NORDEND examines the fall and rise of Norden since 1989

Johan Strang received a highly competitive Academy of Finland Research Fellow funding for 2019-2024 for research on Norden since the end of the Cold War.

On Friday afternoon, CENS was happy to learn that Johan Strang has been granted a five-year Academy of Finland Research Fellowship with a project called “Norden since the End of History: the contestation and reinvention of the Nordic region after 1989” (NORDEND). The project builds on his previous work on Nordic cooperation as well as on Scandinavian conceptualizations of democracy and human rights, but focuses on a recent, almost contemporary, period.

To gain more insight into the project, we asked Johan a few questions.

Congratulations! What is the new project about?

Thanks, it was an unexpected surprise as it was the first time I tried to get funding with this particular idea. The basic plot is to study the fall after 1989 and its recent return in three different areas: (1) in foreign and security policy, (2) regarding the welfare state, and (3) with respect to democracy and human rights. I am particularly interested in how the “new Norden” we are hearing so much about today differs from the one that faded away after the end of the Cold War.

What do you want to prove?

Provocatively put, the hypothesis is that Norden has gone from “doves of peace” to “fighter planes”, from “middle way” to (neoliberal) “ranking tops”, and from being obsessed with participation and democracy to a more liberal focus on individual, constitutional and human rights. In the application I ventured into claiming that Norden has been reinvented as the prime exemplars of the liberal democratic universalism that Fukuyama some 30 years ago claimed to mark “the end of history”. If Norden during the Cold War had been defined as different and to a certain extent even unique, the Nordic region has lately become defined as the countries who are the best at implementing the “universal” values of liberal democracy. Nordic exceptionality today, relies less on being different and more on being superior.

Why is this an important project?

It seems to me that “Nordic” has become a political concept that is used for a wide range of different and often contradictory purposes. My intention is not to enter this discussion with policing ambitions, but to draw attention to the contested character of the Nordic model and “nordicity” in general, which in turn might contribute to more critical self-reflexion on our traditions and what we stand for. Moreover, there is also a research gap to be filled. The great majority of the literature on Norden is focused on the Cold War era or on the long history of the Nordic configuration. My project wants to look at Norden since 1989 and thus also make a contribution to the emerging historiography of post-Cold War Europe.

In December, you were appointed as a tenure track Associate Professor at CENS. How does this new project interfere with your teaching and other commitments at CENS, for example, with respect to ReNEW?

The Academy of Finland has regulations and practices for combining Research Fellowships with tenure track positions, but I need to negotiate the details with them as well as the faculty. I will certainly continue to contribute to the teaching at CENS, and ideally I would like some help in pursuing certain aspects of the new project. ReNEW, in turn, forms an ideal network for the “Norden since end of history”-project, and I see particularly the Nordic branding-project at the University of Oslo as a key partner.

How did you celebrate this over the weekend?

I spent the weekend enjoying the good weather, perch fillets, a bottle of Prosecco, and a draft for a master thesis about Greenland and the Danish Realm (Rigsfælleskabet). And, of course, suffering yet another humiliation as an Arsenal-supporter. 

Johan Strang is associate professor at CENS and deputy member of the steering group of ReNEW  (Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World: An Excellence Hub in Research, Education and Public Outreach), with an affiliation also to the UiO:Nordic programme at the University of Oslo. Trained as a philosopher he has a broad interest in in Scandinavian politics and contemporary history (20th century).