Pauli Kettunen challenges the conventional images of the Nordic model. Applying an approach which is sensitive to historical and political concepts and language, the chapter argues that a particular notion of social citizenship developed in the Nordic countries in which interests rather than rights were put at the centre. This notion of social citizenship is associated with two intertwined ideas which are 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 globalised and financialised 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.
In the Nordic countries, the concept of society has had specific meanings that caused it to play a special role in the process retrospectively conceptualized as the building of the welfare state. Reflecting peripheral experiences of transnational interdependency and historical development, the Nordic political languages confused ‘state’ and ‘society’. The notion of the state as a society preceded the formation of the welfare state and contributed to legitimacy for state interventions. The popularity of the welfare state concept increased after the end of welfare state expansion in Western Europe. At the same time, the concept of the welfare society took on a new kind of use in critiques of the welfare state. However, in the Nordic countries any attempt to create a political alternative by contrasting the concepts of state and society has faced heavy constraints imposed by linguistic conventions. ‘Welfare society’ has proved to be an ineffective tool for criticizing the Nordic welfare states.