SCAS News - 20 February, 2018

Obituary of Barbro Klein

Obituary of BARBRO KLEIN, 1938-2018
Björn Wittrock                   Marie-Christine Skuncke

Professor Barbro Klein, Stockholm, passed away on 15 January, 2018, two months before her eightieth
birthday. Her closest relatives are her sons Adam, Fredrik, Jakob and Joel with families and her brothers
Mats and Ulf.

Barbro Klein was Professor emerita of Ethnology, Stockholm University, and Director and deputy Principal
emerita at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS) in Uppsala. After having obtained her first
academic degree in ethnology and history of religion at Stockholm University in 1961, Barbro Klein moved
to the United States. In 1970 she received her Ph.D. in folklore and anthropology at Indiana University, a
pioneering institution in the field of folklore studies. During the following years, Barbro Klein was teaching
at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

In the beginning of the 1980s she moved back to her native Stockholm. In 1996 she became one of three
directors at SCAS. Henceforth the Collegium became her academic base although she continued to advise
Ph.D. students at Stockholm University. She maintained close contact with colleagues in the United States
and served on the board of the American Folklore Society and regularly attended its Annual Meetings. She
also made new contacts with colleagues in other parts of the world, including Mali where she served on the
board of Point Sud in Bamako.      

During her time in the United States, Barbro Klein was active in the scholarly environments in which new
forms of cultural research were elaborated, including conversation analysis as well as studies of narrativity
and performance. In these areas, in particular when it came to the study of narrativity and oral folklore
traditions, Barbro Klein became one of the pioneers in Sweden and Northern Europe. 

Her scholarly attitude was always one of encouragement but also of critical engagement. She had a strong
sense of the need to maintain high scholarly standards. Her doctoral dissertation analyzed Swedish American
immigrants and their descendants in a small community in Maine and ways in which memories and imagi-
nations of beliefs and customs in the old homeland were preserved and transformed in a new context. Not
surprisingly, Barbro was delighted to accept an invitation to hold the Pearson Distinguished Professorship
of Swedish Studies in 2012 at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas.

She spoke with equal enthusiasm about Estonian Swedish folklore, contemporary music in Mali or global
encounters among free-time cultivators with widely different cultural, linguistic and ethnic origins in the
allotment areas of Greater Stockholm, a theme she also addressed in a speech at Skansen on 6 June, the
Swedish National Day.       

She was active as an ethnologist and a folklorist, but also took part in debates about the role of museums.
Her research on story-telling and cultural heritage in complex multi-ethnic settings in Sweden and elsewhere
has been widely acclaimed. She has served on the editorial boards of several international journals in these
fields, including having been co-editor of the Journal of Northern Studies.

When Barbro was at the Collegium her warm laughter immediately announced her presence. She radiated
energy and joy of living. She made friends wherever she went. She had a crystal clear intellect and a curiosity
for people and social interplay that led her to write about a range of themes. Thus she wrote about celebrations
of the Persian New Year in the Stockholm region as well as about the role of women in the early Swedish
handicraft movement but also, in a book which she all but finished the manuscript for, about her own, story-
telling father, the poor boy from Småland who went to sea and whose life and memories reflect the trans-
formation of Sweden in the course of the twentieth century. There will, hopefully, be yet another book by
Barbro, namely a collection of her own essays in English.

SCAS News - 16 January, 2018: SCAS Permanent Fellow Barbro Klein Has Sadly Passed Away >>
Read more about Barbro Klein >>