The Northern Utopia: what is distinctive about the Nordic countries?


Mary Hilson PhotoDr. Mary Hilson was educated at the University of Exeter, and studied as a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Economic History, Uppsala University. She joined the UCL Department of Scandinavian Studies in October 2000. From January 2009-September 2009 she was visiting researcher at the Centre for Nordic Studies, Renvall Institute, Helsinki University, where she was also attached to the NordForsk Centre of Excellence on The Nordic Welfare State: Historical Foundations and Future Challenges. She teaches courses on modern Nordic and European history, and she also contributes to various team taught courses in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and the Department of History

Dr. Hilson's research interests are in modern Nordic history, especially transnational and comparative social history. Her current research project is concerned with the consumer co-operative movement in Scandinavia, Britain and the rest of Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. She is particularly interested in transnational contacts between co-operators and in the role of the international co-operative organisations, including Nordisk Andelsforbund and the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).

Together with Silke Neunsinger, Dr. Hilson is in the early stages of organising a new project on the history of consumer co-operation in a global perspective.  The aim of the project is to produce a comparative survey of the history of the consumer co-operative movement, from the nineteenth century onwards, in all regions of the world.  This will take the form of an anthology including chapter-length surveys of co-operative history in as many regions and countries as possible, together with thematic analyses of the transnational connections, processes and entanglements which have shaped co-operative history throughtout the world.  Combined with statistical information and bibliographies, the anthology is intended above all to create a resource for future studies on the co-operative movement.

About this lecture

For much of the twentieth century, the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) have been widely cited as examples of success, famed for their economic prosperity, social solidarity and quality of life. Much of this is attributed to the so-called Nordic or Scandinavian model: extensive welfare states, consensual democracy, an egalitarian tax system and strict job regulation. This lecture explores what makes the Nordic countries distinctive, and why this small, sparsely populated region on the periphery of Europe has attracted – and continues to attract – so much international attention. Is the Nordic success the result of specific policies during the twentieth century, or are there deeper historical and cultural explanations? How have recent events – in particular the 2006 Mohammed cartoons crisis in Denmark – challenged our idea of the Nordic countries as model societies? (The lecture draws on Dr Mary Hilson’s recent book, ‘The Nordic Model: Scandinavia since 1945’ (London: Reaktion Books, June 2008)

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