Article 8: Two local branches of study associations in Stockholm city.

Two local branches  

There are ten independent study associations which arrange study circles, lectures and other activities in Sweden. All of them are of course present in Stockholm, the capital. This time we will have a look at what two of the biggest study associations (ABF and SFR) are offering the citizens of Stockholm during the spring term of 2012.

ABF (Workers’ Educational Association) is Sweden’s largest study association. It was established 1912 and this year, 2012, it is celebrating its one hundred years anniversary. The basic aim for ABF is to promote general knowledge and cultural exaltation for the working class and particularly to give the most to those who have been least fortunate. However, it also get participants from all levels of society.
The ABF has about 60 member organisations. Among these are the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party (earlier the Communist Party). There are also the main organisations affiliated or with close cooperation with the Social Democratic Party, such as the blue-collar labor unions and the Consumer Cooperative Association. There are also several other member organisations, such as immigrant organisations.

Culture and solidarity
This is some examples of how ABF presents itself on Internet:
• Understanding the conditions at your workplace is essential to be able to make changes. This is why ABF offers trade union studies.
• Culture inspires us and lets us think along new, creative lines, which helps us to interpret the surrounding world and ourselves in new ways. This is why ABF embraces culture.
• Solidarity knows no borders. This is why ABF focuses on international studies and information campaigns on conditions in other countries.
• Someone who does not feel well does not have the strength to make his voice heard. Good health should not be dependent on one’s social class. This is why ABF embraces health issues.
• Working for an accessible society, in which everybody can participate, is a matter of justice and democracy. This is why ABF embraces organisations for immigrants, the disabled and the elderly.

Workshop in democracy
The Study Circle is presented by ABF as ”a practical workshop in democracy”:
A study circle is a group of people who meet regularly and study together. Anyone can start one, and they can meet anywhere, at times that best suit the group. Study circles have been crucial to the fight for democracy in Sweden, and have contributed to making Swedish popular movements among the strongest in the world. But democracy is not hereditary. A democracy needs people who dare to re-analyse things and have the courage to question things that are wrong. This sort of courage and security can be developed in small groups using the educational methods that the ABF stands for.”

ABF in Stockholm
Like other study associations ABF has local bransches all over Sweden and also in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. In Stockholm county, including all suburbs of Stockholm, the population is more than two million and in that area there are eight local branches of ABF. In Stockholm city, the population is a little less than 900.000 and there is the largest local branch of ABF.
It has quite a big buildning in the centre of the city, where most of the study circles, other courses and lectures take place. It also has several smaller places in other parts of the city where ABF has study circles.
In the main building, on the top floor, ABF also has a folk high school, where people study at full time courses. However, most of the studies in the building are various kinds of study circles. Most of them are for people in general and take place during evenings. There are also a number of study circles for senior citizen, which take place during afternoons.
ABF in Stockholm is also a popular centre for lectures and most evenings a week there are at least half a dozen of lectures, besides all the study circles.

ABF course programme
As in other study associations the study circles in ABF are mainly of two kinds. Firstly, there are the special study circles arranged for the individual members i those non-governmental organisations with which ABF has a close cooperation. Information about those study circles are mainly given within the organisations.
Secondly, there are the ordinary study circles, which anyone can join. Information about those study circles are mainly given at Internet ( and in a course programme which is published twice a year. The course programme is distributed by mail to most households in Stockholm city.
The course programme for the spring 2012 is 28 pages thick and contains of a number of subject fields. However, the programme does not contain all kinds of subjects. ABF has to consider what study circles the other study associations in Stockholm use to arrange. For example, there are a lot of dog owners and many of them like to learn more about how to train their dogs etc. However, one of the other study associations (SFR) has a close cooperation with organisations for dog owners and arrange almost all such study circles. For that reason, ABF has choosen not to try to compete within that area.
As for all study circles in the course programme, not all of them will be arranged. If there are only a few interested in a particular study circle they will be asked to join another one or wait until there will be a few more interested. However, with a hundred years of experience, ABF knows quite well what the people in Stockholm are interested in.

Foreign languages
One of th largest fields are study circles in foreign languages. ABF offers for example almost fifty study circles in English, almost as many in Spanish, more than thirty in French, almost thirty in Italian, a dozen in Arabic, four in Greek and three in Chinese. There are also a few study circles in other foreign languages such as Finnish, Portuguese and Japanese.
Some of the study circles are for beginners, others are for those who already know at least a little of the language in question. For those who are not sure which level to choose, ABF offers a language test.
Most of these study circles meet once a week, during 10-12 weeks. Most of them take place in the main buildning for ABF Stockholm.
In addition, ABF also offer about thirty language study circles for senior people. One of those is called ”English for horrifyed”, for elder people who never before have dared to join  a study circle in English. Probably they have too bad memories from English lessons in school.

Swedish langauge
ABF also arranges study circles in Swedish for immigrants. In the course programme for the spring term 2012, there are a dozen such study circles at various levels.
There are also study circles in creative writing in Swedish and about how to speak before a big audience and about rhetoric.

Photos and movies
For a least fifty years or so study associations have arranged study circles about photography. Ten years ago and earlier they often had dark rooms, where the participants could develop and enlarge their photos.
However, that is history. Nowadays it is all about digital cameras and digital photos and video, about Photoshop and Final Cut Pro etc. In the course programme there is also a study circle about how to write a film script. Another study circle is about how to analyse movies from a feministic perspective.

Theatre, dance and art
In the ABF course programme there are about twenty study circles about theatre for adults and about ten för children. Even here there is a study circle called ”Theatre for horrifyed”, for those who would like to be able to stand on a stage but have been too frightened even to try.
There are also a few dance study circles, mainly oriental dances (from Middle East) and tango (from Argentina).
Then there are about 70 study circles in art: painting, drawing, ceramics, silversmith's work, wood handicraft, textile etc.

The singel largest subject field for the study associations is music. Most music study circles are arranged for rock music groups and similar groups. In order to have such groups the study associations need special buildnings with sound-absorbing walls, where the groups can rehearse without disturbing each other too much. Most of those buildings are situated at a distance from other buildings in order not to disturb their neighbours too much.
The demand for such facilities from rock music groups are so high so there are no need for study association to mention them in their course programmes. However, what they market in their programmes are study circles for those who want to learn to play particular musical instruments (guitar is the most popular) or want to learn to sing in a more professional way.  

Like other study associations ABF in Stockholm also have study circles about how to live a more healthy life, about how to make good food with ecologically cultivated vegetables etc.
ABF also has study circles about yoga and other methods, such as Chinese arts of Tai Chi and Xin Qigong. One study circle is about the creative brain and how to solve problems.
Because ABF Stockholm mainly is targeting city people, there are only a few study circles about gardening. One is about ”gardening on balconies”.

Just outside Stockholm city there is a large archipelago, with thousands of islands and skerries. On many of these islands there are a lot of summer houses, most of them owned by people in Stockholm. A lot of people in Stockholm also have motorboats or sailing boats.
In order to avoid all the rocks and shoals which hide beneath the surface, it is necessary to learn how to navigate. ABF arranges about half a dozen study circles about navigation this spring.

Computers for horrifyed
One of the priorities for the state grants to study associations is to bridge over the digital gap between those people, mostly elderly, who have not yet entered our digital world and all others. One reason is of course that public service in Sweden, like in many other countries, more and more require computers and computer skills. So, what do elder people do if they don’t have grandchildren nearby to learn from? They join a study circle, for example at ABF. Of course, one study circle at ABF is called ”Computers for horrifyed”.
There are also around a dozen study circles about computers and various applications for people who already have the basic knowledge.

Society and the world
Nowadays, studies about society are not at all as popular as for example studies in music or foreign languages. This spring ABF in Stockholm only offer a dozen study circles about society and the world, for example about:
• Climate change, and what to do about that global threat.
• The crisis of capitalism, with focus on what has happened during the last years.
• Economics for ordinary people who want to learn the basics of economic theory, global economic patterns etc.  
• The Arab world and what happened there during 2011, when popular uprisings forced the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt to resign.  
• Palestine and International law, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
• China, its history and culture, modern China etc.
ABF in Stockholm also offer a number of singel study circles in various subjects, for example in astronomy and in the history of Sweden. They also arrange study circles about Swedish authors, such as August Strindberg, who died 1912, the same year as ABF was established.
There will probably also be a number of other study circles during 2012. When something particular happens in society, the study associations can arrange for study circles. Then they announce about those in local newspapers and at Internet.

Self-governed organisations
In Sweden, with its nine million people, there are about 200 000 non-governmental organizations, self-governed and non-profit societies. Many of them are quite big, some with a couple of hundred thousand members. However, most of them are smaller, with a few hundreds or a few thousands of members – or a few dozens.
No matter how big they are, all societies have annual meetings, elected boards, some member fees to administer, expenses to account for, annual reports to write etc. If the members don´t know how to do it, they can join one of the study circles which ABF lists in its course programme.  
There are hundreds of study circles for organisations at ABF, but they are not visible in the public course programme. There are for example study circles about the history of non-governmental organisations in Sweden, about how to establish a non-profit organisation,  about communication skills and campaign work, about how to have efficient board meetings, about bookkeeping etc.
Many of the members organisations in ABF are labor unions and for their members ABF arrange study circles about specific labor union matters. ABF also arrange more intensive courses for board members and other officials in those unions.

Popular lectures
As mentioned, ABF has its main building right in the city centre of Stockholm, where it is easy for people to find. Most evenings ABF have several lectures, which normally last for two hours. Most of the times, the lecturer talks for about an hour, then there are questions and discussions for another hour.
Here is a small sample of the lectures which will take place from January to May 2012:
• Several lectures about the economic crisis in the world, particularly about the economic problems in Europa, about capitalism, social economy etc.
• Half a dozen lectures about Israel and Palestine, and about Middle East, including Egypt and other Arab states.
• Also about half a dozen lectures about China, about the intelletuals and how they think about the world, about conflicts in South China Sea, about Chinese economic influence in the world, etc.
• Several lectures about other countries: United States, Italy, Poland, Afghanistan, Iraq etc.
• A number of lectures about art.  
• A lecture about August Strindberg, the author, with the theme ”wise and mad”.
• Of course, this local branch of ABF also arranges a number of lectures about Stockholm and its history. Some of the lectures are given during walking tours. For example: the royal palace and other historic buildings, old houses and old gardens, the archipelago and what is happening there, Stockholm nature (there is quite a lot of nature in this city), the ”Water City” (a large part of the city is build on islands), about some authors, for example the poet Tomas Tranströmer, who was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature and who is born and live in Stockholm.
ABF also arrange some lectures in public libraries in the suburbs of Stockholm.

SFR, ”Study Promotion Association”, is the third largest study association in Sweden. It has its background in the Swedish countryside. The founding organisation was the ”Young Farmers Association”, established in 1918. Today, ”Study Promotion Association” has 19 member organisations – most of them in one way or another engaged in nature. Among these are the ”Swedish Society for Nature Conservation” and other environmental organisations, the ”Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management”,  the ”Swedish Outdoor Association”, the ”Swedish Touring Club”, a couple of organisations for dog owners etc.
There are also a few other member organisations, such as an umbrella organisation for music and culture associations.
The overall goal för SFR ”… is to give people the opportunity to increase their participation in society and to provide tools for self-development and life-long learning in order to maintain a high educational standard and to strengthen and protect a democratic society.”

SFR in Stockholm
Nowadays, SFR has its strongest base in the bigger cities. However, it still has the position as the main study association when it comes to nature studies.
SFR has five local branches in Stockholm county. SFR in Stockholm city is the biggest of all local branches. Since a few years it has a big building, a former brewery in the city, rebuild to hold both the office, a lot of study circle rooms and places for lectures. Some of the rooms are big, made for dance groups. SFR also have two other buildings for study groups in Stockholm city, a music house with sound-absorbing walls, and an old buildning for more advanced art education. Then there are a number of study circles rooms in some of the suburbs.

The staff at SFR in Stockholm
In the office of SFR in Stockholm city there are almost 30 people working, full time or part time. The office is made up of three main groups:
• One third, ten people, are working with study circles, lectures and other cultural activities. Each  one work with one area, for example nature or music. They organise new study circles, find study circle leaders, fix a place where the group can meet, decide how to market the new study circle etc.
• One third, also ten people, are working with other projects, courses and education which also is part of the activities. For example, there is, as mentioned, an advanced one year art aducation. SFR in Stockholm also sell some courses to companies or institutions, such as language courses for companies which are working abroad.
• Then the rest, nine people, are working with over all administration: an administrator, an economist, a marketing manager, a web master, one persom responsible for the IT-system, two caretakers, a reception clerk and, finally, the manager.
Besides the staff, hundreds of study circle leaders are engaged in SFR. Some of them are leaders for several study circles. For example, leaders for art study circles are artists themselves. It is not easy for painters and other artists to make a living on their art – unless his name is Picasso – so working maybe halftime as study circle leader might make it possible to go on painting.  
Most leaders have one or two study circles only, within their special field of interests. Most leaders, who have study circles in organisations, volunteer without any salary.
Then SFR also have a number of part time teachers in the art school and temporary teachers and leaders for various projects.

SFR course programme
Like ABF, also SFR has a course programme which is published twice a year, in Jaunary and in August. It also use internet to market its study circles and lectures (
The course programme for spring term 2012 consists of 32 pages and show those acrivities, mainly study circles, which are offered to the general public. As is the same for other study associations, those are only a small part of all study circles within SFR in Stockholm. Most study circles are organised within member organisationens and other societies and together with already established groups.
Because of its nature member organisations, SFR has more study circles about nature, hunting, dogs etc than other study associations. In the course programme there are around 30 study circles and excursions about nature. Bird-watching is popular and SFR give several study circles about birds.
Hunting is also popular in Sweden, which is a quite big country with a small population and large forests. To get a license for hunting, you need to pass a hunting exam, and a lot of people choose the study circle form.
SFR offers a dozen study circles about dogs, mainly for dog owners who are not members of one of the dog owners organisations. A lot of people have dogs and in study circles they learn about dogs, their behavour, deseases etc and they learn how to train their beloved four-legged friends.
SFR also offers a dozen study circles in gardening, among them one i bee-keeping. Outside Stockholm ciy, in the suburbs, there are many villas with gardens, where people use to grow flowers, vegetables, fruit trees etc. Some of them also have beehives.
Like ABF, SFR also have a few study circles about navigation for owners of motorboats or sailing boats.

Music, dance, theatre, musical
Since many years SFR has a strong position in music, dance and theatre – especially in music. Several Swedish music groups, which have become world famous, started as study circles in SFR. Besides all the study circles in the music house, SFR in Stockholm also offer almost a hundred study circles in singing and various musical instruments. Approximately half of them take place in the main central building.
There are also around 30 dance study circles in the course programme, several about tango and other popular Latin America dances. You can also learn to dances from Africa, India and Spain.
There are half a dozen study circles about theatre and also half a dozen study circles in connection to a performance of the opera ”Julius Caesar”.
And there is a special project. In cooperation with The Society for the Protection of Nature, SFR in Stockholm invites people to join a musical project. The purpose is to create a musical which can inspire people to work for an equal and sustainable world order. Under the leadership of professional artists, the participants are expected to create the musical from the beginning: discuss and decide upon an idea, write a manuscript, design the whole performance, rehearse, build the decor, theatrical properties etc. And finally act on the stage for an audience.

Other studies
In the course programme there are ten study circles in English, seven in Italian and French, six in Spanish, five in Japanese and two or three in Russian, German, Hebrew and Chinese.
There are also 15 study circles in Swedish language, mainly for foreigners staying in Sweden for a some months or longer. And there are a few study circles in creative writing.
There are a number of art study circles, manily painting and drawing. A new idea is to invite parents on maternity and paternity leave to bring their small children to a study circle during daytime and learn how to paint portraits of their beloved ones.  
SFR offer several study circles about physical and mental health: food, yoga, Taiji Quan, Qigong etc. One takes place outdoor and the purpose is to gain mental energy by experiencing nature with all the senses. Another study circle focus on learning about and practising laughing, based on scientific findings that people who often laugh have better health.
In the course programme you can also find a dozen study circles about photography, among them two about nature photographing.
There are all kinds of computer study circles, from beginners level to advanced abou design and web-layout etc. And of course, you can also learn to use your iPhone.
There are also quite many study circles and other activities for children and teenagers: exciting excursions to caves, canoe trips, painting, digital photo, streetdance, creative writing etc.
One subject field which is absent in the course programme from SFR are study circles about society and the world. They arrange a few such lectures, but there are no study circles at all about climate change, Middle east or world economy. SFR in Stockholm arrenge study circles in Chinese, but no one about China.

SFR in Stockholm has a big buildning for study circles, for performances and for lectures. Like ABF, they want to become known for their lectures. However, SFR has had the building only for a few years. It is situated in the city centre, but not as central as the buildning owned by ABF.
Consequently, it is not very well known and while ABF has several lectures most evenings, SFR only has a few lectures every week. During the spring term 2012 there are lectures about the ship Vasa, which sank 1632 and now is the most famous museum in Stockholm, about the language and intelligence of dogs, about theatre masks etc.

City – countryside
There are another eight study associations in Sweden and all of them arrange study circles and lectures in Stockholm and other cities. However, in small towns and villages there are nowadays not many. While all the study associations together offer thousands of study circles in Stockholm, they might arrange a few dozens in a medium sized town. In one small town up in the north of Sweden there are today only one study association present with about ten study circles.
The reason is the economy. The study associations are competing with each other and believe they can not afford to have a lot of local branches – which they had thirty years ago.

© Tore Persson