Financial Education As "Folk Building"? the Case of Improving Financial Literacy in Contemporary Sweden

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
CLM.3.06 (Clement House)
Claes Ohlsson, Gothenburg Research Institute, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
The project of improving financial knowledge among the general public has become a major global political concern over the last decades. A central idea in the debate is financial literacy, which is understood as the individual capacity and knowledge of economic and financial issues. The research mainstream of this developing field has mainly focused on how to best measure levels of financial literacy and how to tailor initiatives in order to best reach target groups. Studies are less concerned with the value systems that legitimize financial education. Another missing issue is how communication plays a performative part in proposed educational processes.

This paper presents a study of how financial education with the aim to improve levels of financial literacy is officially legitimized and communicated in the case of Sweden. The study focuses on two dimensions in the apparent public discourse. Firstly, the governance level of policy making where the administrative authority of Finansinspektionen (FI) has state responsibility to improve financial literacy. The second level encompasses the actual programs or specific initiatives that are undertaken, which usually aim for a certain target group. These are often a combined effort between different actors but under the program umbrella of the FI authority.

The legitimization of financial education by the FI authority has in recent years been based on the concept of folkbildning ("folk building") or "popular education" in the annual governmental decrees. This concept has connotations stemming from the social transformation movements associated with class equilization and the emancipation processes of early 20th century Sweden. As such, the wording "popular" is related to "people" more than to "attractive" or similar. The theoretically contrastive relation between individual financial training and a since long established notion that encompasses collective ideas therefore appears as highly interesting in the current global discourse of the financial literacy movement. The official discourse for improving financial literacy in Sweden does in this light appear to be framed differently than its Anglo-American counterparts, at least on the governmental level of policy making. The actual outcomes and individual initiatives on local level may or may not rely on the same type of base level legitimization by "folkbildning".

The study proposes both a description and discussion of the Swedish case of improving financial literacy. The analysis of legitimization is based on the issues and elements that actually are presented as financial education. Is it general knowledge of household economics or do claims for improvement also cover individual skills to act in more advanced, semi-professional savings and loan markets? The methodology used is based on theories of language as discourse together with rhetoric and genre analysis. The study will contribute to the research on financial literacy by 1) presenting a communicative and critical approach to the field, and 2) present a case from a national discourse, which at hand shares many similar traits with other highly developed Western democracies, but where a distinct local legitimization of how financial literacy should be improved is distinguished.