OSS9101 – Still successful? Grand challenges and the Nordic welfare state model

Course content

There is a vivid scholarly debate about the significance of the changes to the Nordic welfare state and growth model over the past decades. Do the changes signify the end of the Nordic model as we know it? Or do they imply that Nordic model is able to adapt successfully to new challenges? (Greve and Kvist, 2011; Dølvik, Goul Andersen and Vartiainen, 2015; Kvist et al., 2011). How do we assess challenges and crises? How do we conceptualize reforms in the Nordic welfare states? Are the very foundations for democracy changing? It is important to accurately analyse the causal linkages between various crises/challenges with reform responses to assess why, how and to what extent features of the Nordic model have been reformed.

This course is located in the literature of comparative political economy, and assesses these important questions about the (altering) relationship between states, markets and families in the Nordic countries in the context of globalization and Europeanization. The Nordic model will be presented in a comparative perspective.

This course analyses the alterations to the Nordic welfare state model - based on universalism, equality, consensus-based decision-making and a high degree of social cohesion and trust - in the context of various challenges and crises. These questions are important in the wake of slow-moving endogenous challenges – such as aging populations - and exogenous ’crises’ – such as the financial crisis of 2008 and the migration crisis of 2015 - in the Nordic countries and elsewhere in the advanced economies. It is particularly important since the Nordic model - particularly well-known for being able to reconcile social cohesion and low levels of inequality with high productivity and growth rates - has been a source of inspiration in Europe and globally. The Nordic flexicurity model and policies for reconciling work and family life are now key components in the European Union’s social investment strategy, designed to be implemented across European countries in the context of permanent austerity.

This course analyses various policy areas - including family policy, migration policy and labour market policy – to elucidate and discuss changes in the Nordic welfare state model. The Nordic countries’s challenges and reform trajectories will also be elucidated with regards to bigger questions about democracy and global capitalism. During the course, we will pay special attention to theory and concepts, focusing on their operationalization.  We will also be introducing  various databases, including the EU-LFS (labour force survey), as well as EU-SILC (income and living conditions), and relevant OECD databases. The work with concepts/theories as well as data will be adapted, depending on the needs of the students. The course ends with an individual paper assignment (essay-type). Our ambition is to encourage you to include theories and concepts related to grand challenges and the Nordic welfare state model, and we hope that the essay can be integrated into your own work.

Learning outcome

After completing the course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the theories, methods and concepts pertaining to the field of the course
  •  Operationalize, apply and interpret concepts and theories using relevant data sources
  • Analyse how institutions shape outcomes across the Nordic countries (and in the Nordic Model)
  • Develop a relevant research question drawing upon the topics covered in the course
  • Show analytical proficiency in handling research questions and in supporting theory-driven arguments with relevant empirical evidence


The course combines lectures, class discussions based on the assigned readings, as well as case-based teaching. We will also work with student on their own topics, and help them to integrate insights from the literature in their own Phd theses. The students will also learn to navigate and use relevant databases in the welfare state area (e.g. OECD, Eurostat, Leave network) in view of substantiating their research. Finally, each student will individually present their own tentative research question, theory and data, in a seminar, in preparation for the paper that they are working on.

Facts about this course






Summer 2021

Teaching language