OSS9101 – Nordic civil society – a model for the world?

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‘Nordic civil society – a model for the world?’ studies the role of civil society associations in Norden and beyond, and their roles in relation to the Nordic model of society. Focusing on voluntary associations’ roles between the state, the market and the private sphere, we wish to explore new perspectives on ideas and practices which often are understood as particularly Nordic.

The high membership rates in voluntary associations makes the Nordic countries ideal cases for investigating links between civil society and democratic governance. In the Nordic countries, the nexus between state and civil societies has had consequences for the Nordic model of society, for co-operation within the Nordic region, and for Nordic global engagement. The course studies these dynamics and consequences, asking how civil societies’ global, transnational and regional interactions may have shaped ideas about Norden.

The course is organised in a format comprising lectures and seminars. The lectures will focus on the course curriculum, while the seminars will be in-depth discussions of literature and the PhD candidates’ own essays.

Learning outcome

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Formulate PhD-level research questions about civil societies in the Nordic countries and beyond and discuss the potential roles and functions of civil societies.
  • Critically engage with discussions on the potential of comparative methods in the humanities and social sciences.
  • Discuss and critically engage with the concept of the Nordic model, and its uses in academic literature.
  • Develop original ideas about the possibilities and limits of the concepts of civil society and the Nordic model, and identifying original ways of engaging with these.
  • Improve their writing skills, through seminar discussions and feedback.


Lecture 1 Comparison in history and sociology: gains and challenges 

For historians and sociologists, comparisons offer great analytical potential. They promise to shed new light on familiar phenomena, help identifying particularities that make a difference, and force the researcher to engage with different bodies of scholarship. However, comparisons have also been criticised for dividing an interconnected world into seemingly isolated ‘cases’, homogenising them internally and measuring them against one seemingly universal standard. This session discusses the analytical gains and heuristic challenges of comparisons. It takes as its starting point the methodological discussion among historians and draws conclusions for the work of social scientists.

Lecturer: Klaus Nathaus, Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, UiO.

Main references:

Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, ‘Comparative History’, in: James D. Wright (ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 4 (London: Elsevier, 20152), 405-410.

Per Selle, Dag Wollebæk, ‘Why Social Democracy is not a Civil Society Regime in Norway’, in: Journal of Political Ideologies 15, 3 (2010), 289-301.

Michael Werner, Bénédicte Zimmermann, ‘Beyond Comparison: Histoire Croisée and the Challenge of Reflexivity’, History and Theory 45 (2006), 30-50.

Tobias Werron, ‘On Public Forms of Competition’, Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies 14, 1 (2014), 62-76.


Lecture 2  Private purpose, public benefit? The role of voluntary associations in society

Voluntary associations have a great reputation. They are commonly regarded as ‘schools of democracy’ and agencies for social integration. They are expected to compensate market failure and assist the state in the provision of welfare. They voice legitimate concerns vis-à-vis governments, serving society as a kind of immune system or safety valve. This session looks closer at organisations between state, market, and the private sphere – in a historical perspective and with examples from Norden and beyond – to understand how they work and what role in society they play.

Lecturer: Klaus Nathaus, Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, UiO.


Main references: 

Huricihan Islamoglu, ‘Civil Society, Concept and History of’, in: James D. Wright (ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 3 (London: Elsevier, 20152), 707-712. (5 pp)

Klaus Nathaus, ‘Leisure Clubs and the Decline of the Weimar Republic’, in: Journal of Contemporary History 45, 1 (2010), 27-50. (23 pp)

Henrik Stenius, ‘Nordic Associational Life in a European and Inter-Nordic Perspective’, in: Risto Alapuro, Henrik Stenius (eds), Nordic Associations in a European Perspective (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2010), 29-86. (57 pp)

Lars Trägårdh, ‘The “Civil Society” Debate in Sweden: The Welfare State Challenged’, in: Idem (ed.), State and Civil Society in Northern Europe: The Swedish Model Reconsidered (New York: Berghahn, 2007), 9-36. (27 pp)

Max Weber, ‘The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism’, in: Hans H. Gerth, C. Wright Mills (eds), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), 302-322. (20 pp)


Lecture 3 Comparative contrasting or tracing of international transfers? Evidence from studies of the international integration of the Nordic countries. 

This lecture reviews research on the Nordic countries as five development trajectories, with special reference to a set of sociology and political science studies in the 1960s/1970s (by the “pioneers” Rokkan, Korpi, Senghaas). It poses the question of whether one can find a “Nordic model”, understood as a sufficient number of common features across the most important institutional fields through a specified historical period. The 1960s/70s research was conducted before the “Nordic model” was launched as a boundary term in the political public sphere in the 1980s/90s. The lecture discusses what this circulation of a boundary term from politics into social science did to research on the Nordic model. It is argued that it led to the dominance of a group of new wave researchers, who took it for granted that there was enough common traits to assume – without further investigation – that a Nordic model existed. More disciplines than just sociology and political science published such research. The lecture will also discuss the impact of this disciplinary differentiation on research into Nordic state/society-relations. The relationship between comparison and analysis of transfers will be discussed with reference to two specific cases. First, Rokkan’s analysis of the effects of the 16th century Lutheran reformation state formation and nation-building in Northern compared to Southern Europe. Second, the specific case of the Icelandic financial crash in 2008. In the latter case, a crucial distinction will be made between diffusion of political philosophical ideas through think-tank networks and the influence of deregulated financial flows on the international integration of small Nordic economies.

Lecturer: Lars Mjøset, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, UiO.

Main references:

Mjøset, Lars 2021a. ‘Social science, humanities and “the Nordic model”’, forthcoming in H. Byrkjeflot, K. Petersen, L. Mjøset and M. Mordhorst (editors), The Making and Circulation of Nordic Models. London: Routledge 2021, (ca. 30 pp.)

Mjøset, Lars 2021b. A Hayekian Public Intellectual in Iceland, forthcoming in Dieter Plehwe & Quinn Slobian (editors), Market Prophets from the Margins, New York: Zone Books, 2021, (ca. 25 pp.)

Rokkan, Stein, 1981. “The Growth and Structuring of Mass Politics”. In Erik Allardt et al, eds., Nordic Democracy. Copenhagen: Det Danske Selskab, 53-79. [Norwegian in Rokkan, Stat, nasjon, klasse, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget Ch 9.] (26 pp)

Moene, K. O. (2008), ‘Introduction’, in D. Austen-Smith, et al. (eds.), Selected Works of Michael Wallerstein (Cambridge: CUP), 369-377 (8 pp)

Jansson, T. (1988), ‘The age of associations’, Scandinavian Journal of History, 13(4), 321-343 (22 pp)

Stråth, B. (2012), ‘Nordic Modernity’, in J. P. Árnason and B. Wittrock (eds.), Nordic Paths to Modernity (New York/Oxford: Berghahn 2012), 25-48. (23 pp)


Session 4 

This afternoon session will discuss the positions surveyed in three first lectures. Both Nathaus and Mjøset will take part in the discussion. Questions that maybe discussed: Does comparison necessarily imply isolation of cases? Will the importance of national path dependence and transnational influence vary depending on what fields we study and what kind of research questions we ask? Is the criticism of “methodological nationalism” as relevant with reference to history as to the social sciences? Is it the case that recent criticism of comparison goes together with the choice of a style of reasoning that originally developed in the aesthetic humanities and was transferred into social science via anthropology and cultural studies? We will also discuss other questions that have come up during the first three lectures.


Lecture 5 The Nordic model: Bringing associations back in

I am interested in the role played by civil society and associations in Nordic history as well as  in the more recent conceptualization of a joint “Nordic model”.  Historically people’s movements and the cooperative movements were important in narratives of nation-building, but more recently and in the context of thought constructs related to a “Nordic model” there has been much less emphasis on these intermediate levels and infrastructures of associational governance. The Nordics are now regarded as outwardly oriented “competition states” with particular organizational repertoires (flexicurity, tripartite cooperation, welfare innovation). In order to explain how the Nordic models developed  two main narratives have been  employed, a socio-economic and a cultural-historical. Neither of these narratives are sufficient in order to explain the surprising endurance of the Nordic model construct or its potential demise. If the Nordics have become  models for the world it may be just as much due to the particular skills and resources developed in the strong influence of associations and associating in many spheres of these societies. In the lecture I will discuss how  to bring associations and organizing back into the history of the Nordic model.   

Lecturer: Haldor Byrkjeflot, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, UiO.

Main references:

Byrkjeflot, H. 2001 The Nordic Model of Democracy and Management.  Byrkjeflot, H. et.al. Ed., in The Democratic challenge to capitalism : management and democracy in the Nordic countries, cop. 2001. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget. 136 (19-50) 31s

Jepperson, R.L. (2002). ‘Political Modernities: Disentangling Two Underlying Dimensions of Institutional Differentiation’. Sociological Theory, 20(1), 61–85. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9558.00151  (14 p)

Kettunen, P. (1999). ‘A return to the figure of the free Nordic peasant.’ Kettunen, Pauli, Acta sociologica, 42, 1999, 259-269 (10p)

Enjolras, B., & Strømsnes, K (2018) ‘The transformation of the Scandinavian voluntary sector’ Enjolras, B., & Strømsnes, K, (eds) Scandinavian Civil Society and Social Transformations: The Case of Norway. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 1- 24 (24p)

Tranvik, T., & Selle, P. (2007). ‘The rise and fall of popular mass movements: organizational change and globalization—the Norwegian Case.’ Acta Sociologica, 50(1), 57-70.  (23p)

Trägårdh, L. and Rothstein, B. (2007) ‘Civil Society in a historical perspective: The Swedish case’, in Trägårdh, Lars ed. State and civil society in Northern Europe: The Swedish model reconsidered. Berghahn books, .229-253 (23p)


Session 5B 

This afternoon session will focus on the PhD candidates’ work, and participants will present their thesis projects. We will discuss their projects, and contribute with comments and ideas, based on course readings when relevant.

Lecturer: Haldor Byrkjeflot and Sunniva Engh

Lecture 6 The Nordic model, historical background and recent perspectives.

In the interwar period, Sweden and the Swedish model of society received some attention in literature on political and social development, and in the post-war period, the idea of Scandinavian societies as ‘middle ways,’ ‘bridge-builders’ or as alternatives to the Cold War extremes of liberal capitalism and communism, re-emerged at irregular intervals. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, the concepts of a ‘Swedish model’ and a ‘Nordic model’ experienced something of a renaissance, and were increasingly used in political and academic analyses. In addition, the concept ‘the Nordic model’ is often used in relation to official branding efforts of the Nordic countries. This lecture discusses how historians have studied the Nordic model of society, with emphasis on Norway and Sweden as examples. We will look at main approaches and interpretations, and discuss recent perspectives and alternative interpretations.

Lecturer: Sunniva Engh, Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, UiO.


Main references:

Jenny Andersson (2009) ‘Nordic Nostalgia and Nordic Light: the Swedish model as Utopia 1930-2007’, Scandinavian Journal of History 34:3, pp. 229-245. (16 p.)

Jenny Andersson and Mary Hilson (2009) ‘Images of Sweden and the Nordic Countries,’ Scandinavian Journal of History, 34:3, pp. 219-228. (9 p.)

Mary Hilson (2008) The Nordic model: Scandinavia since 1945 Reaktion Books, London, Chapter 3: ‘The Nordic Model of Welfare’, pp. 87-115. (28 p.)

Marklund, C. (2009). ‘The Social Laboratory, the Middle Way, and the Swedish Model: Three Frames for the Image of Sweden.’ Scandinavian Journal of History34:3, pp. 264-285. (21 p.)

Pedersen, A. W. and Kuhnle, S. (2017), ‘The Nordic Welfare State Model’ in Knutsen, O., The Nordic models in political science: challenged, but still viable?, pp. 219-239 (20 p.)

Heiret, J. (2012) ‘Three Norwegian Varieties of a Nordic Model — A Historical Perspective on Working Life Relations’, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 2(4), pp. 45-66. (20 p.)

Urban Lundberg and Mattias Tydén (2010) ‘In Search of the Swedish Model’ in Mattson et. al. Swedish Modernism: Architecture, Consumption and the Welfare State, Black Dog Publishing, London, pp.


Session 6B 

This afternoon session will focus on the PhD candidates’ work, and participants will present their thesis projects. We will discuss their projects, and contribute with comments and ideas, based on course readings when relevant.

Lecturer: Melina Buns and Sunniva Engh


Lecture 7 Nordic-Global South relations: Corporatist state-society relations in international engagement

The Nordic countries have long profiled themselves internationally as supporters of internationalist ideas and human rights, not the least on the United Nations arena. Over the post-war decades, they have been highly active bilaterally as well as a group in support of development cooperation in general and poverty reduction, family planning, decolonization, disarmament, environmental protection, gender equality and social sustainability in particular. Today, there is a growing scholarship on Nordic global history, highlighting the role of the Nordics during colonialism on the one hand and the significance of Nordic activities in the context of decolonization and the cultural, commercial and diplomatic global Cold War on the other. This lecture will first overview the main tenets in contemporary research on the evolution of “Scandinavian internationalism," addressing diverse drivers and alternative explanations for Nordic engagement with the Global South under decolonization, especially the idealist-realist divide. Second, it will investigate specificities in Nordic-Global south relations, revisit the main characteristics of the so-called “Nordic aid model” in the context of global Cold War competition for influence and recognition in the Global South and discuss the role of corporatist state and civil society relations as a critical element of Nordic-Global South exchanges.

Lecturer: Carl Marklund, Institute of Contemporary History, Södertörn University.

Main references: 

Thorsten Borring Olesen, Helge Pharo and Kristian Paaskesen (eds), ‘Conclusion: Aid Norms, Foreign Policy and the Domestic Context’, in Thorsten Borring Olesen, Helge Pharo and Kristian Paaskesen (eds), Saints and Sinners. Official Development aid and its Dynamics in a Historical and Comparative Perspective (Oslo: Oslo Academic Press), 329-365. (36 pp.)

Sunniva Engh, “The ‘Nordic Model’ in international development aid: Explanation, experience and export”, in Haldor Byrkjeflot, Mads Mordhorst, Lars Mjøset and Klaus Petersen (eds), Making and Circulation of Nordic Models (Abingdon: Routledge, 2021). (27 pp.)

Nikolas Glover, “The ’aidification’ of national experiences: Swedish-supported correspondence education in Tanzania, 1960–1975”, Nordic Journal of Education History, 6, 1 (2019), 25–47. (22 pp.)

Norbert Götz, Deliberative diplomacy: The Nordic approach to global governance and societal representation at the United Nations (Dordrecht: Republic of Letters, 2011). (Excerpts.)

Jaakko Turunen, Noomi Weinryb, “Organizing service delivery on social media platforms? Loosely organized networks, co-optation, and the welfare state”, Public Management Review, 22, 6 (2020), 857-876. (19 pp.)


Session 7B

This afternoon session will focus on the PhD candidates’ work, and participants will present their thesis projects. We will discuss their projects, and contribute with comments and ideas, based on course readings when relevant.

Lecturer: Carl Marklund and Sunniva Engh


Facts about this course






Summer 2021

5 July - 9 July 2021

Teaching language


Course fee

4000 NOK