Research clusters

ReNEW has six cross-cutting clusters as the focus areas related to research, fulfilling ReNEW’s ambition to develop world-leading, innovative and cross-disciplinary research and researcher training programs on the Nordic countries.

Drawing on established research and teaching environments at the partner institutions, these research clusters are dynamic, flexible and open to recombination or re-definition during the six-year period of the hub.

Nordic cooperation and region-building

In the context of current struggles in the EU and the rise of distrust and protectionism in international relations, Norden stands out as an unusually well-integrated region. This success is poorly understood in scholarship, which has hitherto focused mainly on cooperation between official political actors. Paradoxically, in a historical perspective Nordic cooperation appears to be a long history of failures (e.g. Scandinavianism, the defence union, Nordek, cooperation within the EU), and in comparison with the EU, the Nordic Council of Ministers is an insignificant political actor. Considering research that emphasizes the limitations of Nordic cooperation as well as its achievements, ReNEW will direct attention to the everyday practices of Nordic comparison, competition and co-operation, including the many informal and unofficial networks that have served to integrate Norden “from below”.  

Contact: Peter Stadius, University of Helsinki and Johan Strang, University of Helsinki     

Democracy, governance and law

Democracy is often asserted to be at the centre of Nordic identity, nationhood and reputation, with the Nordic countries assumed to share a long history of democratization in politics, economic governance and at the workplace. The development of a relatively incorrupt bureaucracy in the 19th century and the importance of popular movements and voluntary associations are cited to explain the high trust levels. In recent decades, however, there has been a movement from democratic voluntary associations towards more temporary, activity-based and managerial organizations. Moreover, although the levels of trust in the Nordic countries are still high, there are signs of erosion of trust in institutions. Digitalization, new media and new approaches in organization and management present challenges to the existing democratic order. As democracy expands into new spheres of life the scope of democratic practice has become a source of conflict, while individualist practices of free choice and client diversification have become important. ReNEW will facilitate research on the changing interpretations and institutionalizations of Nordic democracy in light of current challenges to liberal democracy globally, in Europe and in the Nordic countries.

Contact: Haldor Byrkjeflot, University of Oslo


Public policy, gender equality and labour markets

The relative success of the Nordic economies has been attributed to their focus on maintaining competiveness by continuously renewing public policy-making and updating welfare policies and economic models. These reforms have been combined with emphases on inclusiveness, fairness and improving environmental standards. Nordic labour markets are marked by a high level of women’s participation but also tolerate gender segregation with unskilled or low-skilled male jobs foremost threatened by new technologies. The paradoxical alterations in gender patterns in the private sphere and in labour market participation need to be studied in a cross-disciplinary fashion. Another paradox relates to the increased inequality, even in the Nordic welfare states over recent decades. The third paradox relates to the Nordic integration model, which is changing from open, humanitarian and inclusive to exclusive and discriminatory. Overall, Nordic welfare models and public policy have become more selective and less generous. Do policy and political developments undermine the core of the universalistic model, even though global interest in this model remains high? Is it the end of the Nordic welfare state as we know it?  

Contact: Caroline de La Porte, Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and Irma Erlingsdóttir, University of Iceland 


Imagining Norden - branding and Nordic reputation

Since the late 1990s, the Nordic states have adopted strategies to brand themselves as nations and as a region in the global reputational market. Building on scholarship on internal and external image creation, perceiving nations, regions and their ‘models’ as brands further offers a new perspective for analysing interconnections within the Nordic region and in a global context. ReNEW will analyse the construction of Nordic brands (asking ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’) and the politics of Nordic branding (their use, coherence, and consequences). Given the international prominence of Nordic social models and their salience for self-understanding within Nordic countries, we examine how these models have been used to create the general Nordic brand and have emerged as specific brands themselves. This theme will also focus on how Nordic countries have sought to create negative images of themselves for example, in order to deter would-be migrants, and how the political context for such debates is increasingly shaped by a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’. We also analyse cross-cutting themes of agents and audiences, model selectivity and brand aesthetics.

Contact: Malcolm Langford, University of Oslo, Mads Mordhorst, Copenhagen Business School (CBS)


Multiculturalism and globalization

Transnational migration has transformed the Nordic countries into multicultural entities during recent decades. Questions of assimilation, integration or multi-culturalism, and the relations between immigrant groups and majority societies have become controversial. They have been exploited by populist parties, and are becoming significant for domestic political agendas. At the same time Norden maintains a high profile in global issues such as development, peace, and the environment. Humanitarianism has become a global industry, where the Nordics are regarded as esteemed promotors and actors. Does this mean that Norden has become more fluid and ambiguous as a concept? The impact of climate change is likely to be particularly marked in the High North, while the Nordic countries are significant actors in both renewable energy and fossil fuels. ReNEW seek to improve accounts of intra-Nordic diversity; by charting global agendas and interactions; and by strengthening a post-colonial perspective. Rather than inquiring about Nordic approaches and essence we will do research on the global challenges confronted by Nordic societies. The aim is to understand issues such as multi-culturalism, diversity, mobility, Europeanization and globalization. The recently started project at UiO, NORDHOST: Nordic hospitalities in a context of migration and refugee crisis, will be a vital part of this theme.

Contact: Norbert Götz, Södertörn University and Trygve Wyller, University of Oslo


Nordic culture and media

Perceptions of the Nordic region as a distinctive political entity have long been reinforced by references to Nordic culture, education and specific Nordic cultural products. In recent years phenomena as diverse as Nordic noir, new Nordic cuisine and Nordic design have achieved global recognition, as Nordic literature and architecture have historically. Meanwhile, the ‘cultural turn’ in the humanities and social sciences has focused greater attention on the alleged cultural specificity of the Nordic region, meaning that concepts such as the Nordic welfare model are now sometimes understood with reference to the Lutheran Reformation for example, or political culture. ReNEW will also focus on the rapidly developing area of digital technology and culture. The Nordic countries are on top of rankings for digitalization and noted for their progress towards a digital economy and society, while Nordic innovations in the fields of social media and gaming are also well-known (e.g. Skype, Spotify, Rovio). While digitalization presents new opportunities for research, teaching and communication in all areas of scholarship, it also raises serious questions: How can we deal with the challenges to the public sphere posed by cultural development patterns related to mediation and digitalization?

Contact: Mary Hilson, Aarhus University and Lill-Ann Körber, Aarhus University