Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2019

Revisiting welfare capitalism in the Nordics: from Middle Way models to Neoliberal Experimentation?

Professor Jenny Andersson, CNRS, MaxPo, Sciences Po, Paris

Professor Klaus Petersen, Danish Centre for Welfare Studies, University of Southern Denmark

Course dates: 29 July - 2 August 2019

Course credits: 8 ECTS

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In the post war era, the Nordics became known as particular socio economic models, built around redistributive welfare states, strong social democracies, and consensus oriented political cultures. The so called Middle Way inspired observers from the American Marquis de Childs to the French Jacques Servan Schreiber, and from the 1930s New Deal era to 1960s and 1970s debates on post industrialism. Surprisingly, despite important changes in the Nordic welfare states at least since the 1970s onwards, notions that they represent a specific model of capitalist development, marked first and foremost by the role of welfare statism, have remained. Not least in social science and the comparative welfare state literature, the Nordics are still predominantly seen as resilient models in a surrounding world of neoliberal market societies, although some scholarships challenges this. At the same time, Nordic scholars have since two decades highlighted the important changes in the ‘models’ following as a result of marketisation and privatization processes, and social scientists in the Nordics have also shown important and sometimes radical social changes in terms of inequalities and new patterns of economic, social, cultural and ethnic segregation. Political scientists have gone from arguing that far right parties were a marginal and passing, nostalgic, phenomenon of ‘welfare nationalism’ –  toward understanding populism in the Nordics as a much more dominant feature and also, as an historically entrenched phenomenon that perhaps has to be understood as coming from within the historic foundations of the ‘model’ itself.

Course Outline

Lecture 1: Diffusion and the spread of ideas: Nordic perspective

Klaus Petersen

This lecture will set the scene for the course addressing the historical background for the making of the Nordic model as well as growing interest in the diffusion of societal models within social sciences and literature (including such themes as the role of ideas, transnational history and diffusion).


  • Pauli Kettunen, ‘The Transnational construction of national challenges’: The ambiguous Nordic model of welfare and competiveness’, in Pauli Kettunen & Klaus Petersen (eds.), Beyond Welfare State Models. Transnational Historical Perspectives on Social Policy, London: Edward Elgars 2011, 16-40.
  • Stein Kuhnle, ‘International modelling in the making of the Nordic social security systems’, in Pauli Kettunen & Klaus Petersen (eds.), Beyond Welfare State Models. Transnational Historical Perspectives on Social Policy, London: Edward Elgars 2011, 65-80.
  • Christoph Conrad, ‘Social Policy after the transnational turn’, in Pauli Kettunen & Klaus Petersen (eds.), Beyond Welfare State Models. Transnational Historical Perspectives on Social Policy, London: Edward Elgars 2011, 218-240.

Lecture 2: Ideas of the Middle Way 1930-2000

Jenny Andersson

The lecture proposes to view the transnational circulation of ideas around the Nordic, and particularly Swedish model, in the period from the 1930s to the 1970s, as an in fact much larger debate about the future of Western capitalism and the possibilities of taming this capitalism and achieving social peace within the means acceptable to Western societies and liberal democracy. It will address ideas of the mixed, planned economy in the 1930s, notions of pluralism of class in the 1950s and 1960s, and ideas of post Fordism and post industrialism in the 1970s.  It will also discuss the return of ideas of the Model but in rebranded form, after the 1990s economic recession in the Scandinavian countries and in international political economy.  


  • Andreas Morkved Hellenes, “Fabricating Sweden. Studies of Swedish Public Diplomacy in France 1930-1990”, 2018, PhD diss., Historiskt Institutt Oslo, pp. 249-281.
  • Carl Marklund, “The Social Laboratory, the Middle Way and the Swedish Model: three frames for the image of Sweden”. Scandinavian Journal of History34(3), 2009, pp. 264- 285.
  • Jenny Andersson, "Nordic Nostalgia and Nordic Light: the Swedish model as Utopia 1930-2007". Scandinavian Journal of History, Vol. 34, No 3, 2009, pp. 229-245.

Lecture 3: The historical development of the Nordic model

Klaus Petersen

In this lecture we will take a closer look at the historical development of the Nordic model throughout the 20th Century. Arguably, discussions on the Nordic model (public and academic) explicitly or implicitly refer to some kind of ideal vision of the Nordic model. It is impossible to enter the debates on Nordic models and ‘nordicity’, without a basic understanding of its history. The goal of this lecture is to offer a historical understanding of the main characteristics of the ‘classical’ Nordic model as well as the historical dynamics that have shaped it. We will also discuss the importance of the historical experiences for our contemporary debates.


  • Urban Lundberg and Klas Åmark, “Social Rights and Social Security: The Swedish Welfare State, 1900-2000”, Scandinavian Journal of History, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2001, 157-176.
  • Niels Finn Christiansen and Klaus Petersen, ‘The Dynamics of Social Solidarity: The Danish Welfare State, 1900-2000, Scandinavian Journal of History, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2001, 177-196.
  • Mikko Kautto, ‘The Nordic Countries’, in The Oxford Handbook of the Welfare State, Oxford University Press 2010, 586-600.

Lecture 4: Public and private in the long 19th century (Jenny Andersson)

For a long time, the Nordic welfare states were regarded in historical science as an outcome of a long continuity of socialisation, a perspective on history that emphasized cumulative effects of nation state building and welfare statism over time, oftentime in conjuncture with ideas of social democracy as a higher form of social capitalism. Possibly an adverse effect of this construction of statist continuity in the historical literature was to deemphasize the importance of private actors in the history of Nordics welfare state as well as how forms of liberalism interacted with versions of social democracy over time. The lecture suggests to see the relationship between market and state, public and private as a changing constellation of power forces over time, rather than an established continuity.


  • Peter Baldwin, The Scandinavian origins of the social interpretation of the welfare state. Comparative Studies in Society and History31(1), 1989, pp. 3-24.
  • Orsi Husz and Nikolas Glover, forthcoming, Scandinavian Journal of History, "Between human capital and human worth: Correspondence education and popular valuations of knowledge in 20th century Sweden."
  • Paula Blomqvist, “The choice revolution: privatization of Swedish welfare services in the 1990s”. Social policy & administration38(2), 2004, pp. 139-155.
  • Per Selle, “Voluntary organisations and the welfare state: The case of Norway”. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations4(1), 1993, pp. 1-15.

Lecture 5: The Nordic model as trope in comparative social science 

Jenny Andersson

This lecture will discuss how the social sciences and particularly comparativist institutionalists in political science and sociology constructed the Nordic Model as a trope, which increasingly during the 1980s and 1990s became at odds with political, economic and social reality. It will argue that ideas of the Nordic model solved a series of consecutive problems in comparative social science to do with interpretations of welfare capitalism and the role of the welfare state in political economy. The first of these problems was to create viable typologies of welfare states, departing in TH Marshall’s understanding of social citizenship as a new set of rights in democratic society, and in Richard Titmuss’ ideas of fundamental difference between residual and redistributive forms of welfare. The second problem was the attempt to understand the function of the welfare state as a regulator and mediator of capitalism, leading in the 1960s and 1970s to a set of writings on ‘organised capitalism’ and state action as outcome of organized labour. The third was the attempt to reconcile the Nordic welfare state with globalization and market pressure, and led in the 1990s and 2000s to a set of writings on socalled retrenchment. This literature disregarded, the lecture will propose, fundamental tendencies in global capitalism around financialization.


  • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240240010_The_Nordic_Model_Does_It_Exist_Can_It_Survive
  • Jenny Andersson,  A Model of Welfare Capitalism? Perspectives on the Swedish Model, Then and Now. In The Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics,  Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 563-577.
  • Gösta Esping-Andersen and Walter Korpi, “From Poor Relief to Institutional Welfare States: The Development of Scandinavian Social Policy”. International Journal of sociology16(3-4), 1986 pp. 39-74.

In addition, a collection of select texts of social science will be provided.

Lecture 6: A regime change in the Nordic Model? 

Professor Haldor Byrkjeflot, University of Oslo

A transformation of the discursive and structural relationship between the spheres of civil society, state and market  seems to have been taking place in the Nordic countries. The established  division of labor has traditionally entailed a strong "voice" (i.e., advocacy and interest representation) role for civil society, and a strong welfare service provision role for the state sphere, but recently there seems to have been a weakening of the independent role of the civil society sphere and a strengthening of the market sphere. In the lecture I will outline the argument about Nordic exceptionalism related to the role of civil society in society and discuss how and whether this exceptionalism is challenged by reform activities and diffusion of ideas since the 1970s.


  • Selle P., Strømsnes K., Loga J. (2018) State and Civil Society: A Regime Change?. In: Enjolras B., Strømsnes K. (eds) Scandinavian Civil Society and Social Transformations. Nonprofit and Civil Society Studies (An International Multidisciplinary Series). Springer, Cham, 117-163
  • Byrkjeflot, H. “The Nordic Model of Democracy and Management” in Byrkjeflot et al. The Democratic Challenge to Capitalism. Management and Democracy in the Nordic Countries, Bergen: Fagbokforlaget/ Copenhagen Business School Press 2001
  • Alapuro, R. (2010). Introdution: Comparative approaches to Associations and Civil Society in Nordic Countries. In R. Alapuro & H. Stenius (Eds.), Nordic Associations in a European per- spective (pp. 11–28). Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft.
  • Stenius, H. (2010). Nordic Associational life in a European and an inter-nordic perspective. In R. Alapuro & H. Stenius (Eds.), Nordic Associations in a European perspective (pp. 29–86). Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft.

Lecture 7: Nordic cooperation and the Nordic arena for diffusion of ideas

Klaus Petersen

One of the most striking characteristic of policy-making in the Nordic region is the high intensity of cooperation. This lecture will discuss the character of Nordic cooperation in general and offer a case-study on how this cooperation within the field of social policy influenced the construction of the idea of a Nordic model of welfare. We will also discuss if Nordic cooperation (and identity) still plays an important role for the development of Nordic societies.


  • Johan Strang, ‘Introduction: The Nordic Model of transnational cooperation’, in Johan Strang (ed.), Nordic Cooperation. A European Model in transition’, Routledge 2016, 1-26.

  • Klaus Petersen, “Constructing Nordic Welfare? Nordic Social Political Cooperation 1919-1955”, in Niels Finn Christiansen, Nils Edling, Per Haave & Klaus Petersen (eds.), The Nordic Welfare State. A historical Re-appraissal. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press 2006, p. 67-98.
  • Pauli Kettunen, Urban Lundberg, Mirja Östberg and Klaus Petersen, ’The Nordic model and the rise and fall of Nordic cooperation’, in Johan Strang (ed.), Nordic Cooperation. A European Model in transition’, Routledge 2016, 69-92.
  • Torsten Borring Olesen and Johan Strang, ‘European Challenges to Nordic Institutional Cooperation: Past, Present and Future, in Johan Strang (ed.), Nordic Cooperation. A European Model in transition’, Routledge 2016, 27-48.
  • Christopher Browning, Branding Nordicity: Models, Identity and the Decline of Exceptionalism’, Cooperation and Conflict, Vol. 41, No. 1, 73-97.

Lecture 8: Marketisation, privatization, and global integration, 1970 to the present 

Jenny Andersson

In the period from the 1970s onwards, Nordic welfare states, to a varying extent, have been subjected to both exogenous and indigenous forms of pressure resulting from a complex mix of global market forces, privatization, and new patterns of social conflicts including individualization and middle classification. Strikingly, the synthetic history of these complex developments remains to a large extent to be written. The lecture seeks to lay out a comparative history of marketisation processes across the Nordic countries in a wide set of policy areas covering social insurance, housing, labour markets and education systems, and proposes that marketisation introduced a different set of social struggles into the heart of the welfare state than that of an institutionalised form of labour capital conflict. Can marketisation be understood as a second, and different historical compromise from the one of the 1930s? Which actors and social constellations have driven privatization processes? What have the consequences of marketisation been in terms of inequalities and segregation been?


  • Kathleen Thelen, Varieties of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity, Cambridge University Press,  2014, pp 1-70.
  • Luccio Baccaro and Chris Howell, Trajectories of Neoliberal Transformation: European Industrial Relations Since the 1970s. Cambridge University Press, 2017, Introduction
  • Peter A Swenson, “Varieties of capitalist interests: Power, institutions, and the regulatory welfare state in the United States and Sweden”. Studies in American Political Development18(1), 2004 pp 1-29.
  • Jonas Pontusson, “The triumph of pragmatism: Nationalisation and privatisation in Sweden”. West European Politics11(4), 1988 pp 129-140.
  • Stefan Svallfors and Anna Tyllström, “ Resilient privatization: the puzzling case of for-profit welfare providers in Sweden”. Socio-Economic Review, 2018 vol 16, 1, 685-706.

Lecture 9: Neoliberalism in the Nordics. Actors and concepts, conflicts and effects between conceptual and social history

Jenny Andersson

A missing term from the literature on the Nordic welfare models is the term neoliberalism. The lecture will revisit some of the many and often problematic definitions of neoliberalism, and propose that in fact the Nordic countries can in many ways be seen as experiment laboratories for neoliberal reform in the decades from the 1980s on. We will revisit arguments from conceptual history about the changing meanings of key terms to Nordic modernity such as democracy, society (samh’lle), work, consumerism, and protection (trygghet). We will also consider the term financialization and explore how financialization has intervened in the relationship between states and citizens on levels from the organization of public expenditure, to every day practices and popular culture.


  • Niklas Olsen, The Sovereign Consumer, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, pp. 185-226.
  • Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen and  Jyri Liukko, forthcoming, “Five problematizations that structure insurance imaginary and its relation to welfare policy”.
  • Cornel Ban, Ruling ideas. How global neoliberalism goes local. Oxford University Press, 2016, pp 1-32.
  • Lars Mjøset, “Nordic political economy after financial deregulation: Banking crises, economic experts, and the role of neoliberalism”. In The Nordic Varieties of Capitalism, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2011, pp. 365-420.
  • Jesper Roine, and Daniel Waldenström, Wealth concentration over the path of development: Sweden, 1873–2006. Scandinavian Journal of Economics111(1), 2009, pp. 151-187.

Lecture 10: The Decline of Social Democracy and the Rise of Populism – the Nordic model in a changing political landscape

The Nordic model has, in both research and everyday discussions, been closely attached to the dominance of the Social Democratic parties in the Nordic region. The Nordic model of welfare has commonly been labelled a social democratic model. However, over the last decades the Nordic political landscape have changed significantly. Social Democratic parties have undergone an ideological transformation (incorporating neoliberal ideas). Centre-right parties have claimed issue ownership to the welfare state, and spurred by debates on migration, right wing populist parties have grown more and more influential. How does these changes in the political landscape affect the classical Nordic welfare state?


  • Matt Golder,  “Far right parties in Europe”. Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 19, 2016, pp 477-497.
  • Jens Rydgren, “Radical Right-wing Parties in Europe: What has Populism have to With it?”, Journal of Language and Politics, 16(4), 2018, pp 485-496.
  • Anders Widfelt, The growth of Radical Right in the Nordic Countries: Observations from the last 20 Years. Stockholm: Migration Policy Institute, 2018.
  • Cas Mudde, “The Populist Zeitgeist”. Government and Opposition, 39(4), 2004, pp 541-563.

In addition, a collection of media articles and links will be provided to participants prior to the course.

The lecturers

Klaus Petersen

 Professor Klaus Petersen Foto: University of Southern Denmark

Professor Klaus Petersen, Department of History, University of Southern Denmark is the director of Centre for Welfare State Research (www.sdu.dk/welfare). His research has focused on the historical development of welfare state with special emphasis on Denmark and on the Nordic model. He has published widely on topics such family policy, old age pension, parties and the politics of the welfare state, Nordic social political cooperation, methods in welfare state studies, social policy language (and concepts) and on immigration and the welfare state. 

Jenny Andersson

Professor Jenny Andersson Foto: Jenny Andersson

Jenny Andersson is CNRS Research Professor and co-director of the Max Planck Sciences Po Center for Coping with Instability in Advanced Market Societies, MaxPo. She has conducted research on the transformation of European and particularly Swedish and British social democracy, on ideas of the knowledge economy, and, most recently on the history of futurology and futurism. She is currently developing work on Neoliberalism in the Nordics. Her most recent publication is forthcoming in the Journal of Global History: "No limits. Protecting the Future of the Western world, the OECD and the Interfutures project

Haldor Byrkjeflot

Professor Haldor Byrkjeflot Foto: privat

Haldor Byrkjeflot is Professor in Sociology at University of Oslo, academic director of one of the three major strategic priority areas at University of Oslo; UiO Nordic. Currently he is exploring issues relating to historical-comparative research, organization theory and the making and circulation of ideas across societies. His publications cover a broad specter of social scientific problems such as logics of employment systems, comparative healthcare reforms, public sector reforms as well as management systems and bureaucracy.

Objectives / outcomes

We aim with this course to revisit ideas of the Nordic models in the light of the far reaching social, economic, cultural and political changes in the Nordic countries since the 1970s on. We insert these changes into a wider history of the Nordic models, their historic origins but also role as models of political economy in processes of global capitalism and transnational circulation of ideas of the 20th century. We aim to introduce partly new perspectives to the teaching of the Nordic model – in particular the emerging literature on what a Nordic neoliberalism would be as well as discuss the Nordic model in the era of populism.

The course will be organized in a number of interlinked lectures. The lectures are more or less chronologically organized from the 1930s to the present. In order to link lectures with participants own research agendas and allow for constructive feed-back, the program will also include students presenting and discussing their own work.

Main disciplines: Sociology, History, Political Science,

Political Economy, Organizational Theory

Course Credits: 8 ECTS
Limitation: 25 participants

The developing of this course was initiated by the Nordic University Hub ReNEW (Financed by Nordforsk).

Tags: PhD, Summer School, Sociology, Political Science, Nordic welfare states, nordic model, History
Published Jan. 7, 2019 1:25 PM - Last modified Apr. 11, 2019 10:17 AM