Specters of Colonialism: Illusionary Equality and the Forgetting of History in a Swedish Organization

Sara Louise Muhr, Salam Azad

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This paper investigates how an organization in Sweden, a country normally not considered among the former colonial powers, is still haunted by the specters of a western colonial history. Based on in-depth interviews as well as participant observation in the headquarters of a Swedish multinational organization, we show how an overarching colonial discourse – although not acknowledged – shapes the experience that foreign employees have of work. This leaves foreign workers in an integration dilemma, as they are expected to suppress home-country values and identities in order to become accepted, while at the same time they always are bound to fail to become ‘Swedish’ because of the same foreign origins. Although Swedish culture – partly by distancing itself from having a colonial past – has successfully built up an image of openness, we argue that without acknowledging and confronting the role that European colonial history has played in the shaping of national identity, Swedish organizations (and organizations in other western countries not assumed to have a colonial history) will not be able to integrate their foreign employees successfully.
Original languageEnglish
JournalManagement & Organizational History
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)62-76
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Colonial history
  • Foreign employees
  • Integration
  • National culture
  • Postcolonialism

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