, male householders. Eventually the burghers got the upper hand and public street lightning continued to be organized by private initiative until the mid-nineteenth century.

    When in the 1720s the Swedish diet discussed the lease of custom duties by a merchant consortium (Sw. generaltullarrendesocieteten), the problem of corruption emerged as the bone of contention. Proponents claimed that this form of private enterprise was an effective means to suppress widespread corruption among state officials. Their opponents argued to the contrary that private leaseholders would skim off the profits for themselves, thereby depriving the state of its income.

    In the mid-eighteenth century the city authorities in Stockholm debated whether the emptying of latrines should remain an individual concern or if it should be recognized as a public matter. The city officials at first decided that this task was indeed a matter of public concern that should be handled by private entrepreneurs. Within a few years they had changed their minds, however, proposing instead that a new communal organization should be created for the removal of city waste. By now, the ruling elite of Stockholm had begun to identify the common good with municipal direction.

    The development of railway infrastructure was a hotly debated subject in the Swedish diet of the 1850s. Some representatives argued that private entrepreneurs would provide more cost-effective solutions than publicly managed railways, while others claimed that the state must administer a national system of railways. In the debate, private self-interest was juxtaposed with equal access to the common good. The proponents of state intervention claimed that national concerns must have priority over financial gain, and this argument would eventually influence the final decision.

    By the middle of the nineteenth century there was a growing consensus among the ruling elites in Sweden that the common good could best be provided for by state or municipal initiative. In the debates, arguments about organizational efficiency and equal access to public services eventually won out over notions of individual responsibility and private enterprise as a better alternative to corrupt government. In the late twentieth century the debate had shifted radically, however. The reasons for this shift will be the subject of our future research.

  • 2015. Mats Hallenberg. Scandia 81 (2), 26-40

    The premodernity of modern times. Rupture, continuity and the longue durée

    This essay discusses how the concept of ’premodernity’ may be used to encourage the study of long-time perspectives in history, a feature which has become much in demand in recent scholarly debate. I argue that premodernity should be understood not as a chronological description, but as an analytical tool by which to contrast, criticize and discuss modern as well as premodern societies. The notion of a rupture between the premodern and the modern, and the ability to identify important traits in different societies, Mats Hallenberg 37 Scandia 81:2 may provide historians with the means to confront what is neither old nor new, but essentially human. I argue that there are two important benefits of applying the concept of premodernity in historical research. First, it may incite more cooperation between scholars of classic, medieval and early modern periods. Second, it may help us formulate a critique of modernity from a historical perspective by exposing the reproduction of premodern structures, ideas and concepts in contemporary times. By critically addressing the presumptions of ‘modernist’ social theory, scholars of older periods may contribute to make history less “presentist” in the future.

  • 2013. Mats Hallenberg. Gender and History 25 (1), 132-149

    This article explores the connection between violence, manhood and state formation in sixteenth-century Sweden. It argues that this period, which experienced the Lutheran Reformation and the establishment of a permanent state organization, also saw a shift in masculine ideals. R. W. Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity will serve as a starting point for discussing the conflict between the traditional norms of the ruling aristocracy and the instrumental violence employed by the servants of the king. Judging by the testimony of the time, the process of state formation seems to have triggered a mentality of ruthless self-assertion among the Swedish elites. During the initial phase, when a monopoly of violence had to be asserted by any means, this fiercely uncontrollable masculinity became a vital asset for the leaders of the state. However, as the Swedish quest for empire gained momentum, the aggressive forms of manhood were pushed towards the peripheries of the realm while a rational, calculating masculinity reasserted its dominance at the centre.

  • 2012. Mats Hallenberg. Scandinavian Journal of History 37 (5), 557-577

    This article addresses the transformation of the representative public in late-medieval and early modern Sweden. While recognizing the importance of Habermas’s theory of the public sphere, the focus is on the progressive character of the royal administration and on how the interaction within the administrative setting eventually came to serve as a basis for political opinion. The interplay between local bargaining over taxes and political action at the national level is of critical importance. The state formation process served to empower new groups like peasants and burghers, who eventually learned how to wield rational arguments in order to defend their interests. This is demonstrated by here by focusing on the interaction between local officeholders and the tax-paying peasantry.

  • 2008. Mats Hallenberg.
Show all publications by Mats Hallenberg at Stockholm University

Last updated: November 15, 2020

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