Globalizing Welfare
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Globalizing Welfare

An Evolving Asian-European Dialogue

Edited by Stein Kuhnle, Per Selle and Sven E.O. Hort

From the welfare state’s origins in Europe, the idea of human welfare being organized through a civilized, institutionalized and uncorrupt state has caught the imagination of social activists and policy-makers around the world. This is particularly influential where rapid social development is taking place amidst growing social and gender inequality. This book reflects on the growing academic and political interest in global social policy and ‘globalizing welfare’, and pays particular attention to developments in Northern European and North-East Asian countries.
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Chapter 9: The concept of society in the making of the Nordic welfare state

Pauli Kettunen


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.

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