The aim of this study is to explain why human geography in Sweden became a planning science during the postwar period. Human geography had developed a sophisticated use of abstract models. The proliferation of models within in the social sciences was an international phenomenon during the postwar period. Actors within human geography in Sweden embraced this trend and strived towards making the constructions of models the methodological core of the discipline. Human geography, as an independent discipline, was being defined during this period. Simultaneously, human geography’s position within Swedish society was also being defined. This led a group of geographers, who were very much in favor of human geography as a science of models, to align themselves with the needs of the expanding welfare state.
The group of actors, who reformed their discipline by making a specific form of geographical expertise essential to the welfare state, are referred to as geographers of planning. The most important actors within this group was, the not yet world famous, Torsten Hägerstrand and his colleague Sven Godlund. During the crucial years of the mid-1950s to the early-1960s, Hägerstrand held a position at Lund University while Godlund was engaged in a number of public investigations. Godlund regularly hired Hägerstran’s students and those same students used their experiences working for the public investigations to write their term papers. Through Godlund’s and Hägerstrand’s relationship a generations of human geographers was trained in planning practices and human geography was defined, within the public administration, by the works of Godlund and Hägerstrand.
The most widely disseminated models were constructed from the German geographer Walter Christaller’s central place theory. By translating the general arguments of the theory into codified models, the theory was turned into a tool for planners. Thus the theoretical skills of human geographers where embedded in the practices of practical planning. This process turned the difference between research and planning into a difference of degree, rather than a difference of practice. During the municipal reforms of the 1960s the Swedish municipalities were remade to closer resemble the ideal of the central place theory. Through that reform the relationship between human geography and social planning was consolidated, making human geographers experts of planning. A labor market was created for geographers but it also placed an onus on the geographical institutions to supply the labor force for that market.