Jonna Bornemark: Sweden’s Rock-Star Philosopher in Gothenburg


On Valentine’s Day evening of 2019, the auditorium at the City Library (Stadsbiblioteket) in Götaplatsen was packed with people. Young and old, scholars and students, pensioners and twentysomething, men and women and transgender, sat and stood to listen to Jonna Bornemark. Few attendees took notes of her lecture, too. The attendance echoed that there was a celebrity or a rock-star visiting Gothenburg, no, the guest speaker was a philosopher.

Jonna Bornemark is a philosopher, author (Det omätbaras renässans: En uppgörelse med pedanternas världsherravälde) & thinker.  asked her, how is it possible to draw such a packed audience, being a philosopher? She smiled, and answered: “Well, I think there is a quite simple answer to that that, I am right now addressing the issues that people feel on their naked skin, they feel this is about their everyday life and the society we do live in.” The philosopher identifies that the society that is graded, measured, classed, boxed in one or the other way and the people involved in that process (public managers, public sector workers, et al) are not acting wisely or creatively. Her theory is that the society is losing its emotional quotient; and the people involved in public management institutions such as educational or healthcare organizations are losing their intellectual capacity to exercise their creativity.

In an hour long address to the audience following by Q&A session, she spoke extempore and touched about aspects of society ranging from empathy to monotheism, subjectivity and objectivity, and on society (graded, classed, boxed, measured to numbers, charts, graphs, ratios: papers → documents → paperment) and individual. She also shared what to do to reclaim the space for application of practical knowledge and judgement (common sense to rational thought) and emotionality to the present context. The Limits of Ratio: An Analysis of New Public Management in Sweden using Nicholas of Cusa’s ‘Understanding of Reason’ is Jonna’s seminal essay on ‘What happens when we limit our understanding of reason to a calculating competence?’ Nicholas of Cusa was a German philosopher and a proponent of Renaissance Humanism and known for his thought on ‘learned ignorance’.

Jonna is an associate professor at Södertörn University. She emphasises that ‘not knowing something should not be avoided’ but should be confronted by using one’s creativity or stepping ‘out of the box’. In an interview to she talks about the way out for individuals and the society to challenge the existence system without disrupting them. Listen to the podcast:

Jonna Bornemark