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Linné on line arrow Linnaeus and Ecology arrow The ascent of ecology in Sweden arrow Debate between two schools of ecology

Debate between two schools of ecology

A lively and sometimes bitter debate arose between the two traditions. The polemics reflected two fundamentally different scientific ideals—one empirical and descriptive, seated in Uppsala, and the other hypothetical and experimental, based in Stockholm. The conflict also reflected two distinct local academic traditions.

The two camps can also be seen against the background of the period of transformation that Swedish society was undergoing. A more nationalistic and romantic spirit stood against an emergent cosmopolitan modernism. The dissolution of the old agrarian society was accompanied by cultural radicalism but also by a counter-reaction in the form of renewed patriotism and a new interest in Swedish nature and genuine folk culture—“Heidenstam vs. Strindberg” as Söderquist expressed it.

If we look at the social and intellectual biographies of the scientists, the pattern is clear: the Stockholm group’s Lundegårdh, Turesson, Romell, and Stålfelt were all radicals. The entire Uppsala seminar in biology in this period was tinged with the reaction to the modern thinking that had started in the 1890s.

The polemics reached a peak in the 1930s, when the Uppsala chair in plant biology was to be filled. After two years of postponement, a brutal debate started among the experts on the appointment panel. After he was declared unsuitable to hold an academic teaching position by one of the experts, Lundegård, who belonged to the Stockholm school, was so insulted and angry that he withdrew his application. The chair went to his main rival, Du Rietz. This was the end of the great polemics, and of the laboratory-based, experimental, and more physiologically oriented ecology of the Stockholm school.

In the 1910s and 1920s a stronger rhetorics of ecology was established at the universities, and for the first time there was a debate about what should be called ecology. In spite of the good ecological research pursued during this period, ecologists found it difficult to institutionalize their discipline. The positions they held were not termed ecological. Several of the leading scientists even abandoned ecology for other biological research areas. But nevertheless a foundation was laid for the further development of ecology as a scientific discipline, with roots at universities and other institutions.

During the 1930s, researchers like Einar du Rietz, Sven Ekman, and Torsten Gislén, the second generation of ecologists, inspired many students to pursue further ecological studies. These students later came to be the mainstays behind the successful establishment of ecology at Swedish universities after World War II.