He’s a role model, an international superstar and a Swedish celebrity more famous than even Bjorn Borg in his prime.
But Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s status as a symbol of integration and upward mobility is also being debated in academic circles, where a postgraduate course in Power and Gender at Stockholm University draws on his life and times.
“I’ve written an article where I analyse the autobiography of Ibra and how he’s received and publicly discussed in Sweden and France,” Professor Annika Olsson told the Irish Examiner. I use the results from this article when I lecture on issues relating to power, gender and inter-sectionality, for instance, and try to answer questions like: Who can talk, and be listened to, as a Swedish citizen?”
Professor Olsson was fascinated by Ibra’s rise from the mean streets of Rosengard in Malmo to become Swedish society’s most famous personality. As Head of the Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies at Stockholm Univ, she decided to explore the issues further.
“Ibra is interesting both because he is a very well-known public figure in Sweden and other countries in Europe, and because of his personal story,” she explained.
“I use him and Sojourner Truth, a freed 19th- century American female slave who campaigned for citizenship regardless of race or gender, as examples of people born into situations, bodies, genders or classes that mean they need to overcome a lot in order to be able to talk and be listened to as human beings, Swedish citizens, etc.”
It’s clear Zlatan transcends football. But just how great is the cultural significance of the son of Balkan immigrants to Sweden’s rapidly-changing society? “The impact and significance is hard to measure, but it’s big,” Professor Olsson added. “His autobiography has been a best-seller. He sells Volvo cars and inspires young people all around Sweden and in Europe.
“That people like me are interested in him is also a signal that he’s important, although I am a lover of football and popular culture.”
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