Interview: The Nordics: developments in politics and society since 1990

In this short video, Johan Strang, Associate Professor at the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of Helsinki compares the social democratic heyday of the mid-20th century in the Nordics with trends in politics and society since 1990. While some commentators apply the ‘socialist’ label to aspects of both these wide-ranging and complex time periods, this film compares and contrasts them in a nuanced and enlightening way.

A smiling young man with long hair in a ponytail wearing glasses sitting in front of a world map

The Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden), or the Scandinavian countries (usually limited to Denmark, Norway and Sweden), are sometimes referred to as 'socialist', and often as 'social democratic'. Johan Strang is an intellectual historian and philosopher who has researched the advent of the welfare state and what is often referred to as the social democratic hegemony in the Nordic countries in the mid-20th century. He is currently embarking on two new projects which, broadly speaking, look at trends since the end of the Cold War in the Nordics and how they relate to the outside world. These include the rise of neo-liberalism, changes to the types of democracy, and the increase in securitisation, among other things.

Watch Johan explain how the understanding of the Nordic countries today is often wrongly based on an image of how these states were during their social democratic heyday, something which is undercut by the political and societal trends since 1990. Johan Strang was interviewed by editor of Nicola Witcombe in January 2020 at the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of Helsinki.

Further reading:

  • Jan-Werner Müller: Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth Century Europe (Yale University Press, 2011).

  • Mary Hilson, The Nordic Model. Scandinavia since 1945 (London: Reaktion Books, 2008).

  • Yvonne Hirdman, Att lägga livet tillrätta: Studier i svensk folkhemspolitik [Putting life to rights: Studies in Swedish public policy] (Stockholm: Carlsson, 1989).

  • Øystein Sørensen & Bo Stråth, The Cultural Construction of Norden (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1997).