Tag Archives: Nordic countries

Johanna Hiitola, Kati Turtiainen, Sabine Gruber, Marja Tiilikainen (eds.), Family Life in Transition: Borders, Transnational Mobility, and Welfare Society in Nordic Countries (London: Routledge, 2020)

The sociology of family represents a growing branch of contemporary sociological knowledge. Investigating the realities pertaining to family life in relation to aspects of transnational mobility, welfare, gender and race, this collective volume succeeds to offer a realistic image of the situation in Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Family life faces new opportunities and obstacles within transitional settings, in terms of citizenship status and welfare.

The editors of the volume are sociologists with various competences and perspectives of investigation, with the experience of various collaborative projects that constituted the preliminary stage of the book: Social Empowerment in Rural Areas (Interreg Baltic Sea Region, 2016–2019 at Chydenius) and Family Separation, Migration Status and Everyday Security: Experiences and Strategies of Vulnerable Migrants (Academy of Finland, 2018–2021 at the Migration Institute of Finland). In the Introduction the editors approach the transformation of the welfare state generated mainly by the world economic crisis of 2008 and the increase in asylum applications in the Nordic countries since 2015.

The guiding keyword of the analysis is „border” a location of transition and negotiation, bringing people together and separating people, potentially and actually, generating either marginalisation or belonging. Border appears as a reality testing the practices of societies, the legislation and policies alike. The phenomena of deterritorialization of European internal and external borders reveal in relation to the hierarchies of migrants transposed into the chances of access to social welfare, advantageous legal status and work, which in turn has a specific impact on family life. The editors of the volume emphasize an important and intriguing fact: „Thus, borders can also be seen as institutions that produce social relations and hierarchies, far from the actual geographical borders” (p. 2). As well, in the Introduction, in the second chapter, Valtteri Vähä-Savo  evaluates the problem of „Decoupling spheres of belonging in the Nordic welfare states” (p. 10) emphasizing the importance of the confluence among nation, citizenship, and population; three crucial spheres of belonging which were at the same time the legitimation base of Nordic welfare states, precisely, via their successful confluence. When decoupled, these spheres of influence start to present deficient functioning and the welfare state become far less efficient.

On the one hand, there is social and economic legitimation of the practices sustaining the welfare state, and there is on the other hand a moral type of legitimation sanctioning the social practices the functioning and the efficiency of the welfare state. When investigating the moral legitimation, there is a degree of change that might be estimated empirically. The specialists assessed empirically the change following the aspects related to the bordering practices of welfare services emphasizing the extent to which they construct in everyday environments a series of (newer) norms of parenthood, family, and citizenship. Authors Beret Bråten, Kristina Gustafsson, and Silje Sønsterudbråten, in „Guiding migrant parents in Nordic welfare states – cases from Norway and Sweden”, investigate the empirical data gathered from three parenting programmes in Norway and Sweden for migrant parents. The research questions were why are migrant families targeted, what kind of transitions do the programmes promote, and how are transitions expected to be achieved? The investigators also approach the exercising of governing authority through these programmes, informing and influencing other people’s views of reality, especially their aspirations and motivations, in order to influence their practices, inducing good parental practices. The socialisation of parents via such programmes faces strong and unexamined views about cultural differences (in my opinion, on both sides). The implicit in the operation of such programmes is that migrant parents are not perceived by the states as equal peers to the national parents. However, since the participation in the parenting programmes is voluntary, the governing intervention is legitimate by the mutual interest to avoid the formation of parallel communities and ghettos. This motivation sustains the implementation of other programmes, which are compulsory and more debatable.

In the part two of the volume, investigating the quality of life and the welfare services for the Sámi community outside the Finnish territories called Sámi homeland, Tuuli Miettunen discusses a research based on a community-based, dialogical method, involving the Sámi concept of gulahallan (communicating for mutual understanding). The networks Sámi families pass on their culture and language to their children outside their traditional Sámi homeland via specific networks formed to sustain the vitality of their indigenous culture, in Finland. The chapter signed by Sabine Gruber approaches foster families and the placement of children in foster care, with a special attention to the manner in which Swedish values for family life and parenthood and their associated practices are constructed, along with their influence on the procedures for getting assigned as a foster home. The research conducted by Marit Aure and Darius Daukšas brings to the fore the experiences of fear and insecurity faced by the Lithuanian parents living in Norway and having to interact with the Norwegian Child Protective Services (NCWS). This is an experience developed upon the “us” versus “them” thinking, with the consequence of empowering the otherwise invisible borders between the Norwegian services and the Lithuanian migrants. The core of the investigation regards the „out-of-home placements” by the NCWS, contrasting with the official idealistic stand that a social democratic welfare regime (the Norwegian one in this case) “provides extensive and wide-ranging family support” and „enjoys a high level of trust” and in consequence „people do not see as repressive”. This is rather wishful thinking and in fact, many people, even Norwegians oppose and feel anxiety and suspicion in front of the government practice characterized by a high threshold for intervention legitimated by the prevention of harm. For the Lithuanian parents these practices recall the Soviet practices they resent. Also, on the top of marginalisation they feel object to “epistemic injustice” (Haga, 2019, quoted by the authors) from the NCWS. Thus the relationship to the Norwegian state is at best one described by mistrust, which is neither beneficial to society at large nor to the children in question.

The second part of the volume includes also a study entitled „Representations of mothering of migrant Finns”, by Minna Zechner and Tiina Tiilikka, a topic approached within the framework of the contrast between a (rather ideal) representation of the (Nordic) welfare state as a normative project of shared moral conceptions, values, and social goals and a reality in which the welfare practices are lacking for the most part precisely these shared conceptions, values and goals. Everyday practices are conveyed in a great variety of materials. The study selects for investigation blog texts authored by Finnish migrant mothers living outside Finland, to emphasize a certain image of mothering as reflected by the notions of good mothering, described by the Finnish “migrant” and “mommy” blogging. The authors conclude that “The discomfort and incompatibility of the differing norms across countries are visible in the blog texts. This is shown in the decision-making processes that were presented in the texts. The bloggers wanted to make their own choices that conformed to the norms of one or the other country, understandable and acceptable to the blog’s readers. Especially, they are able to see, combine, and explain the variation of good parenthood in different cultures and contexts. This is part of the concept of representational mothering, and they make implicit comparisons between the ideology of intensive mothering and the realities of actual mothering in a transnational context. The often ironic style of the blog texts can be seen as a textual style to attract and amuse readers, but this can also be seen as an acceptable way to handle differences and difficulties in a transnational everyday life that takes place across and between two countries and cultures. Despite the egalitarian ethos that the Finnish welfare state emphasizes, the division of labour seems to be traditional, and this was shown when searching for data for this study: blogs written by fathers were not to be found. In their texts, the mother bloggers are not giving fathers central roles in parenting. Thus, the analysed texts represent the ideas of heterosexual intimate relationships and nuclear families, which can be seen as a norm of the ‘ideal family’”. (p. 78)

Part three of the volume investigates the goals and the practises of parenting across state border. In this respect, the care strategies are identified and studied considering the challenges triggered by the practises entertained by the intergenerational networks of migrant parents. The interesting aspects are revealed by approaching the masculine perceptions, practises and strategies of parenting. “The network migration of younger relatives, especially sons, gives the older generation a chance to spend more time with them (…) finding a job for a relative can be seen as a masculine caregiving pattern, and even the men in transnational families can be involved in the upbringing of their younger relatives”, thus inducing “the development and maintenance of a traditional male role in the Estonian society” (p. 92), while perpetuating the necessity to commute between two countries in order to achieve  a decent lifestyle. At the same time, this strategy of commuting between the countries becomes an aspirational model for the young boys, despite the loneliness and missing family members, perpetuating an imperfect but functional situation.

Charlotte Melander, Oksana Shmulyar Gréen, and Ingrid Höjer investigate the role of trust and reciprocity in relational flows which forces the parents in the mobile families to organize children care transnationally. Transnational children care in Sweden, in the case of migrant parents originating from Central and Eastern Europe is faced with the challenges presented by newer family dynamics drawn by gender issues and intergenerational interactions. Perceiving mothers, grandmothers, and other female relatives as the responsible ones for the hands-on care of the children, this is the situation perpetuated in the new contexts brought about by migration. Grandmothers remain essential resources of care and support either in the home country or in the country of adoption, in either situation involving to a significant extent the digital media. The study shows how the perpetuation of these familial relations perpetuates the safety of “care triangles” of love, trust, and reciprocity. (p. 104)

Olga Davydova-Minguet and Pirjo Pöllänen approach the situation of the intergenerational care practices among Russian-born migrants in rural North Karelia in Finland as an example for the social construction of a transnational familyhood. The key is intergenerational interdependency via stories with an inclusive role which maintain as a “reality” the concept of an extended intergenerational family, with shared affectionate care responsibilities, as well as moral and legal obligations. Although this particular lived experience gives substance to a sort of “caring from a distance” it also produces anxieties emphasizing a fragile state of the transnational family life (p. 115).

Approaching the topic of the anxiety generated by the passage of time apart in the case of family separation, Johanna Leinonen and Saara Pellander investigate the case of the refugees in Finland who are longing for the reunion with their families, which becomes a factor organizing their lives and social practise. While refugees were not only passive recipients of administrative decisions, manifesting in their anticipation of the future the will and resourcefulness to actively structure their practices and everyday routines, their agency was limited and their experiences often faced administrative reactions generating more anxiety, increased alienation and more violence in their harsh lives (pp. 126-127).

The last section gathers research described by the phrase “enacting citizenship and respectable parenthood in racialized minority families”. Marja Tiilikainen studies the  respectability of Finnish Somali fathers through an investigation oriented by the changing social-gendered roles between men and women, on the one hand, and the increased unemployment among Somalis in Finland. Within the transnational space recognition for fatherhood comes from achievements such as a having a paid job or meaningful volunteer work, from educational background and skills, from all the sources of respectability that make a father a role model for their children. Fathers engaged in transnational activities may be de facto absent but they are an embodiment of commitment to children within their families. The negotiation of the status of fatherhood is engaging the Finnish values and ideals as well as their traditional values associated to an ideal image of the Somali heritage of values and perceptions (p. 139).

Marta Padovan-Özdemir and Barbara Noel Day study participatory methods and production of shared knowledge within the Danish educational system and show the implications of shared knowledge in empowerment and pro-active citizenship. This community approach to creating shared knowledge brings together parents and educators in a common effort.  Within this joint effort the educators are to a certain extent the gate-keepers of the pre-existing order of things and leave very little room for the critical input of the migrant parents, who feel marginalized. The study calls for a larger room for negotiation in the context of school-home collaboration and for diversification of the understanding of the forms of valuable parenting.

“Iranian migrant parents struggling for respectability”, by Zeinab Karimi, discusses the Finnish-Iranian construct of parental respectability, within a situational socio-symbolical approach, considering factors related to gender class and personal understanding of migratory translocation. The author concludes: “The social construction of khanevadehye mohtaram (respectable family) among the Iranian families is not only connected to class recognition but also to the ways in which the family maintains solidarity, and children learn to establish themselves as mohtaram (respectable) members of the society and their ethnic communities. To be distinguished as a mohtaram parent, the participants in this study invested in their children’s achievements. Thus, their parenting and specifically the mothering practices (due to the social construction of mothering) is not only to build respectable selves but also to change the boundaries of respectability for the next generation, and claim their recognition by encouraging children to have class mobility” (p. 162).

 Camilla Nordberg investigates the migrant perceptions of the process of becoming a citizen, which is interesting especially in the case of the stay-at-home mothers who are newcomers in Finland. In these cases, the “sufficient self” is complemented by negotiations toward approaching paths to citizenship, which emphasizes political mothering and mothering as a citizenship practice (p. 174). The following empirical research conducted by Johanna Hiitola, Kati Turtiainen, and Jaana Vuori analyses the difficult situation of the Afghan families in Finland against the threat of deportation (most of the times, for the father). The subjects of the investigation were mothers and children which arrived in Finland as refugees resettled by UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) without the fathers, who are not granted asylum and find themselves under the threat of deportation. The migrant status was accompanied by several gendered types of suffering and aloneness.

The epilogue signed by Johanna Hiitola emphasizes once more, in a synthetic manner, the contribution of each investigation. Studying the contexts in which the racialized families attempt to pursue their aspirations abroad, borders become a special type of social spheres. They are constructed, negotiated, and organized by the specific interactions between the welfare services and the migrant family members, nuancing in various ways the enactment of citizenship through the agency of racialized families in the Nordic welfare states.

An Introductory Note

This special issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum contains selected proceedings from three research circles within the Nordic Summer University (NSU): Human Rights and International RelationsUnderstanding Migration in Nordic and Baltic Countriesand Patterns of Dysfunction in Contemporary Democracies; Impact on Human Rights and Governance. The meetings took place in Saulkrasti, Latvia, from 29/7 to 2/8 2017 and in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 2/2 to 4/2 2018.

The program of the research circle, Human Rights and International Relations, ran from 2015 to 2017. This circle explored how human rights militancy and more generally the protection of human rights are affected by the international human rights regime and the way this regime enters state relations, and it also examined how the international human rights regime modifies the relations between states and how this is explained in international relations theory.

Understanding Migration in Nordic and Baltic Countries runs from 2017 to 2019. This circle addresses contemporary migration through the lens of representation. Interpreted broadly as various means of capturing, contextualizing, interpreting, and defining people, institutions, politics, and histories, representation should encompass both tangible renderings – such as photographs and films – and also a wide range of practices and processes whose representational forms serve in specific ways to produce the subject matter itself.

The study circle about the Patterns of Dysfunction in Contemporary Democracies; Impact on Human Rights and Governance runs from 2018 to 2020. This circle endeavours to study different patterns of dysfunction in contemporary democracies and in particular the insidious processes which undermine the traditional canons of liberal democracy, notably encapsulated in the rule of law and human rights. Many factors are involved in these insidious processes and the state of the various democracies can be seen as nodal points between different factors that are criss-crossing and thus creating a unique constellation: populism, nationalism, corruption, fear, social isolation, ignorance, poverty, luxury, injustice, rootlessness in its various forms are signs of unbalances within democracies on both the global, national and local levels.

The contributions from these circles evolve around the issues of human rights, democracy (including citizenship) and religion.

Jean-Pierre Cléro approaches democracy from the perspective of generational justice. Acquired pensions rights collide with the constraints of democracy and create dilemmas. Lucas L. O. Cardiell addresses other kinds of dilemmas when measures of citizen deprivation send the international protection of citizens’ rights on collision course with citizenship as the domaine réservé of states. Eyassu Gayim studies the contentious issues behind and between democracy and human rights and considers the possible conflicts involved in using the Human Rights-Based Approach to measure democracy.

Julio Jensen examines the origins of human rights and points at the important work of Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria as initiators of a certain kind of resistance against state power. Marianna Barchuk-Halyk approach human rights from the increasingly important notion of human security and the new UN doctrine about the Responsibility to Protect. Magdalena Tabernacka examines the human right of freedom of religion, and emphasizes the discrepancy found in Poland between the formal adoption of relevant legal measures and the effective protection of the right.

Giorgio Baruchello addresses religious and philosophical beliefs about abortion and their relation to claims about human rights, and how possible conflicts spell out in various social contexts. Welfare provisions and positive attitudes to pregnancy tend to make abortion less necessary. Magdalena Tabernacka discusses the implementation of religious freedom  in Poland and how circumstances and will impact the effective implementation of this freedom. Julio Jensen considers how an egalitarian tradition within Judeo-Christian thinking has inspired resistance against state power.

The special issue contains the following papers

Jean-Pierre Cléro

University of Rouen, France

Democracy Put to the Test of Age

A Case Study Concerning the Dysfunction of Modern Democracy

Abstract:  After having defined with some degree of precision the concept of a dysfunction which has a very particular meaning within politics, since a regime – be it democratic – can bring forth situations which over time will not be sustainable, we will analyse the case of the retirement pension system in which the generation at work takes care of the generation not working any more. This care meets with some particular difficulties linked to inequalities in what regards economy, politics (resulting from demography), health and social conditions. Certainly, these inequalities can be covered up for some time by a play of fictions which is partly analysed here. A situation seemingly without future considering the age pyramid is strangely enough viable in fact as certain sociological studies have shown, and we endeavour to find a clue to this fact in a dialogue between two persons, who separated by about forty years cross their points of view on how contemporary relations between generations play out. However, we are not quite sure that this play between fictions is a full substitute for the economic realities. We outline here some first steps in an area rich with contradictions, which we endeavour to illuminate by some elements of a theory of fictions.

Julio Jensen

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

A Note on the Origins of Human Rights:

Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria

Abstract: In the wake of the Spanish arrival in America, a controversy arose with respect to the legitimacy of the conquest and the colonial rule. This debate was started by the Dominicans in the New World, who denounced the oppression of the native population. The most renowned participants in these discussions were Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria. The former received the title of “Defender of the Indians”, while the latter is remembered as a central figure in the foundation of international law. Through the debates concerning the conquest of America, one precondition – noted by Habermas – for the emergence of human rights is explored namely resistance against state power on the basis of the egalitarian tradition belonging to Judeo-Christian thinking.

Lucas L. O. Cardiell

Migration Institute of Finland

Citizenship Deprivation: A Violation of Human Rights?

Abstract: In the past few years, the issue of citizenship deprivation has risen considerably on the agenda of the international community following the recent terrorist attacks in many States. Many citizens have been deprived of their nationality based on involvement in terrorist activities or possibly on the ground of national security. In consequence, an increasing body of legal and political discourse on citizenship deprivation has been added to the literature and the academic discussions on the topic at hand. This paper argues that despite the progress in IL/IHRL, which usually creates limitations in the attribution and deprivation of citizenship, the right to citizenship falls within the domaine réservé of states. It also argues that even though there are certain legal instruments that prohibit nationality deprivation resulting in statelessness, as of the 1961 statelessness convention, the issue of nationality deprivation most likely creates a legal vacuum for individuals concerned when the acquisition of other rights is necessarily linked to nationality.

Magdalena Tabernacka

Uniwersytet Wrocławski, Poland

The Human Right to Freedom of Religion in the Polish Education System

Abstract: Teaching religion in public schools has a significant bearing on the implementation of the individual’s right to freedom of religion and belief. Even if the state outlines a model for teaching religion that is compliant with the standards for the protection of human rights, an infringement of these rights may occur due to faulty execution of the existing provisions.  The fact that a given belief system obtains the status of a majority religion does not exempt the state from its obligation to ensure the effective protection of the rights of non-believers and members of minority religions.

Marianna Barchuk-Halyk

Precarpathian National University named after

Vasyl Stefanyk, city of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine

Human Rights as a Part of the Human Security of Ukraine

Abstract. The paper is dedicated to questions of human security, the importance of which grows in international relations, yet its legal and political meanings remain ambiguous. The human security concept is about the protection of a human being or a minority group conceived as the responsibility of the states, or the international community, when the national governments cannot guarantee this security or when they consciously violate these rights. The concept of Responsibility to Protect is connected with human security. The concept is about the state’s duty to ensure the security of a person.

Giorgio Baruchello

University of Akureyri, Iceland

Religious Belief, Human Rights, and Social Democracy: Catholic Reflections on Abortion in Iceland

Terms such as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” evoke animated responses in the Anglophone world and can even win, or lose, major elections to political parties, candidates and movements. In the Nordic countries, however, the same terms and related responses are generally perceived as academic, at best, or as American, at worst. The issue of abortion seems to have been settled long ago in the Nordic context, both legally and, above all, socially. Does it mean that it has also been settled ethically? I argue that this is far from being the case and present an Iceland-based approach to the issue that, while leaving women’s rights and freedoms untouched, can accommodate to a worthy extent the defence of Scandinavian-style social democracy as well as  the traditional Catholic opposition to abortion.

Eyassu Gayim

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Democracy, Human Rights and the UN Human Rights-Based Approach

Although democracy and human rights are universally shared values, their content has always been contested. The controversy concerns the nature of the human being, how the self relates to the community and the state, and how social and political relations should be formed. The UN followed its own political philosophy regarding this when the international regime of human rights was developed by acknowledging individual and people’s rights and democracy. This study highlights the core contentious issues behind democracy and human rights, how these concepts are intertwined and what the implications of using the Human Rights-Based Approach is to measure democracy.”

Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen & Wolf-Georg Ringe (eds.), German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015)

In his chapter on Comparative Company Law in the Oxford Handbook on Comparative Law, Professor Klaus J. Hopt, in a plea for more internationalization and interdisciplinary research, concluded that “[w]hat is really important to know – at least in an internal market such as in the European Union, but also beyond in a globalized world – is not company law in the books, but how company law functions within the company, on the market and beyond the frontiers.” The volume on German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law edited by Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen and Wolf-Georg Ringe is a convincing contribution to modern company law and capital markets law scholarship from these perspectives.

Continue reading Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen & Wolf-Georg Ringe (eds.), German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015)

Erik Westholm, Karin Beland Lindahl & Florian Kraxner (eds.), The Future Use of Nordic Forests, A global perspective (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

Nordic forests play a key role in the establishment of the Nordic welfare states. They also play a key role in a global perspective when looking at factors such as energy, climate, land use, ecosystem services and other subsistence uses. In this book the aim is to address how global changes are likely to affect the conditions for future Nordic forest use.

Continue reading Erik Westholm, Karin Beland Lindahl & Florian Kraxner (eds.), The Future Use of Nordic Forests, A global perspective (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

Ulf Blossing, Gunn Imsen & Lejf Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model. ‘A School for All’ Encounters Neo-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

The Nordic countries are a special case in the global context. In a world dominated by economic criteria for all things they seem to disprove that ideology. Their economies run smoothly and are efficient, the living standards are high and yet they sustain a welfare state that provides for some of the most important needs of any citizen, such as the need for medical care in case of serious sickness, the need for education to enable the citizens to function as well informed citizens in democracies, as knowledgeable employees in their jobs and as well balanced human beings.

Continue reading Ulf Blossing, Gunn Imsen & Lejf Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model. ‘A School for All’ Encounters Neo-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

Steinar Imsen (ed.), The Norwegian Dominion and the Norse World c. 1100-c1400 & Taxes, Tributes and Tributary Lands in the Making of the Scandinavian Kingdoms in the Middle Ages (Trondheim: Tapir Academic Press, 2010 & 2011)

These two edited books constitute a set; they complement one another. Together they provide an excellent scholarly overview of much of the literature on the Vikings and Scandinavia. These will no doubt be standard sources for anyone interested in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic history. Fins will also benefit from this book, as will those in the United Kingdom interested in the early history of “the Danes” in Northumbria, Wessex, Essex and other Anglo-Saxon and Celtic lands. Irish, Welsh and Scottish historians will certainly want to be aware of this excellent body of work by pre-eminent scholars. A great body of literature is summarized and it would require someone extremely well versed in Scandinavian history to be able to discern if the proper emphasis is placed on contributions by leading academics of the past. I would definitely recommend that academic librarians order these books as key historical reference texts. Some of the twenty-six chapters involve some degree of cross-referencing, but by and large each chapter is relatively independent. Yet the books do “hang together.”

At the same time, the two books to some extent lack a coherent theoretical outlook. There is not much Comparative Historical Sociology (CHS) as opposed to idiographic history and “thick description.” Like many highly specialized works the editor and the authors assume quite a bit of previous knowledge so this is not likely to be a good set of books for an introductory course, except of course in Scandinavia itself (where students are more likely to have the background knowledge). The use of older letters for older words is appropriate but also presents a small obstacle to those who may not immediately want to have a detailed understanding. Nevertheless, separate chapters could be assigned in undergraduate and graduate history courses. For example, in a course in United Kingdom history the sections on Wales, Scotland and Ireland could benefit from several of the chapters in Steinar (2011).

If a CHS framework had been applied more rigorously then the distinction between “tribute” in ‘tributary lands” and “taxes” in taxation lands would have to be discussed in more detail. The definitions assumed by various authors are neither consistent nor entirely rigorous. For example Barbara Crawford writes about the skatts in the Orkneys and Caithness. In some parts of Norse Britain like the Hebrides and the Orkneys  (bordlands) a tribute was paid by the “earls” to the “kings” of Norway. But it is not entirely clear that the skatt system can be considered a “tax system” per se. Fifteenth century tribute systems were not necessarily tax systems in the narrow sense What Crawford discusses as “rentals” could equally be considered a kind of appanage system. In terms of sociological theory it might have been better to stick with the notion of a “tribute system” (Latin tributa). Of course there was a kind of evolution from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, but the subtle shifts are not investigated as systematically as some might wish. Nevertheless, Crawford does deal with some of the changes that took place over several hundred years. It may be that the geographically compact nature of the Orkneys and Caithness made it possible to introduce a tribute system which was somewhat more “advanced” toward a taxation system. There were 3,670 “pennylands” in Orkney and 18 pennylands were one “ounceland” (urislands). The idea of a monetary assessment based on ploughlands comes closer to a true taxation system, but it is not clear that was something which took place on a regular basis, or only for the construction of a cathedral (Saint Magnus).

The lack of Indices makes is somewhat difficult to cross-reference ideas. One would not necessarily expect one index for the two books, of course, but each book individually could benefit from a detailed Index. So many technical terms are used that a word list would have been helpful for those readers who do not fluently read Norwegian, Danish, Swedish or Icelandic!

The editor, Steinar Imsen, has certainly done an excellent job in compiling first class, relevant essays by top ranking scholars. It is not easy to get this degree of focus on detailed subject matter. Overall there is much agreement, although there are not any papers devoted to a discussion of theoretical or methodological problems per se. (Methodological comments are incidental and mostly contained in footnotes.) The 2010 volume is the result of a workshop on the Norse world held in Røros, Norway, in 2008. The 2011 volume is the product of a workshop held in Visby, Sweden. Colleagues were enthusiastic in discussing a common Scandinavian-Norse-Swedish-Danish-Scottish-Irish-Welsh-British world that spanned several hundreds of years (approximately 8th – 16th centuries). Anyone who is not already deeply immersed in pre-Medieval and Medieval Northern European history is bound to learn a great deal. For example, while I had some general knowledge of Sweden as a nation the short chapter by Thomas Lindkvist (Imsen 2010, pp. 251-262) made me much more aware of the differences between Svealand and Götaland. The Svear and the Göta of Västergötland and Östergötland were not always united. Indeed, the Götland provinces were “Christianized” earlier and were seemingly more connected to events in continental Europe, including the emergence of full blown “patrimonial” feudalism (Weber 1968). The link between the Roman Catholic Church and the Europeanized kingdoms of Sweden and Norway is not fully understood. But the existence of a traditional bureaucracy (Bakker 2010) in the form of bishoprics and nunneries, etc., seems to have been a key to the emergence of the type of “feudalism” usually discussed in textbooks. It is interesting to note that the Geatas discussed in Beowulf may or may not have been the Götar and Beowulf may not be a reliable historical source for the sixth century.

Some parts of these books are also directly relevant to German, Estonian and Russian historians. For example, the 12-13th century Danish “empire” in the Baltic is discussed in Chapter 12 by Jens Osesen. Apparently the Battle of Bjornhöved in Holstein in 1227 was a crucial watershed. The Danish expanded into Mecklenberg and Pomerania in what we now think of as Deutschland. (The Roman term Germania would have also included what we now consider the nation-state of Denmark.) Danish expansion also included a set of conquests to the East. The city of Reval was important to the sea route to Novgorod and was sold by King Valdemar IV Atterdag to the Teutonic order in 1346.

In a longer review I would want to go into detail concerning each chapter. Chapter 2 by Randi B. Woerdahl (in Imsen 2010: pp. 35-57) provides an excellent, detailed discussion of the historiography of the Norse world and the discussion about “Medieval history and the legitimization of nations and nation states” goes some distance toward starting to address sociological questions. He also briefly discusses alternative perspectives. There is a certain degree of conflict involved in studying nations retrospectively and once can easily fall victim to a kind of Whig History Fallacy, where what exists today is presumed to have been what would most likely evolve. Norman Davies (2014) has done a good job studying those “invisible” political realms in mainland Europe and Britain that we have now forgotten (e.g. the seventeen varieties of Burgundy/Burgundia). To some extent the Davies’ thesis about invisible kingdoms holds for many of the state systems discussed in these two volumes. They are “invisible” to the orindary educated person, who is usually better acquainted with the histories of “countries” that exist today as nation-states (e.g. Deutschland, Italia) but may not know much about pre-Medieval sub-regions (e.g. Angle-land, Saxonia, Batavia). The national history approach has little to offer for those interested in an objective reading of the evolution of societies from pre-modern capitalist to modern capitalist relations, much less from truly traditional to postmodern conditions.

Overall, I recommend these two volumes as solid intellectual contributions, with the minor caveats that: (1.) some more overview material would have been beneficial for class room use (including more and better quality maps) and (2.) a Comparative Historical Sociological (CHS) based on Weberian and Neo-Weberian sociological theories would have been useful. (Imsen 2010: Chapter 4 by Ian Beuermann has excellent maps, but in some chapters the quality is not 100% clear.) Perhaps there will be additional volumes and perhaps such new work might integrate the historical material a bit more directly with social science theories of the state, including political sociology, political studies, political science, comparative international relations studies, agrarian history, rural sociology and political economy (including Marxian political economy). These are not books that will be read by very many non-academic readers and yet some of the chapters would usefully be summarized in popular publications in various languages, not just English.

Perhaps Steinar Imsen sand some colleagues will write an introductory book which utilizes the abundant historical resources on which the twenty four other authors base their arguments. The volumes taught me a great deal but it took a certain amount of effort to get past the sometimes overly technical discussions of Scandinavian terms. (There is no glossary in either book.) The whole idea of Skattlands is not well known to those who are not specialized in “North Sea” and “Baltic” history, yet the concept of military tribute and corvee labour is directly relevant to many theories of pre-modern state systems. The main focus historically is the 12-15th centuries and it would most certainly be valuable to have another volume in the series that covers the earliest archaeological discovered (before the 9th century) and a fourth volume on the period that starts with the 16th century. I remember as a young boy wondering how it was possible for three tiny countries (the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark) to continue to exist. In the Cold War Era it seemed that only superpowers mattered. But now I more fully grasp the fact that the current nation-states which are small relative to other significant players on the world stage were at one time themselves small scale world super powers. The Netherlands had its Golden Age in the early seventeenth century. To some extent these volumes celebrate a kind of Scandinavian Golden Age  in the 12-15th centuries. Most of this history, unfortunately, is not widely taught. Perhaps the television series on the Vikings will help to promote more interest. We are inundated with books on the histories of England, Scotland, Ireland, and English-speaking parts of the world. But the importance of Norway, Denmark and Sweden is under-appreciated outside of Scandinavia.


Bakker, J. I. (Hans). 2010. “Deference and Democracy: Traditional and Modern Bureaucracy.” In Bryant (eds.) Festschrift for Irving Zeitlin. Lanham, Maryland (MD): Lexington Books (Roman and Littlefield).

Davies, Norman. 2014. Invisible Kingdoms. New York: Peguin?

Weber, Max. 1968 [1920]. Economy and Society. Tr. and ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley, California (CA): University of California Press.

Martin Hilpert et al. (eds.), New Trends in Nordic and General Linguistics. Linguae et litterae 42 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015)

After a long absence from the linguistics conference circuit, another International Conference of Nordic and General Linguistics (ICNGL) was organised in 2012.

Continue reading Martin Hilpert et al. (eds.), New Trends in Nordic and General Linguistics. Linguae et litterae 42 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015)

G.T. Svendsen, Trust – Reflections 1 & H.H. Knoop, Positive Psychology – Reflections 2 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2014)

Aarhus University (AU) in Denmark publishes booklets on diverse topics under the rubric Reflections, written by experts, yet in a common language aiming for the general public to read. In 2014, two booklets in this series were translated into English, (1) Trust by G. T. Svendsen, Professor and trust expert at AU, and (2) Positive Psychology by Hans Henrik Knoop, Associate Professor at AU and President of the European Network for Positive Psychology.  Continue reading G.T. Svendsen, Trust – Reflections 1 & H.H. Knoop, Positive Psychology – Reflections 2 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2014)