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Maria WendtSenior lecturer, Associate professor

About me

Maria Wendt is Senior lecturer and Associate Professor at the Department of Economic History and International Relations. Her research focus on war, militarism, security, nationalism and gender.

Currently, she is working within the multidisciplinary research project "Making a Military Heritage: Gender and Nation in Sweden’s Cold War History", a collaboration between International Relations, Ethnology, Gender Studies, and Art- and Architectural History. The project investigates how the Cold War is preserved as a national military heritage in Sweden, and problematises the relation between security and societal memory. The research team has visited military museums and "experience centers" (focusing on children and families) all around Sweden, and also done fieldwork in a residential area in Gotland where Cold War bunkers have been turned into exclusive summer homes. 

Previously, she has done research on military death and gendered heroism in relation to the ISAF-mission in Afghanistan. The project "The politics of military loss in contemporary Europe", compared societal justifications and meaningmaking in relation to soldiers' deaths in six European countries. In this project, political and media discourses, symbolic and ritual dimensions as well as monuments and artistic interventions were analyzed. 

Wendt has also conducted research on media and nationalism, men's violence against women, and has been involved with several pedagogical research projects. For example, she has investigated students' difficulties in writing independent essays, and the challenges pertaining to the teaching of emotionally and politically charged subjects. 


Maria Wendt's research interests are feminist theory, feminist international relations (IR); gendered security, war memory/history, nationalism and gender, teaching/learning political science.

Current research projects

Making a Military Heritage. Gender and Nation in Sweden’s Cold War History

In Europe, increased geopolitical tensions as well as neo-nationalism, growing populism and the migrant situation draw political attention to issues of national belonging, borders and gender relations. At stake are understandings of national identity – of who we are, and what history and values that define us.

In this context, constructions of national heritage and collective memories are increasingly controversial. The aim of this transdisciplinary project is to investigate how Sweden’s Cold War history is given societal meaning in the creation of a military heritage. How is national identity and gender negotiated when experiences of geopolitical threats and memories of fear and insecurity are framed as heritage? The project’s design is based on joint fieldwork at military heritage sites, including official exhibitions, commercialized tourist establishments and informal uses of military structures.

The project combines two research fields – critical heritage studies and feminist international relations (IR). Contributions concern how a “dark” heritage is constructed and commercialized in a national context of prominent peace narratives. Recognizing that women’s agency and experiences tend to be omitted in military memorializations, this project addresses the gender implications of military heritagization. The research also provides new knowledge on how Swedish cultural self-understanding connects to the military.

More about the project.

Genus och nation I kalla krigets spår: Skapandet av ett svenskt militärt kulturarv

Samtida nynationalistiska strömningar, populism och ökande migration aktualiserar frågor om tillhörighet, nationsgränser och medborgarskap. Europa präglas därtill av starkare geopolitiska spänningar och höjd försvarsberedskap i vad som har kallats ett nytt kallt krig. Frågor om nationell identitet ställs nu på sin spets. Vilka är vi, vilken historia delar vi och vilka värderingar ska vi skydda?

I denna politiska situation får konstruktioner av nationella kulturarv och kollektiva minnen av krig och konflikt en stark laddning. I det här projektet undersöks senare års initiativ att bevara minnet av kalla kriget i Sverige. Det övergripande syftet är att undersöka hur nationell tillhörighet, medborgarskap och genus förhandlas när minnen av geopolitiska hot och rädsla etableras som kulturarv.

Projektet utgår från fältarbeten på militära kulturarvsplatser som inkluderar offentliga muséer, turistanläggningar och informella bruk av övergivna militära inrättningar. Två forskningsfält, kritiska kulturarvsstudier och feministiska internationella relationer, kombineras. Kunskapsbidraget rör hur ett ”mörkt” kulturarv etableras och kommersialiseras i en nationell kontext präglad av fredssträvanden och konfliktlösning. Med utgångspunkt i att kvinnors erfarenheter ofta utelämnats i militära historieskrivningar, analyserar detta projekt vilken roll genus spelar i ett militärt kulturarvsskapande. Forskningen ger även kunskap om hur svensk nationell självförståelse länkas till militären.
När soldater dör tystnar det demokratiska samtalet, Essä i Dagens Arena, 13/12 2018.

The politics of military loss in contemporary Europe

Since 2001, more than 700 European soldiers have been killed in the NATO-led ISAF operation in Afghanistan. In this war universal international values, rather than national territory, are said to be at stake. As the fallen soldiers are brought home, however, gendered representations of heroism are actualized and grief and compassion rooted in national narratives. It appears that while sending troops to fight for human rights and international institutions can be justified, the same values might be insufficient to carry the symbolic weight of legitimizing the deaths of European soldiers.

The aim of this comparative project is to examine how deaths of European soldiers in Afghanistan are given societal meanings and justifications and how these losses are politically framed and handled. Six countries with different war histories, geopolitical positions and gender regimes (Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK) will be investigated. Analysis of media narratives, parliamentary debates, official policies and commemoration rituals is included.

The project proceeds from the idea that these new military deaths transform established understandings of national belonging and ideas of women´s and men´s ultimate obligations in democracies. The research investigates, firstly how the losses in Afghanistan restructure relations between war, national identity and gender, and, secondly, how these reshaped national identities influence democratic discussions and practices.

Research projects


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Gender, memories and national security

    2021. Cecilia Åse, Maria Wendt. International feminist journal of politics


    Cold War military remnants and experiences have recently been turned into museums and tourist attractions in many European countries. Recognizing such memory making as essentially political, we examine the role of gender and sexuality in the making of a Cold War military heritage. Combining critical feminist and intersectional Cold War research with gender perspectives on military memory, this article contributes to feminist conceptualizations of the relationship between gendered security and the production of memory. By highlighting narratives and spatial, visual, and acoustic arrangements, we investigate state-sponsored museum displays of two national security crises in the Swedish context: the 1952 Soviet downing of a DC-3 airplane and the submarine hunts in the Baltic Sea in the early 1980s. The analysis reveals how gender works to construct a geopolitical outlook, enable emotional identifications, and restore national order. Heterosexuality and hierarchical gender norms emerge as prerequisites for national security. We argue that when visitors are encouraged to feel gendered national security, opportunities to critically reflect upon Cold War histories decrease, promoting the depoliticization of security politics and militarism.

    Read more about Gender, memories and national security
  • Gendered Frames of Military Heritagization

    2021. Maria Wendt. Journal of War & Culture Studies


    How are opportunities to critically reflect upon military violence and militarization shaped by museal representations of a country's military history? Inspired by a critical heritage perspective and feminist international relations research, this article contributes to the scholarly discussion of the political implications of military memory making. The aim is to analyse how military violence is framed in official heritagization of the Cold War period in Sweden. Based on fieldwork at three military museums, the article discusses how framings of violence affect opportunities to politically and ethically engage with military issues and the use of force. A central question concerns how gender underpins representations of violence at the museums and how this gendering affects politicization. The analysis discloses that military violence is framed as sacred sacrifice, as ‘pure’ technology, as play and as (male) omnipotence. The argument made is that such gendered frames obscure and depoliticize problematic aspects of military violence.

    Read more about Gendered Frames of Military Heritagization
  • Gendering the military past

    2021. Cecilia Åse, Maria Wendt. Cooperation and Conflict


    This article showcases how a feminist perspective provides novel insights into the relations between military heritage/history and national security politics. We argue that analysing how gender and sexualities operate at military heritage sites reveals how these operations dis/encourage particular understandings of security and limit the range of acceptable national protection policies. Two recent initiatives to preserve the military heritage of the Cold War period in Sweden are examined: the Cold War exhibits at Air Force Museum in Linköping and the redevelopment of a formerly sealed off military compound at Bungenäs, where bunkers have been remade into exclusive summer homes. By combining feminist international relations and critical heritage studies, we unpack the material, affective and embodied underpinnings of security produced at military heritage sites. A key conclusion is that the way heritagization incorporates the ‘naturalness’ of the gender binary and heterosexuality makes conceptualizing security without territory, or territory without military protection, inaccessible. The gendering of emotions and architectural and spatial arrangements supports historical narratives that privilege masculine protection and reinforce a taken-for-granted nativist community. A feminist analysis of military heritage highlights how gender and sexualities restrict security imaginaries; that is, understandings of what is conceivable as security.

    Read more about Gendering the military past
  • Kalla kriget som njutning och ideal

    2021. Mattias Frihammar (et al.). Dagens arena


    Känsloläget i försvarsdebatten har höjts, inte minst av Försvarsmakten själv. Frågan är inte längre om utan när kriget kommer. Den nya retoriken åkallar känslor förknippade med kalla kriget. En hotfull historisk period som idag används för att rättfärdiga försvarspolitik och signalera trygghet, skriver fyra forskare som tittat närmare på läget.

    Read more about Kalla kriget som njutning och ideal
  • Comparing ‘deep’ insider knowledge

    2020. Maria Wendt. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 23 (3), 241-254


    One overarching question in scholarly methodological discussions on qualitative comparative approaches concerns how it is possible to compare and generalise deep insider knowledge across (nationally) specific contexts. The aim of this article is to propose a research strategy that both facilitates the comparison and theorisation of such knowledge across nations and limits the risks of reproducing naturalised national ‘truths’. The strategy is developed within a feminist, cross-national, qualitative comparative analysis of how European countries addressed military deaths in connection with the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. The article underlines the importance of collective analytical work and of strategies that allow continuous movement between insider and outsider positions throughout the research process. A number of analytical strategies are presented: collective project design, alternating between analytical closeness and distance, and de-familiarising writing practices.

    Read more about Comparing ‘deep’ insider knowledge
  • Gendering military sacrifice

    2019. .

    Book (ed)

    What does military sacrifice mean in today’s globalised world? For what ethical principles and beliefs are citizens prepared to die and to sacrifice their loved ones? In present-day security discourses emphasising human rights and an international responsibility to protect, traditional masculinised obligations to die for the homeland and its women and children are challenged and renegotiated. Working from a critical feminist perspective, the authors examine the political and societal justifications for sacrifice in wars motivated by post-national and humanitarian values. This volume provides original empirical research from six European countries, demonstrating how gendered and nationalistic representations saturate contemporary notions of sacrifice and legitimate military violence. A key argument is that a gender perspective is necessary in order to understand, and to oppose, the idea of the honourable military death.

    Bringing together a wide range of materials – including public debates, rituals, monuments and artwork – to analyse the justifications for soldiers’ deaths in the Afghanistan war (2001–2014), the analysis challenges methodological nationalism. The authors develop a feminist comparative methodology and engage in cross-country and transdisciplinary analysis. This innovative approach generates new understandings of the ways in which both the idealisation and political contestation of military violence depend on gendered national narratives.

    Read more about Gendering military sacrifice
  • The Politics of War Rituals

    2019. Maria Wendt. Gendering Military Sacrifice, 41-67


    This chapter investigates the new official war rituals that were instigated in order to address European soldiers’ deaths during the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. How did ritualised practices and objects – such as ceremonies, medals, and Veterans’ Days – help to render the war mission meaningful and legitimate? Combining Feminist International Relations theory with scholarly work that addresses the politics of rituals, the chapter analyses which norms and ideals are called upon by these rituals, how hierarchies of values are produced and how national identities and gendered norms are (re)constituted. Using cross-country comparison as a feminist method of denaturalisation, rituals in the UK, Denmark, and Sweden are specifically investigated. The elevation and sacralisation of violence stands out as a common theme, while notions of history, family, and masculinity are expressed in more nationally specific terms. Finally, the chapter discusses how the new war rituals have affected possibilities for political discussions of issues of international war missions in the countries examined.

    Read more about The Politics of War Rituals
  • Teori- och metodanvändning i uppsatser

    2021. Maria Wendt.


    Det pedagogiska projekt som redovisas i denna rapport syftar till att få ökade insikter om vad som kan hindra, och vad som kan underlätta för, studenter att överföra tidigare förvärvade kunskaper och förmågor rörande teori och metod till det egna uppsatsskrivandet. Det mer generella problemet handlar om vad som i pedagogisk forskning ofta benämns som ”transfer of learning” och som handlar om förmågan att överföra kunskaper mellan olika kontexter. En övergripande tanke med projektet är att en fördjupad förståelse av överföringsproblem är viktig för att kunna utforma lärandeaktiviteter som möjliggör för studenter att använda tidigare kunskaper. I undersökningen följs en grupp studenter som skriver kandidatuppsats i statsvetenskap. Det empiriska materialet består av intervjuer samt av deltagande observation vid undervisnings- och handledningstillfällen. I analysen identifieras olika typer av överföringsproblem som kan relateras till lärandeinnehållets form, innehåll och begrepp. Utifrån resultaten diskuteras även hur pedagogiska arbetssätt som gynnar kunskapsöverföring kan utvecklas, och som därmed kan förbättra förutsättningarna för studenterna att skriva uppsatser med hög vetenskaplig kvalitet.

    Read more about Teori- och metodanvändning i uppsatser
  • Gendered Grief

    2019. Cecilia Åse, Monica Quirico, Maria Wendt. Gendering Military Sacrifice, 145-176


    This chapter investigates how the relatives of the European soldiers who died in the Afghanistan war (2001–2014), particularly mothers, organised and acted publicly and politically. What is the potential for personal grief to contest political and justificatory war narratives? Feminist scholarship on the relationship between gender, war grief, and politics provides the theoretical framework. Using cross-country comparison as a feminist method of denaturalisation, the chapter discusses gendered grief in the six European countries, with a specific focus on Italy, Sweden and the UK. The comparative analysis identifies general patterns and pinpoints the national differences that had a key influence on the politicisation of war grief. A “politico-emotional war contract” is put forward as a key component both opening up space for and stifling bereaved relatives’ political agency. The chapter discusses how relatives made use of gender representations to challenge established war narratives, but also shows how women’s grief was silenced or appropriated and used to sanction and beautify military violence. An important result concerns how different national contexts condition the possibilities for women’s agency as grieving mothers and wives.

    Read more about Gendered Grief
  • Gendering the new hero narratives

    2018. Cecilia Åse, Maria Wendt. Cooperation and Conflict 53 (1), 23-41


    During the 20th century, wars were fought primarily in the name of protecting the homeland.Making the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ was a national masculine duty and a key feature of military heroism.Today, human rights and international values justify war-making and legitimise military action.In one of these post-national wars, the International Security Assistance Force operation inAfghanistan, more than 700 European soldiers have lost their lives. How have these deaths beenlegitimised, and how has the new security discourse affected notions of masculinised heroism andsacrifice? This article investigates how the dimensions of national/international and masculinity/femininity are negotiated in media narratives of heroism and sacrifice in Denmark and Sweden.Regarding scholarly discussions on the professionalisation, individualisation and domesticationof military heroism, the empirical analysis demonstrates that the Danish/Swedish nationremains posited as the core context for military heroism and sacrifice. In the media narratives,professionalism is represented as an expression of specific national qualities. The media narrativesconflate nation and family and represent military heroes as distinctively masculine and nationalfigures. It is argued that a family trope has become vital in present-day hero narratives. This tropeis disposed towards collective emotions, national loyalty and conservative gender ideals.

    Read more about Gendering the new hero narratives
  • För Sverige - med livet som insats

    2016. Maria Wendt, Cecilia Åse. Statsvetenskaplig Tidskrift 118 (3), 359-388


    Death, Democracy and the Swedish Afghanistan War

    Five Swedish soldiers lost their lives in Sweden’s military operation in Afghanistan (2002–2014). When citizens are killed in battle, justification of the individual sac-rifice becomes essential. For which values/for whom can the democratic state require its citizens to risk their lives? The purpose of this article is to analyse ideas and representations that support public discourse and constructions of meaning connected to the Swedish losses. The democratic implications of these construc-tions are also discussed. The results show that specific notions of gender and nation are central in the discourse. These notions limit what political positions and atti-tudes that become possible. National historical genealogies, as well as gender ide-als and family norms, frame military operations as “natural” and existential rather than political. Discourse is marked by emotions rather than by debate and delib-eration. The democratic discussion of military casualties and war-making is thereby constrained and critical perspectives become difficult to formulate.

    Read more about För Sverige - med livet som insats
  • Learning dilemmas in undergraduate student independent essays

    2015. Maria Wendt, Cecilia Åse. Studies in Higher Education 40 (5), 838-851


    Essay-writing is generally viewed as the primary learning activity to fosterindependence and analytical thinking. In this article, we show that independentresearch projects do not necessarily lead to critical thinking. University-leveleducation on conducting independent projects can, in several respects, counteractenhanced analytical skills. The purpose of this study is to advance knowledge onthe difficulties students experience in acquiring analytical skills. A group ofundergraduate political science students were interviewed while they attended anindependent research course. They were also asked to record their reflections.The digital diaries provide access to the students’ perceptions regarding theassignment and their struggles as they handle scientific problems. We argue thatthe students are caught up in different learning dilemmas when asked to performindependent academic research. One result is that ambiguous and contradictoryunderstandings of science affect the learning processes and thus affect thestudents’ possibilities for developing analytical thinking.

    Read more about Learning dilemmas in undergraduate student independent essays

Show all publications by Maria Wendt at Stockholm University