Deconstruction of Hegemony
of a Language in the Context of a Nation-state



Ali Ardalan

Language policies and educational practices are always situated in relation to wider issues of power, access, opportunity, inequality and, at times, discrimination and disadvantage.[1]
– Stephen May and Nancy Hornberger

Examining Swedish pedagogical policy in terms of teaching the mother tongue in schools prompts commentary on various socio-political issues, such as cultural homogeneity, multiculturalism, and assimilation. I have taught Farsi at various elementary schools in the Uppland region, including Vallonskolan, which is situated just outside Stockholm and close to Uppsala, the fourth largest city in Sweden. I worked at this school from 2015 to 2020 and during this time, I observed how educational and pedagogical policies have changed over the years. Although Sweden was one of the earliest countries to legalize the right to learn one’s mother tongue in the 1960s, this law has not kept up with the changing landscape of transnational mobility, immigration, and integration policies. In recent years, there have been dramatic changes to this law.[2] One example of this is the bureaucratic process that has been emphasized, with permission from the school principal being prioritized over the wishes of the child’s parents who may have originally come from another country. Furthermore, teaching the mother tongue is not typically included in a school’s curriculum, which can lead to it being systematically marginalized. To have access to mother tongue instruction, at least five people in a municipality must apply for it. These changes might be interpreted as part of a macro-political structure in Sweden. A shifting tendency has been manifested explicitly in the last decade: a far-right political party, the Swedish Democrats, has been able enter parliament, begin normalizing their presence, and affect the current political discourse in Sweden. This political discourse intends to re- construct a coherent subjectivity through re-inforcement of “Swedification” and insistence on “Swedish values”. Swedishness/Swedification are entangled with specific interpretations of culture, language, and nation. This might be connected to the historical and fictional narrative around a metacommunity such as a nation— in the words of sociologist Benedict Andersson, an “imagined community”.[3] The foundation of this solidified community is imaginary because nobody could have a tangible and concrete relation within a metacommunity like a nation. Therefore, other features such as language play a vital role in creating social cohesion among members of a nation. Thus, the emergence of the modern political rhetoric; one nation-one language.

For instance, it was within this context, in July 2019, that the Swedish Democrats proposed and put forward a motion claiming that teaching of the mother tongue has questionable effects on Swedish-language learning and prevents assimilation into Swedish society.[4] Based on this argument, they wanted to terminate the teaching of the mother tongue in the educational system in Sweden. Here, “the normative understandings of cultural homogeneity and social cohesion” will lead us to be suspect of integration through an emphasis on the crisis of multiculturalism.[5] A skeptical perspective on the mother tongue within the pedagogical system and an attempt to perpetuate the abstract phenomenon Swedish values is created without the ability to make it clear what it really means. In other words, here we have an essentialist attitude which interprets culture as a static phenomenon with inherent attributes. From the perspective of social psychology, the mother tongue means belonging to a social group wherein different cultural traditions and value systems would be practiced. Based on this perspective, the mother tongue might be considered a crucial ingredient in a democratic society where individuals must be allowed to develop their identity.[6] Within this realm, a pertinent relevant question could be raised: how could the teaching of mother tongue subvert cultural homogeneity and question the myth of one nation-one language?

[1] Antonia Darder, “Cultural Hegemony, Language, and the Politics of Forgetting: Interrogating Restrictive Language Policies”, in Affirming Language Diversity in Schools and Society: Beyond Linguistic Apartheid, ed. P. Orelus (New York: Peter Lang, 2014), 74.
[2] Institutet för språk och folkminnet, accessed December 4, 2022,
[3] Suvi Keskinen, Unnur Dís Skaptadóttir and Mari Toivanen, “Narrations of Homogeneity, Waning Welfare States, and the Politics of Solidarity”, in Undoing Homogeneity in the Nordic Region: Migration, Difference and the Politics of Solidarity (London: Routledge, 2019), 1-17.
[4] Martin Siltanen, Sammanträdesprotokoll, Vallentuna kommun , Barn- och ungdomsnämnden, (2019), 1-50. Available at:
[5] Darder, 74.
[6]. Rahman Nargish, Vilken roll fyller modersmålsundervisningen i den svensk skola, Akademin för utbildning och ekonomi, Högskolan i Gävle (2010), 44.