The Nordic Civil Sphere
The civil sphere is a distinctively democratic field in modern societies, one that sustains universalizing cultural aspirations and organizational structures and that has tense and uncertain boundaries with other spheres of social life, like the economy, religion, family, and state. Unlike the latter, which are more particularistic and hierarchical in character, the civil sphere defines itself in terms of solidarity – the feeling of being connected with every other person in the collectivity. The utopian ideals of democratic solidarity shape every modern society, even if they are often compromised by the messy realities of social life.
This volume uses the theory of the civil sphere to shed new light on Nordic societies, while at the same time drawing on the distinctive experiences of the Nordic nations to reflect on and advance the theory of the civil sphere. Nordic societies have long been admired for creating a distinctive form of social democracy, but this admirable achievement has not been well conceptualized theoretically. Most attempts to explain Nordic social democracy focus on material and organizational factors. This volume, by contrast, emphasizes the cultural foundations and characteristics of social democracy, demonstrating how civil sensibilities are necessary for the creation of an egalitarian and democratic state. Nordic civil spheres, however, are not only pro-civil but also white in color, European in ethnicity, secular in character and gender-equal in a subtly restrictive manner. Such primordialization of state civility is vividly on display in the sometime tense relationships that develop among natives and “foreigners” in Nordic countries, relationships that expose the primordial undersides of the social democratic codes and civil values that constitute the Nordic civil sphere.
A major contribution to the theory of the civil sphere and to our understanding of the cultural and normative underpinnings of social and political life, this volume will be of particular interest to students and scholars of sociology and politics.