Reinterpreting the Historicity of the Nordic Model


  • Pauli Kettunen Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki



Employment, wages, unemployment & rehabilitation, Labor market institutions & social partners


In conventional images of the so-called Nordic model, the strong state is opposed to markets or civil society and co-operation is opposed to conflict. These opposites appear problematic if one takes seriously the Nordic market- and interest-centered language used for the practices of social regulation, including the stubborn use of “labor market parties” instead of the EU concept “social partners”. Applying an approach sensitive to the historical and political aspects of language and concepts, the paper argues that a particular notion of social citizenship developed in the Nordic countries, in which interests rather than rights were put into the center. Such a notion of social citizenship was associated with two intertwined ideas, important in the development of the Nordic pattern of social reform: the idea of symmetry between workers and employers and the idea of a virtuous circle between divergent interests. With these ideas democracy and citizenship were combined with paid work and conflicting interests. This combination has been questioned by the projects for competitive national (and European) communities, responding to globalized and financialized capitalism. The vigorous comparisons of “models”, and the popularity of the concept of “the Nordic model”, can be seen as an aspect of this current transformation.

Author Biography

Pauli Kettunen, Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki

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How to Cite

Kettunen, P. (2012). Reinterpreting the Historicity of the Nordic Model. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 2(4), pp. 21–43.