The power of the written word: The peasant estateand the challenge of a literalizing political culturein Sweden’s age of liberty.Modern scholarship on the political role of the eighteenth-century Swedishpeasantry emphasizes the growing impact of the peasantry not only on alocal level but also at the national level as one of four estates at the Riksdag(Parliament). This investigation looks at the peasants’ ability to defend andpromote their political agency in a political culture where the role of literacywas growing. It takes the form of a case study of Ostrobothnian peasantswho defended their traditional right to trade their own produce using theirown vessels at the Riksdag 1746–1747. The principal sources of the investigationare memorials submitted to the estates by peasants.The case study provides a test for the usefulness of the theoretical concepts“possessive” and “accessive literacy” that were developed by Villstrandin the 1990s. In the latter form of literacy, which has not been sufficientlyinvestigated in international scholarship, the role of translations from oral towritten language, and vice versa, is crucial. The investigation shows that thepeasants did not use their religious literacy, i.e. their ability to read printedreligious texts, as a means to gain a possessive political literacy. Instead theywere able to maintain their political agency by employing the services ofhired scribes.The activities of hired semiprofessional scribes, possessing a sufficient literacyfor writing memorials of sufficient quality to promote the interests ofthe petitioners, became an object of political debate in the Riksdag in 1747. Inorder to make the scribe responsible for the content of memorials submittedto the estates that were not written by the petitioner it was made obligatoryin 1751 that scribes signed such memorials. Nevertheless, in many cases theidentity of scribes remained a secret for the estates in the eighteenth centuryas well as for modern scholars. Memorials signed by the petitioner ratherthan the scribe continued to appear even though evidence in the documentindicates that it was written by someone else.
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