Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World (ReNEW) is a joint program for research, education and public engagement related to the Nordic region, its history, culture and politics.

The objectives of ReNEW are as follows:

  1. To bring together research and open new fields of research on Norden within the Nordic region itself. ReNEW will pool the resources and mutual interest of six universities in one strategic and world-leading university hub.
  2. To serve as a hub for Nordic research on a global basis. ReNEW will both facilitate new international research partnerships and provide a focal point for consolidating existing international partnerships and networks.
  3. To establish meeting places between researchers and Nordic decision makers. Many of the paradoxes and research questions for ReNEW have high societal relevance, and therefore it is essential to establish dialogue with decision makers and representatives of the public, private and NGO sectors.

ReNEW is motivated by growing international interest in the Nordic countries on the one hand, and by the multiple local and global challenges facing the region on the other. The aim is to stimulate a rethinking and renewal of our understandings of what the Nordic region is and how it could be studied and understood, as well as bringing new ideas and organizing frames into the international network related to Nordic and Scandinavian studies. An overriding idea of ReNEW is the mutual exchange of ideas between the global and the Nordic. The ambition is to reinvent and consolidate research related to the Nordic region, allowing related programmes, networks and institutions around the world to benefit from our joint competence and activities.

Demand for knowledge relating to Nordic successes as well as challenges

The Nordic states score high on global indexes of happiness, equality and welfare, transparency and economic competitiveness, environmental policies, trust, associational life and government effectiveness. Whether it concerns the economics of the tripartite model, the politics of gender equality, penal and other kinds of humanitarianism, Nordic cooperation, or the cultural innovations of New Nordic cuisine, Nordic design and Nordic Noir, researchers and policymakers from across the globe see Norden as a dynamic region with ideas worth probing. On the flip-side, the Nordic countries are also sometimes referred to as dystopian societies, whose “massive problems” in immigration-dense suburbs are used to serve nationalist purposes in domestic debates.

The Nordic societies are more complex than either the blind endorsements or dystopian critics referred to above suggest. In many areas, the experiences of the five Nordic countries differ widely, and Nordic responses to global challenges are full of ambiguities and paradoxes. While it is important to combat populist “fake news”, it is equally important to acknowledge that the Nordic countries also perform poorly on some indexes (e.g. suicide rates, use of solitary confinement), and demonstrate some features inconsistent with their progressive reputations (e.g. their role in the arms trade or their strongly gender segregated labour markets). Political parties suspicious of the possibilities for integrating immigrants have been on the rise across the region, challenging the traditional image of the Nordic countries as open and progressive societies where solidarity plays an important role. Recently, some Nordic countries have faced international criticism for their treatment of asylum-seekers and minority ethnic groups. And even if Norden stands out as one of the most integrated regions in the world in economic and cultural terms, official political cooperation is stagnant and unable to exert much influence on the European level. The refugee crisis of the autumn 2015 resulted in the introduction of border controls between Denmark and Sweden for the first time in 60 years.

Demand for cross-disciplinary and multi-method approaches

These paradoxical developments call for cross-disciplinary and comparative research on Nordic historical trajectories, cultural patterns, and recent responses to global challenges. The ambition is to develop a world-class research network that enhances intra-Nordic collaboration and creates a platform for the acquisition of major research grants. ReNEW also seeks to establish a shared doctoral programme and to enhance mobility and interaction among researchers. It will create synergies between leading scholars in the field and enhance their impact through inter-linked work packages, each with one scholar in charge on behalf of a responsible institution. Themes for future collaborative research could include, for example, comparative variation-finding research projects (e.g North versus South in Europe), studies of the transnational transfer of ideas, knowledge and perspectives across borders (the making and translation of Nordic models), or case-oriented projects intended to gain a deeper understanding of cultural, political and social aspects of a given country or region.