Transnational Historical Perspectives on Social Policy
Globalization and Welfare series
Edited by Pauli Kettunen and Klaus Petersen
Chapter 3: National, Nordic and trans-Nordic: transnational perspectives on the history of the Nordic welfare states
Klaus Petersen Social policy was not created by the bumping of impenetrable billiard balls of power, but by men who could learn and whose viewpoints could change. (Heclo 1974: 321) The Northern countries have frequently been likened to a social laboratory, a place of experiments and research. In a sense this illustration is rather apt. Some experiments are successful while others fail – but work is continuous and the solution of one problem often serves to shed light upon others still unsolved. There is no such thing as a terminus for social policy. Conditions change, as do ideas, and social problems and requirements change with them. (Nelson 1953: 501. Published on behalf of the Nordic ministers of social affairs) INTRODUCTION It is well established that the welfare state has become an integral part of the national identities in the Nordic countries. Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians and Swedes gladly use the concept as a synonym of their contemporary societies. More interesting is that in these national discourses we also find unproblematic notions of the ‘Nordic welfare state’ as a point of reference or even as a figure used to describe the national social security systems and societies. But this apparently happy marriage between the national and transnational perspective raises a number of questions: How was the notion of a specific Nordic model welfare constructed and by whom? What was historically the relationship between the Nordic and the national level in the making of the Nordic social security systems? In order to answer...