Driven by a desire to find out what drives social life and why people hold the opinions they do
Name: Stefan Svallfors
Stefan Svallfors is genuinely curious and conducts research on the opinions people from different countries have about the welfare state, inequality, politics and social issues.
When Stefan Svallfors began studying in Umeå in 1981, he had no idea what sociology was and he did not know what researchers did. But as early as the first term, he was hooked on sociology.
“We had a workshop where we played a role-playing game called the Virudal game. It was about a development project in Peru and concerned solving problems that the project ended up in,” says Stefan Svallfors.
In the beginning, the participants knew nothing about the problems that could arise. They were subsequently given more information and Stefan Svallfors discovered that what he initially thought was true later proved to be wrong.
“It was like a revelation and I understood so incredibly much more about how society works. That it is not so self-evident that things are the way one thinks and that conditions can change along the way. I discovered that sociology was fun and that it was what I wanted to study.”
After three years at university, he completed his degree and immediately began doctoral studies. Stefan Svallfors studied Swedish opinions about the public sector.
Studying opinions is called attitude research. Stefan Svallfors’ study was the first major survey of attitudes to the welfare state conducted in Sweden and he himself believes that he re-introduced attitude studies as a research field in sociology. Now, several years later, this approach is far more common and about ten people at Umeå University’s Department of Sociology work with such studies.
Stefan Svallfors continued to conduct research in the same field. He repeated his study of attitudes to the welfare state in Sweden three times, in 1992, 1997 and 2002. What drives him is the desire to find out the mechanisms of social life, and whether things really are as claimed to be.
He provides an example.
“Several members of the Riksdag (Swedish parliament) claimed that a study proved that parents only spend a few minutes a day with their children, which generated considerable media interest,” he says.
“But they had not seen the study themselves.” “Those few minutes were only the time the parents talked with their children without doing something else. Other shared time when the parents and children did things together was not included. Consequently, the information was not as alarming as it was made out to be.”
Since 2010 Stefan Svallfors has been a so-called Baltic Scholar at Umeå University, which gives him the opportunity to conduct fulltime research. In 2011 he is a visiting researcher at European University Institute, located outside of Florence in Italy.
Name: Stefan Svallfors
Profession: Professor of Sociology, Chairman of Social Welfare Research
Personal interests: running, cooking, fiction
Dislikes: stupidity and arrogance
Likes: solidarity, curiosity and courageous people
Lives: at Öbacka strand (river bank on the eastside of Umeå)
Other: is participating in two major country comparative studies, the International Social Survey Programme and the European Social Survey.