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Globalizing the savage: From stadial theory to a theory of luxury in late-18th-century Swedish discussions of Africa

by Hanna Hodacs & Mathias Persson

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This article examines the effects of globalization on changing notions of the ‘savage.’ We compare discussions taking place in different contexts in the late 18th century concerning two Swedish scholars and travellers to Africa: Anders Sparrman (1748–1820), a naturalist and Linnaean disciple, and Carl Bernhard Wadström (1746–99), an engineer and economist. Both moved in Swedish Swedenborgian circles, and both became involved in the British abolitionist movement. Nevertheless, their images of African ‘Others’ diverged in crucial respects, reflecting differences in their ideological outlooks, institutional affiliations, and understandings of how the world was changing. More specifically, we argue that the perception of global change brought about by a new economic framework of production and consumption provides a key for reading and comparing Wadström’s and Sparrman’s texts. Comparing their divergent uses of ‘savagery,’ the article also highlights the versatility of the savage as a tool for presenting distant parts of the world to a domestic audience.

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