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How did flying go from luxury aspiration to contested norm in Sweden?

view from an airplane. photo.
While flying is still widely presented as a social norm, the problematization of flying makes visible that other more climate-friendly ways of traveling and vacationing are both possible and desirable. Photo: Unsplash/Ross Parmly

The “Staying on the ground” movement initiated in Sweden has gained rising influence internationally, indicating the start of an important shift in not just attitudes but also culture regarding travel behaviors and visions of living well under climate change.

A recently published paper by LUCSUS PhD  candidate Sara Ullström, LUCSUS researcher Kimberly Nicholas and political scientist Johannes Stripple, has analyzed the rising public resistance to aviation in Sweden, where a social movement to reduce flying because of climate change highlights the importance of taking moral responsibility for high-carbon practices.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, focuses on holiday travel and analyzes changing representations of flying in Swedish media since the 1950s (Figure 1). For example, flying was seen as an important part of the holiday experience in the 1950s; by the 1990s, it was merely a mode of transportation. Now low-carbon ways of traveling and living are gaining rising attention.

Travel advertisement. Illustration.
Figure 1: Swedish media representations of holiday flying have evolved from an aspirational luxury (SAS, 1950s) to seeing hypermobility as a middle-class necessity to escape workday pressures and use time freely (TUI Sverige, 2019). Source: adapted from Ullström et al. (2021). Journal of Sustainable Tourism  

Since 2016 in Sweden, and a few years thereafter internationally, we show that the public debate has shifted to problematize flying, with celebrities, journalists, campaigners, and citizens highlighting the importance of living according to values aligned with a stable climate and taking moral responsibility for the planet and future generations (Figure 2).

research figure. illustration
Figure 2: The public debate has shifted to problematize flying and valorize alternative ways of travel because of the urgency of taking moral responsibility for high-carbon practices. Source: Ullström et al. (2021). Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

The role of aviation in Swedish society is currently being actively contested. While flying is still widely presented as a social norm, the problematization of flying makes visible that other more climate-friendly ways of traveling and vacationing are both possible and desirable, for instance by highlighting the possibility of having similar holiday experiences without the use of airplanes. This case illustrates how shifts away from high-carbon luxuries might increasingly impact media narratives and social norms and expectations in a warming world.   

Read the article 


Ullström, S., Stripple, J. & Nicholas, K.A. 2021. From Aspirational luxury to Hypermobility to Staying on the ground: Changing discourses of holiday air travel in Sweden. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2021.1998079

About the researcher Sara Ullström

Sara Ullström. Foto: Ann Åkermark.

Sara Ullström is a doctoral student at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS). She holds a bachelor degree in political science and a master’s degree in applied climate change strategies, both from Lund University. Her research focuses on the role of narratives and individual lifestyle changes in sustainability transitions.

Read more about Sara Ullström's research.

About the researcher Kimberly Nicholas

Kimberly Nicholas. Photo.

Kimberly Nicholas is a Senior Lecturer in Sustainability Science at Lund University in Sweden. She studies how to manage natural resources to both support a good life today, and leave a living planet for future generations.

Read more about Kimberly Nicholas