Heather Lynch (Glasgow Caledonian University)


Topic: The troubled gifts of Bergsjön: Social work and more-than-human environment

Language: English 


The forest setting, gardens and lake of Bergsjön in north Gothenburg, give it much appeal, and yet it is notorious across Sweden for gang violence, crime and disadvantage, and is rated ‘most vulnerable’ in the Swedish police’ neighbourhood list. These neighbourhoods, many of which were developed through the Million Homes programme of the 60’s, to provide good housing for workers, are now the fixation of the media and as such dominate political discourse in Sweden where they are decried as ‘no go zones’ that exist out with the law, and as such threaten orderly Swedish civil society. The shift toward the right by Sweden’s widely recognised tolerant social democracy is in large part due to a Swedish public anxious about the suburbs (Schierup, Ålund and Kings, 2014; Dahlstedt and Neergaard, 2019). Bergsjön is a distinctive and unique place, yet the conflict around migrant settlement is expressed across different national contexts. The agreement generated by the enlightenment social contract no longer holds and according to French philosopher Michel Serres, there is a need to consider a new basis for relations, one that includes the material relations of the more-than-human world on which humanity depends. This, he argues, resets relations of exploitation, precipitated by the social contract, to relations of mutuality found in a ‘Natural Contract’ (Serres, 1995).

We draw on a field philosophical study (Buchanan, Bastian and Chrulew, 2018) of Bergsjön in 2022 to discuss the potential of Serres’ natural contract to critique the dominant views from both left and right, of how to address the challenges that Bergsjön presents. Thinking with Serres’ Natural Contract includes the more-than-human environment of Bergsjön and affords contemplation of what one contributor calls its ‘big, big gift’ and at the same time raises questions that challenge the limits of human ethical thought.