Context and Theory

The extensive welfare state is traditionally viewed as one of the most salient characteristics of the Nordics – of our societies and our values. How are these values reconfigured in times of forced movement?

The Welfare State

The extensive welfare state is traditionally viewed as one of the most salient characteristics of the Nordics – of our societies and our values. In a welfare state, solidarity is developed as a universal value, built into public welfare and social security systems (Esping-Andersen, 1990).

Previous research on Nordic values (Granlund, 1986; Løfgren, 1987; Gullestad, 1992; Seip, 1991; Christoffersen, 1999; Bexell, 1997) has outlined equality, solidarity, and justice as prominent common values in the Nordic countries. Additionally, historians and political scientists have addressed the common Protestant tradition in the Nordic countries as one important structural and ethical foundation for the welfare states in the region (Knudsen, 2000). A Lutheran tradition of vocation, meaning that all citizens share the ethical demand to care for the neighbour, became an implicit value of the welfare state as well (Christoffersen, 1999; Bexell, 1997). Across the ideological and political differences between the Nordic countries, the welfare system has also played a significant role in the reception and inclusion of migrants and refugees (Olwig, 2011).

Challenging the Welfare State

However, the new migration context challenges these traditions (Hagelund, 2012). Several anthropological and ethnological studies have uncovered how the political ideal of equality in the Scandinavian welfare states is linked to norms of cultural and social conformity (Vike/ Lidén/Lien, 2001;  Löfgren, 1987). Despite social differences and inequalities, people identify themselves and their fellow citizens as ‘the same kind of people’, and feeling superior to others is socially frowned upon. A welfare state built on uniformity and cultural homogeneity may, on the other hand also lead to other forms of exclusion, for instance of immigrants.

One common argument in the migration discourse has been that the protection of the present quality of the welfare state must lead to stricter migration policies. There seem to be an idea that precisely because of the welfare system is so generous the borders of the welfare state must be carefully protected (Carens, 2014).

Migration seems to touch the limits of both traditional hospitality and solidarity within the context of the welfare state. An increase of migrants are feared to reduce the legitimacy of the welfare state, due to the perceived unfairness of giving the same resources to non-nationals, as well as the belief that the welfare state is unable to uphold the level of contributions as more people may claim them.

Consequently, the Nordic welfare state has developed increasingly expansive mechanisms of border control and social exclusion, including deportation systems, policing, restricting and limiting welfare services to undocumented people and so on (Aas, 2015). The tendency to deport migrants sooner rather than later and to deport surprisingly high numbers is an important aspect of the present discourse.

Civil Society Practices

At the same time, Nordic civil society practices and projects that are resisting and challenging restrictive migration policies seem to be founded on alternative values of social inclusion that the current model of belonging and identity that is the nation/welfare state. NGS’s, churches, neighbourhood activities and other establish practices and projects to open spaces of others and to work for a policy of a different kind. The challenge, both theoretically and practically, is how to research and interpret these critical approaches and practices.

Assisting migrants is often analysed through the lens of humanitarianism. According to Didier Fassin’s study (2011), humanitarian reason governs precarious lives in situations of great suffering, inequality, and need. While critical scholarship has described these forms of help and compassion new modes of governance, deployed also by government agents, we know very little about civil society humanitarian initiatives, particularly in the Nordic context.

Theoretical Framework

Following the critical tradition from Foucault there is the fundamental insight that hospitality means nothing but a modern form of governance (Foucault, 1991). Even if there are other practices aiming at less restrictive patterns of inclusion than we see in the nation/welfare states, there is a well-articulated suspicion that also the alternative practices stay in the oppressive host/guest binary (Agamben, 2008). A more generous hospitality does not have to imply that orientalist traditions are left behind. However, the broad initiative coming out of Engin Isin’s research and concept of acts of citizenship (Isin, 2007) and Edward Soja’s focus on  “thirdspace” (Soja, 1996) have opened new waves of research in the theory and practice of  what a non-binary host/guest hospitality might look like. Recent research (Sander/Villadsen/Wyller, 2016) has opened discussions on whether there might be emerging practices that combine agency and hospitality. 

In this way the question of representation (Spivak, 1988; Chakrabrarty, 2007), originally developed in post-colonial studies, also seems to develop in the midst of the Nordic countries, in the context of a complicit colonial trajectory (Vuorela, 2016). There might be new migrant representations emerging (Ahmed, 2000) where agency and hospitality (often supposed to be contradictory) are part of the same trajectory. If there are Nordic practices performing values of this hybrid kind, one might see the emerging of values that so far is most seen in post-colonial contexts. To discuss this ethical shift, both from the perspective of philosophy, protestant theology and critical theory will be one of the important outcomes of the project. Traditional binaries like host/guest, victim/agent and secular/sacred might be challenged.

Local Interpretations of Hospitality?

Empirically one needs to ask; What makes hospitality take place as a lived everyday practice? What are the local interpretations of solidarity and hospitality? Conceptually one needs to focus whether there might be a hospitality that combine agency, subjectivity and generosity. Or whether hospitality has to once and for all be substituted with solidarity (Bauman, 2016). These are approaches that are currently internationally significant. But they are not often applied in the Nordic context of migration.

In the international discussion on hospitality, there are at least two dominant trajectories. One coming from Foucault, who suspected hospitality to be one more form of secularised discipline, and one deriving from the Derrida/Levinas discussion where the critical question whether a host could seriously equalise a guest is the key issue. The NORDHOST idea is, however, first of all connected to empirical and conceptual studies of Nordic practices directed toward migrants. The ambition to develop new theory coming from new practices directed toward migrants in the Nordic countries.

Published May 30, 2017 1:42 PM - Last modified Mar. 27, 2019 9:31 AM