Last week I received the sad message that my former teacher and colleague Gunnar Sjöblom had died at the age of 76.
If you find a copy of the book which was published in honour of Gunnar on his 60th birthday and open it, you will be greeted by a photo of a sardonically looking professor (no tweed-jacket, though), a look which might be a bit unsettling for some. Maybe Gunnar imagined that the photographer was Thomas S. Kuhn or, even better, some 1970s or 1980s marxist student. He had very little love indeed for that bunch. Behind that professorial façade, though, was a man who in smaller groups could be very witty, funny and insightful, also beyond the world of political science.
Gunnar’s claim to fame was his dissertation which was published in English in 1968 as Party Strategies in a Multiparty System. Tellingly, Google Scholar informs us that the book was still quoted into the 2000s, more than 35 years after it was written.
Party Strategies is in many ways a strange book in political science as it is completely theoretical in nature without any open references to empirical data, just as it does not make any use of cases or examples to illustrate its argument. In a way, the book also lacks a thesis to be proved. Rather, the ambition was to apply a systems analysis approach to the study of (well, duh) parties that operate in a multiparty system to discover the various conflicts and dilemmas they face. Even if you are only marginally oriented in the history of the discipline, you will know that Gunnar was playing ball with David Easton (systems theory) and Anthony Downs (party competition).
The book looks at parties acting in the different political arenas and attempts to make a comprehensive overview of the tools and strategies available at each point in the decision-making process. Trying to make a complete empirical analysis of the parties in an existing party system using the scheme of analysis being presented would be a daunting, and in all likelihood impossible, task for any single researcher, but there are many bits and pieces which still merits consideration. And applied on more specific research topics, the book and its scheme could be put to good use.
Gunnar never repeated the feat but spent the 1970s and 1980s producing articles and book-chapters on aspects of party government, usually working in a network of party researchers organised around the late Rudolf Wildenmann. To mention some examples: In 1977, he took on the question of cumulating knowledge in the social sciences in an article in the European Journal of Political Research and in the mid-1980s he contributed to a series of publications about party government with chapters on parties and problem solving in politics and – unusually, for somebody who spent almost his entire career addressing theoretical and methodological questions – the role of parties in the Danish and Swedish political systems.
In Gunnar’s career, one big ambition eluded him: His plan was to write a comprehensive study of party government in Western societies and he made extensive preparations for this work, but it never resulted in a book or a series of papers. He told me, that when he had the opportunity to review the data and literature during a sabbatical, he discovered that much of the material was beginning to be out of date. Other priorities, including national and international organisational duties, had taken up the time needed.
That may be so, but I also suspect that Gunnar lacked the temperament needed to write a synthesis in the style of Giovanni Sartori’s Parties and Party Systems . His approach lent itself better to analysis than synthesis. But then again, who knows what would had happened, if somebody at the right moment had put Gunnar in the office next to Sartori’s?
Still, his contributions to the study of political parties and party strategies stand.
For some examples of early Sjöblom, here are two open-access articles from 1967 and 1968 published in Scandinavian Political Studies. Two reviews of Party Strategies (gated) can be found on JStor here and here.
PS: In case the Google Scholar link fails, this is what you should be looking for – http://scholar.google.dk/scholar?as_q=&num=50&btnG=S%C3%B8g+i+Scholar&as_epq=party+strategies+in+a+multiparty+system&as_oq=&as_eq=&as_occt=title&as_sauthors=sj%C3%B6blom&as_publication=&as_ylo=&as_yhi=&hl=da