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New Nordic Exceptionalism: Jeuno JE Kim and Ewa Einhorn's The United Nations of Norden and other realist utopias

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At the 2009 Nordic Culture Forum summit in Berlin that centered on the profiling and branding of the Nordic region in a globalized world, one presenter stood out from the crowd. The lobbyist Annika Sigurdardottir delivered a speech that called for the establishment of “The United Nations of Norden”: A Nordic union that would gather the nations and restore Norden's role as the “moral superpower of the world.” Sigurdardottir's presentation generated such a heated debate that the organizers had to intervene and reveal that the speech was a performance made by the artists Jeuno JE Kim and Ewa Einhorn. This article takes Kim and Einhorn's intervention as a starting point for a critical discussion of the history and politics of Nordic image-building. The article suggests that the reason Kim and Einhorn's speech passed as a serious proposal was due to its meticulous mimicking of two discursive formations that have been central to the debates on the branding of Nordicity over the last decades: on the one hand, the discourse of “Nordic exceptionalism,” that since the 1960s has been central to the promotion of a Nordic political, socio-economic, and internationalist “third way” model, and, on the other hand, the discourse on the “New Nordic,” that emerged out of the New Nordic Food-movement in the early 2000s, and which has given art and culture a privileged role in the international re-fashioning of the Nordic brand. Through an analysis of Kim and Einhorn's United Nations of Norden (UNN)-performance, the article examines the historical development and ideological underpinnings of the image of Nordic unity at play in the discourses of Nordic exceptionalism and the New Nordic. By focusing on how the UNN-project puts pressure on the role of utopian imaginaries in the construction of Nordic self-images, the article describes the emergence of a discursive framework of New Nordic Exceptionalism.
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New Nordic Exceptionalism: Jeuno JE Kim and
Ewa Einhorn’s The United Nations of Norden and
other realist utopias
Mathias Danbolt*
Section for Art History, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen,
Denmark
Abstract
At the 2009 Nordic Culture Forum summit in Berlin that
centered on the profiling and branding of the Nordic region in
a globalized world, one presenter stood out from the crowd.
The lobbyist Annika Sigurdardottir delivered a speech that
called for the establishment of ‘‘The United Nations of
Norden’’: A Nordic union that would gather the nations and
restore Norden’s role as the ‘‘moral superpower of the world.’’
Sigurdardottir’s presentation generated such a heated debate
that the organizers had to intervene and reveal that the speech
was a performance made by the artists Jeuno JE Kim and Ewa
Einhorn. This article takes Kim and Einhorn’s intervention as
a starting point for a critical discussion of the history and
politics of Nordic image-building. The article suggests that the
reason Kim and Einhorn’s speech passed as a serious proposal
was due to its meticulous mimicking of two discursive
formations that have been central to the debates on the
branding of Nordicity over the last decades: on the one hand,
the discourse of ‘‘Nordic exceptionalism,’’ that since the 1960s
has been central to the promotion of a Nordic political, socio-
economic, and internationalist ‘thirdway’model,and,onthe
other hand, the discourse on the ‘‘New Nordic,’’ that emerged
out of the New Nordic Food-movement in the early 2000s,
and which has given art and culture a privileged role in the
international re-fashioning of the Nordic brand. Through
an analysis of Kim and Einhorn’s United Nations of
Norden (UNN)-performance, the article examines the his-
torical development and ideological underpinnings of the
image of Nordic unity at play in the discourses of Nordic
exceptionalism and the New Nordic. By focusing on how the
UNN-project puts pressure on the role of utopian imaginaries
intheconstructionofNordicself-images, the article describes
the emergence of a discursive framework of New Nordic
Exceptionalism.
Mathias Danbolt is assistant professor
of art history at the University of
Copenhagen, Denmark. He holds a
PhD in art history, and his work has
a special focus on queer, feminist,
antiracist, and decolonial perspectives
on art and culture. The present article
is part of a larger research project on the effects and affects
of Nordic colonialism within the field of art and culture
entitled Colorblind? Theorizing Race in Danish Contemporary
Art and Performance, supported by The Danish Council of
Independent Research (DFF) and Sapere Aude: DFF-
Research Talent Grant.
*Correspondence to: Mathias Danbolt, Section for Art History, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of
Copenhagen, Karen Blixens Vej 1, DK-2200 Copenhagen S, Denmark. Email: danbolt@hum.ku.dk
Journal of AESTHETICS & CULTURE
Vol. 8, 2016
#2016 M. Danbolt. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and
build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.
Citation: Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Vol. 8, 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/jac.v8.30902
1
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Keywords: Nordic exceptionalism;new Nordic;performance art;branding;image-building;autostereotypes;
nationalism
In November 2009, the Nordic Council of Minis-
ters of Culture organized a 2-day Nordic Culture
Forum summit at the Nordic embassy complex
in Berlin. The seminar sought to examine ‘‘the role
of the Nordic Region in a globalized world,’
by discussing ‘‘the profiling and presentation of
Nordic art and culture.’
1
The forum gathered
‘‘representatives of the whole ‘food chain’’’ of
cultural production in order to share knowledge
on the ‘‘profiling, launching, presenting, branding,
publicizing, exporting, competing with and evalu-
ating the impact of Nordic art and culture.’
2
One
of the speakers at the event was Annika Sigurdar-
dottir, the Officer of Internal Missions in the
lobby-organization The United Nations of Norden
(UNN). I start this article with a transcript of
Sigurdardottir’s presentation in full length, as her
‘‘United Nations of Norden Recruitment Speech’’
is one of my main objects of analysis in the
following:
The United Nations of Norden (UNN) is
a lobby organization, working to articulate
and shape the common destiny of the Nordic
Nations. The goal is to erase the national
borders between our countries and let go of
our archaic attachment to the fatherland.
We are currently at a critical time, where the
challenges facing us now are more challen-
ging than ever. There are three challenges in
the world. One, the crisis*the financial, the
political and ecological. Two, the physical
battles*the continued territorial disputes
causing bloodshed. And three, another kind
of warfare fought with softer weapons and a
global scramble for larger political influence
through culture, sports and tourism.
Our role as the UNN is not to be a military
superpower. Our role is to be a moral super-
power, and to be that we have to shine as an
example of what can be achieved when
people cooperate with one another, united
in a common purpose and a common destiny.
Ours is a community based on common-
sense ideas of being good citizens; sharing
values of feminism, environmentalism, secu-
larized Lutheranism, corporate transparency,
stable public policies, and an avoidance of
conflict.
The Nordic image that unites us stems from
the times when the cold war polarized the
world, and we remained unaligned, choosing
a third way, a necessary neutral zone. It is
vital that we hold onto our specialness since
this is our unique position. The world needs
a neutral north onto which it can project
utopian ideals, and hopes for the possibility
of another world.
We can be proud of our achievements, our
history, and our role as mediators. Together
we have built a nation that is prosperous and
safe, being a society of moderation, both in
production and consumption. It is a place
that is open and diverse, and it is a federation
that is respected, both in Europe and in
the world. And with this acknowledgment,
we can finally end the competition between
our nations about who is the most Nordic
country among us.
When the world was polarized, Norden
remained outside of that. Now the world is
globalized and has no ideological poles,
except for the West and the Islamic poles,
and we need to remind ourselves that we
were always beyond the poles. We existed as
hope for something else to be possible, and
this is why we cannot escape the question of a
unified interest since the world needs a new
voice of reason that can guide through the
crisis. Let us keep our eyes on the future and
head toward the potential of a borderless and
a United Nations of Norden.
3
According to a report from the event, Sigurdar-
dottir’s recruitment speech for the UNN was met
with a set of mixed responses, with a notable
difference between the Nordic and German dele-
gates. While a prominent German professor
pointed out that this summoning of ‘‘solidarity
based on a common cultural past and the claim
for moral superiority [...] would be scandalous if
spoken by a German person,’’ the responses from
Nordic delegates were in contrast marked by
curiosity and interest, inspiring queries such as,
‘‘‘do we really want a United Nations of Norden?’
and if so ‘how can we start this?’’
4
The serious
discussion that ensued about the potential of a
new Nordic federation prompted the organizers of
the forum to intervene and restore order by
M. Danbolt
2
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revealing that the UNN was not a real organization,
and that Annika Sigurdardottir was an actor
delivering a performance text made by artists Jeuno
JE Kim and Ewa Einhorn.
The ‘‘United Nations of Norden Recruitment
Speech’’ is part of Kim and Einhorn’s long-term
artistic examination of Nordic political and
cultural history, and especially the effects and
affects connected to the branding of Norden as
an exceptional region politically, economically,
and culturally. In their work, Kim and Einhorn
often create fictive organizations, institutions, and
utopian scenarios that function as a framework
for their critical interventions in political debates
and discourses. The ‘‘United Nations of Norden
Recruitment Speech’’ has later been included in
a video trilogy that Kim and Einhorn presented
at their exhibition Allt fo
¨r alla [Everything for
Everyone] at Ga
¨vla Konstcentrum in Sweden, in
2010. The UNN-video was not a documentation
of the Nordic Culture Forum-intervention, but
a sale’s pitch speech made for camera by the
‘‘Director of Internal Affairs’’ at the UNN. The
work was presented together with a video docu-
mentation of a lecture by Kim-Eric Wiliams,
the Governor of the Swedish Colonial Society, a
real organization that works to celebrate the history
and legacy of the New Sweden Colony in the
United States between 1638 and 1655, as well as
an interview with a researcher from the ‘‘Global
Think Tank for Nordic Studies,’’ a forum under
the (fictional) organization New Sweden Associate
that works to turn ‘‘Sweden’’ into a transferrable
‘‘idea’’ and ‘‘mode of life’’ that can work as a model
against the polarization of the world.
5
Enmeshment of the factual and the fictional is
a central starting point for Kim and Einhorn’s
engagement with the politics and poetics of ‘‘ima-
gined communities’’ in Norden in a globalized
world.
6
In this article, I’m interested in mining
the potential in this confusion between truth and
fiction generated by Kim and Einhorn’s UNN-
intervention at the Nordic Culture Forum. My
interest in this has less to do with the fact that parts
of the audience at the event seemed to be ‘‘tricked’
by the artistic ‘‘fiction,’’ but more to do with the
ways in which the speech calls attention to the
performative power of fictions, imaginations, and
utopian visions in political thinking more broadly.
The fact that the UNN took on a brief life of its
own at the Nordic Culture Forum*regardless of its
artistic nature*invites a number of questions. Kim
and Einhorn raised some of these in a recent article
about their intervention:
Why was UNN received without hesitation
by some of the audience? Were some parts
of the speech reasonable and ‘‘real’’ enough
to strike a chord in the listener to be an
attractive political movement? If so, which
elements?
7
This article seeks to shed light on these ques-
tions by analyzing the UNN-performance in
relation to the context of its reception. As I was
not present at the Nordic Culture Forum where
Sigurdardottir delivered her speech, and only
know the event through documentation provided
by the artists, I am not seeking to answer why
the specific audience reacted the way they did. By
reception, then, I am pointing to the broader
conditions that enabled the idea of UNN to appear
legible as a political proposal worthy of debate.
This means that my analysis remains less invested
in situating the UNN-project within the field of
contemporary art than the political discourses
the performance works with and within. One of
the main reasons that the UNN-speech could pass
as a serious project at the gather in Berlin, I argue,
is that Kim and Einhorn’s performance mobilize
two discursive formations that have been central
to the debates about the branding and identity
of ‘‘Nordicity’’ over the last decades. On the
one hand, the speech draws on the discourse of
‘‘Nordic exceptionalism,’’ that developed in the
early 1960s in the attempt to describe and promote
the so-called Nordic ‘‘third way’’ in the then
polarized world order divided between capitalism
and communism. On the other hand, the per-
formance invokes the recent discourse of the
‘‘New Nordic,’’ that from its emergence in rela-
tion to the so-called New Nordic Food (NNF)-
movement a decade ago, has given art and culture
a central role in the attempt to re-fashion the
Nordic brand internationally.
In the following, I seek to recap some of the main
touchstones in the discursive history of Nordic
exceptionalism in order to ground my analysis of
how the utopian rhetoric of the UNN-project
draws upon and responds to the century-long
investment in ideologies of ‘‘Scandinavianism’
and ‘‘Nordism.’’ As part of my larger research
New Nordic Exceptionalism
3
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project on the conceptualizations of colonialism
and racism in the Nordic region, this article seeks
to shed light on how the idea of Nordic unity and
uniqueness contributes to the shaping of contem-
porary political imaginaries. In Kim and Einhorn’s
project I thus hear not only a fictitious summoning
for the creation of a UNN but, more importantly,
a call for questioning and analyzing the ideolo-
gical underpinnings and performative effects of
the discourses of Nordic exceptionalism and the
New Nordic. Approaching UNN with this call in
mind, I suggest that Kim and Einhorn’s inter-
vention point to the ascending framework of a
New Nordic Exceptionalism.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF NORDIC
EXCEPTIONALISM
The discourse of Nordic exceptionalism is often
traced back to the period following World War II,
when researchers within the fields of International
Relations and Security Policy caught interest in the
Nordic region as an example of what Karl W.
Deutsch in 1957 described as a unique ‘‘security-
community’’ in a time of global unrest and polar-
ization.
8
With reference to the alleged ‘‘mutual
sympathy and loyalty’’ between the Nordic
nations*the so-called ‘‘we-feeling’’*researchers
argued that the Nordic region stood out for its
unique ability to resolve problems, domestically as
well as internationally, by means of ‘‘peaceful
change.’’
9
The Norwegian political security ana-
lysts Johan Jørgen Holst and Arne Olav Brundtland
introduced the term ‘‘Nordic Balance’’ in the early
1960s to describe the Nordic strategy of ‘‘reduced
great power involvement’’ in relation to the conflict
between the superpowers of the West and East.
10
Politicians as well as researchers in the Nordic
countries thus effectively sought to establish the
reputation of Norden as ‘‘norm entrepreneurs’’ in
the larger field of global politics.
11
Despite*or
rather because of*its economical dependencies
and weak militaries, the Nordic countries became
known for its ability to develop alternative models
of engagement within the areas of political media-
tion, conflict resolution, and global cooperation.
12
While the Nordic Region took on the role as the
symbol of ‘‘bridge-building’’ between communism
in the East and capitalism in the West, the Nordic
countries also positioned themselves as fron-
trunners of international solidarism between the
Global North and the Global South.
13
Sweden’s
Prime Minister Olof Palme was perhaps the most
outspoken advocate for this version of internation-
alism with his ‘‘stand for national freedom and
independence’’ for all peoples, as he stated it in
his 1980 article ‘‘Sweden’s Role in the World.’
14
Sweden’s exceptional activist foreign policy*
which included a relentless critique of the US
intervention in Vietnam, as well as economic and
moral support of anti-imperialist movements in
countries including Nicaragua, South Africa, and
Namibia*became an important symbol of the
Nordic self-described role as the ‘‘moral super-
power’’ of the world, to borrow the Swedish
Undersecretary of state in the 1980s, Pierre
Schori’s own term.
15
Parallel to the focus on Nordic Balance in
foreign and security politics research, the discourse
of Nordic exceptionalism also had a different
strand in the discussions of the social and econom-
ic policies of the so-called Nordic Model.
16
The
Nordic Model became a central organizing figure
in describing, theorizing, and promoting the
unique mixture of socialist redistributive justice
and capitalist market economy in the social demo-
cratic welfare states. While the Nordic Model
has been key to theorizations of the welfare state,
the concept has also had an important ideational
and normative function in establishing an image of
Norden as an international symbol of generosity,
equality, and care-taking.
17
In Kazimierz Musiał’s discourse analysis of
Nordic exceptionalism, he highlights the role that
these ‘‘images of reality’’ (which he distinguishes
from ‘‘experiences of reality’’) have played in
turning the history of Nordicity into ‘‘a compelling
narrative for the international public.’
18
Reading
across the internationalist Nordic Balance litera-
ture and the welfare state debates on the Nordic
Model, Musiał highlights the importance of what
he terms ‘‘autostereotypes’’ in the discourse of
Nordic exceptionalism. Defined as the ‘‘discursive
construction of self-images,’’ the central autoster-
eotypes used in the fashioning of Nordic identity
have included ‘‘progressiveness, peacefulness, the
egalitarian society, solidarity with the Third World
and environmentalism.’’
19
These autostereotypes
have been advanced in a number of different ways
and venues, including through the work of inter-
parliamentary forums such as the Nordic Council
(NC), established in 1952. Although the NC’s role
M. Danbolt
4
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as a consulting forum gives it no direct political
license, it has been crucial for inter-Nordic co-
operation to bolster the image of Nordic cohesion
internationally.
20
The Nordic decision to act as
a single unity in the UN and UNESCO is central
in this regard, as these forums became important
platforms for the promotion and ‘‘export [of]
Nordic values’’ internationally, as researchers
have made clear.
21
The Finnish diplomat and
former Ambassador to the UN Max Jakobson’s
1987 speech to the UN General Assembly gives an
indication of this:
[This] little [Nordic] group of politically
stable, socially advanced, prosperous coun-
tries which have no major international
claims to press or to counter, no present or
recent colonial record, and no racial pro-
blems, represents moderation and rationality
in an assembly often swayed by fanatic or
neurotic forces.
22
Jakobson’s idealized description of the Nordic
exceptional difference in political, social, and
economical terms is but one examples of the
long legacy of hyperbolic rhetoric in the promo-
tion of Nordicity internationally.
It is this rhetorical tradition that Kim and
Einhorn invoke in Sigurdardottir’s recruitment
speech for the UNN, where she mobilizes many
of the autostereotypes mentioned above*including
Schrod’s concept of ‘‘moral superpower,’’ and
Jakobson’s whitewashed version of the Nordic
non-involvement in the unfinished histories of
racism and colonialism. While the UNN-speech
reiterates this glorified history of Norden, Sigur-
dardottir also makes clear that ‘‘the Nordic image
that unites us stems from the times when the cold
war polarized the world.’
23
And new times call
for new images and imaginaries. The UNN is thus
framed as a solution to a series of challenges
and crisis that threaten the ‘‘destiny’’ of Norden.
One of these includes the co-called crisis of the
discourse of Nordic exceptionalism.
THE CRISIS OF NORDIC
EXCEPTIONALISM
While the 1970s and 1980s have been described as
‘‘the ‘golden age’ of the ‘Nordic model’,’’ the end
of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall
challenged the narrative of Nordic exceptionalism
to the degree that it was understood to be in a state
of ‘‘terminal crisis.’’
24
The image of Nordic
exceptionalism had been dependent on a bipolar
world order where the perpetual conflicts and
tensions elsewhere enabled the Nordic countries
to appear different with their alleged balanced
security policies, generous international solidarity
work, and egalitarian socio-economic welfare sys-
tem. That large parts of the political establishment
in the Nordic countries reacted to these world
changing events less with enthusiasm than ‘‘skepti-
cism, frustration and attempt to limit the impact
of change,’’ is thus not surprising.
25
In the 1992
article, ‘‘Nordic Nostalgia: Northern Europe After
the Cold War,’’ Danish International Relations
theorist Ole Wæver claimed that ‘‘Nordic identity
is in crisis. With the European revolution of
19891990, the meaning of ‘Norden’ has become
unclear.’’
26
According to Wæver, ‘‘Nordic identity
is about being better than Europe’’*as well
as ‘‘being better off than Europe’*and since this
no longer seemed to be the case, Wæver reported
on a growing doubt in the Nordic countries ‘‘as to
whether ‘Norden’ is at all a useful symbol any-
more.’
27
This sudden doubt about the status of
the Nordic Model was also evident in much
political rhetoric in the early 1990s, including in
statements by state leaders such as the Swedish
Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who in 1991 made clear
that ‘‘no one wants to be a compromise between
a system which has turned out to be a success
and another that has turned out to be a historic
catastrophe.’
28
The Finnish Prime Minister Esko
Aho was more direct, proclaiming ‘‘The Nordic
Model is dead.’
29
With the rapid growth of the economies in
Central Europe following the fall of the Iron
Curtain, the political, economical, and interna-
tionalist narratives of the Nordic social democra-
cies lost much of its appeal*domestically as well as
internationally. The efforts to reboot the image of
the Nordic region have been manifold and varied.
One of the most important attempts to rejuvenate
the interest in the Nordic region can be seen in the
venture to redraw the territorial boundaries of
Norden to include the new Baltic states. While
researchers in the 1990s predicted that the invest-
ment in Nordism would be replaced by ‘‘Baltism,’’
30
discourse analyses of debates on Norden in the
1990s and 2000s demonstrate that the Nordist
approach and the idea of Nordic exceptionalism
did not disappear.
31
Even though the geographies
New Nordic Exceptionalism
5
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of the Baltic*and more recently, the Arctic*have
been important to the attempted economical,
political, and ideational refashioning of Norden,
the search for new anchor points to bolster Nordic
identity and the Nordic Region have continued.
32
In his 2007 article ‘‘Branding Nordicity: Mod-
els, Identity and the Decline of Exceptionalism,’
Christopher S. Browning suggests the importance
of distinguishing between identity and branding in
analyzing the history of Nordic exceptionalism.
Although Browning affirms that ‘‘the ‘Nordic
brand’ is losing its marketability,’’ he disagrees
with the claims that this should endanger Nordic
identity.
33
Pointing to the difference between
identities (that are constructed through intersub-
jective negotiations that makes them fundamen-
tally changeable, multiple, and fluid) and brands
(that operate through more stable and specific
forms of reference in the marketplace of commod-
ities and ideas), Browning suggests that the
demise of Nordic exceptionalism is not necessarily
a negative thing. The narrative of Nordic excep-
tionalism has from the start been marked by a
paradox, Browning explains: On the one hand, it
has been hailed as an identitarian concept that
marks the Nordic difference from Europe. On the
other hand, it has been promoted as a brand and
model to be copied and implemented by others.
34
If the Nordic brand no longer holds a compelling
power internationally, Browning argues, can also
be seen as a result of the ‘‘staggering success for
[the branding of] Nordic ideals and the Nordic
model*especially to the extent that [its] inter-
nationalist and solidarist elements have become
Europeanized and accepted as a part of the EU’s
international profile.’
35
Breaking with the ubiqui-
tous crisis narratives in the debates about Norden
after the Cold War, Browning argues that Nordic
identity has the potential of reconstituting itself
around other elements than its ‘‘exceptionalism.’’
This reorientation might already be on its way,
he suggests, by noting that the Nordic countries
‘‘appear to have lost interest in even selling a
Nordic brand anymore.’’
36
While Browning’s distinction between the iden-
tity and brand of Nordicity is helpful in nuancing
the discursive construction of Nordic exception-
alism, his claim about the alleged declining
investment in the branding of Norden appears
less grounded, as I will return to. For how does
this latter claim, for instance, relate to the interest
and appeal of the idea UNN at the Nordic Culture
Point seminar? And, more importantly, to the
existence of gatherings such as Nordic Culture
Forum in the first place, with its focus precisely on
‘‘the profiling and presentation of Nordic art and
culture?’’
37
FROM SCANDINAVIANISM TO NORDISM
When Sigurdardottir delivered the ‘‘United Na-
tions of Norden Recruitment Speech’’ at the
Nordic Culture Forum, her presentation was
accompanied by a PowerPoint show. The first
image in the series presented the flag of the United
Nations of Norden, made by Kim and Einhorn
(Figure 1). Combining elements of all the Nordic
cross flags, the UNN-flag takes the white cross from
the Danish flag, while the four quarters follow the
color schemes of the Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic
and Swedish flags respectively. This blending of
different flags in order to symbolize the unity
between nations has visual connotations to the
disputed union mark, better known as sildesalaten/
sillsalladen [herring salad], that was introduced in
the canton of the Swedish and Norwegian national
flags in 1844 to symbolize the union between the
kingdoms that lasted between 1814 and 1905. This
visual allusion to the history of unions between
Nordic countries is but one example of how the
UNN-project taps into the unfinished history of
the ideologies of Scandinavianism and Nordism. In
order to get a better sense of this, a quick recap of
the history of Scandinavianism is necessary.
The union between Sweden and Norway was
not based on consensus, but resulted from the
Napoleonic wars where Denmark, after the Treaty
Figure 1. Jeuno JE Kim and Ewa Einhorn, United Nations
of Norden flag (2009). Courtesy of the artists.
M. Danbolt
6
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of Kiel in 1814, was forced to cede Norway to
Sweden. While the union was controversial on
both sides of the border, this did not stop the
bourgeoning debate and interest in establishing a
union that would encompass all three Scandina-
vian nations at the time. Students, scholars, and
authors were the central proponents of the move-
ment known as Scandinavianism that developed
as an ‘‘alternative nationalist ideology’’ in the
early 1800s.
38
Advanced as a cultural as well as
a political program in a time where Sweden faced
threats from Russia in the East and Denmark from
Prussia in the South, the proponents of Scandi-
navianism frequently invoked images of a com-
mon Nordic heritage of language, culture and
politics*such as the Viking Age and the Kalmar
Union (13971523)*in order to demonstrate the
natural unity of the region.
39
The advocates for
Scandinavianism included leading scholars and
thinkers, such as the Danish clergyman, poet, and
political philosopher N.F.S. Grundtvig, who in his
1810 pamphlet ‘‘Er Nordens Forening ønskelig?
Et Ord til det svenske folk’’ [Is Nordic Unification
Desirable? A Word to the Swedish People] stated
his ‘‘warmest desire and brightest hope in Nordic
unification,’’ that he saw as the ‘‘Region’s des-
tiny.’
40
The Danish author H.C. Andersen even
wrote a national anthem for a unified Scandinavia
in 1837, ‘‘Jeg er en Skandinav!’’ [I am a Scandi-
navian!]; a song brimming with mythical autoster-
eotypes of the region’s unity and uniqueness, as
the opening lines suggests: ‘‘Vi er eet Folk, vi kaldes
Skandinaver/I trende Riger er vor Hjemstavn
deelt;/Men mellem Nutids store Himmel-Gaver/
Er den: vort Hjerte voxer til et Heelt!’’ [We are
one people, we are called Scandinavians/In three
realms our homeland is divided;/But between
the great heavenly gifts of the present/It lies: our
heart grows into one].
41
The romantic image of
Scandinavian oneness came to a serious halt with
the Danish defeat in 1864 in the war against
PrussiaAustria in Schleswig, where the Swedish
Norwegian union refused to deliver military sup-
port. While this did not terminate the interest
and investment in a common Nordic unity, the
political visionary pan-Scandinavianism receded
in the latter part of the century to be replaced by
what historian Marja Jalava terms a more ‘‘prac-
tical Scandinavianism or Nordism.’
42
Here Nor-
dicity was promoted as a ‘‘meso-regional identity,’’
where Norden was figured not as a replacement
for national identifications but as a central feature
of ‘‘what it meant to be a Dane, Swede, Norwe-
gian, Finn or Icelander.’
43
With Finland’s independence from the Russian
Empire following the Russian Revolution of
1917, and the recognition of Iceland as a sovereign
state in union with Denmark in 1918, the Scandi-
navianst framework took a Nordist turn. This
is visible in the reappearance of the idea of a
specifically Nordic union during World War II.
In journals such as the anti-totalitarian Nordens
Frihet [Nordic Freedom] and debate books, in-
cluding the influential 1942 Nordens fo
¨renta stater
[The United States of Norden], the idea of a
Nordic federation was promoted as a solution to
the totalitarian attacks on the so-called Nordic
traditions of freedom, justice, and democracy.
44
The proponents for a union were well aware,
as Tora Bystro
¨m has noted, ‘‘that the conditions
for a United Nations of Norden did not exist in a
time where three of the states were occupied,
and the fourth, Finland, was engaged in the war
on the same side as the occupier of Norway and
Denmark.’
45
But the planning of a future union
was motivated by the contention that it was
important to be prepared for the end of the war,
when a new political system might be imminently
needed. Although the UNN never came to fruition
in the aftermath of World War II, the ideological
support for this ‘‘utopian thought,’’ as Bystro
¨m
calls it, lingered on.
46
THE NEOLIBERAL TURN IN NORDIC
CULTURAL POLICY
Research literature often describes the legacy of
Scandinavianism and Nordism as the ‘‘ideological
roots’’ of the establishment of the Nordic coop-
erative initiatives from the 1950s and onwards.
47
Including the establishment of the 1952 NC,
and signing of the Helsinki Treaty of 1962,
that delineated the intergovernmental strategy to
‘‘promote and strengthen the close ties existing
between the Nordic peoples in matters of culture,
and of legal and social philosophy.’
48
The inter-
Nordic unity was further formalized with the
establishment of the Nordic Councils of Ministers
(NCoM) in 1971, as well as funding initiatives such
as the Nordic Culture Fund, that supports artistic
and cultural projects with participants from at least
three Nordic countries. This intergovernmental
New Nordic Exceptionalism
7
(page number not for citation purpose)
investment in buttressing Nordic cooperation and
unity did not cede following the so-called crisis of
Nordic exceptionalism in the 1990s, as Browning
seems to suggest. Within the realm of arts and
culture, for instance, new structures have been
established to promote the Nordic framework,
including the influential NIFCA: Nordic Institute
for Contemporary Art (19972006), and its
successor Nordic Culture Point (2007).
49
Yet, the Nordic cooperation since the 1990s has
been increasingly shaped by the neoliberal turn in
European economic politics.
50
In the case of
Nordic cultural policies, this is visible in the ways
in which ‘‘economical objectives have replaced
educational and aesthetic objectives’’ in the sup-
port of arts and culture, as cultural policy theorist
Peter Duelund explains.
51
According to Duelund,
the Nordic cultural policies have from the 1990s
and onwards been through a period of ‘‘political
colonization,’’ that has involved a strengthening
of the connections between arts and business, an
expansion of private and business sponsorship,
a reduction in the state regulations of cultural
industries, an increased political regulation of
‘‘earmarked’’ funds to politically defined purposes,
and a revitalization of a national dimension in
cultural politics in response to migration and
globalization.
52
This commercialized focus in
Nordic cultural policies is on display in the framing
of the 2009 Nordic Culture Forum summit in
Berlin where Kim and Einhorn presented their
UNN-project. This contextual framing needs to be
taken into account when discussing how Sigurdar-
dottir’s UNN-speech could appear as a serious
proposal from a real lobby organization. After all,
the UNN-speech included not only a series of
well-known autostereotypes from the discourse
of Nordic exceptionalism, in a narrative that
tapped into the historical desire for Nordist unity.
Sigurdardottir also presented this package in the
effective visual and rhetorical style of a corporate
sale’s pitch.
While the UNN-speech’s idealist rhetoric of
Nordic eminence might appear too pompous
to pass as credible for listeners unfamiliar with
this lingo*such as the German delegates at the
Nordic Culture Forum*it is perhaps less surpris-
ing that it could be heard as a proper contribution
to the debate on the future of Norden among
the Nordic delegates. After all, the speech does
not include any motifs that haven’t already been
circulating in the discussions on the branding
of Nordicity. Instead of criticizing this commer-
cialized discourse head on, Kim and Einhorn’s
UNN-project probes the critical potential of over-
identifying with the glossy tropes of Nordic
exceptionalism. Following the tradition of political
culture jamming,
53
Kim and Einhorn’s critical
strategy operates not by ‘‘speak[ing] truth to
power,’’ but by ‘‘speaking the truth of power,’
to borrow Brian Holmes’ description of the
art activist collective The Yes Men’s approach.
54
By utilizing the established idioms of Nordic
exceptionalism*albeit in an arguably embellished
and amplified way*Kim and Einhorn created a
rupture in the Nordic Culture Forum not by
obstructing but by fitting too perfect into the debate.
Their successful simulation of the political rheto-
ric of Nordic exceptionalism made their call for
an imaginary Nordic Union appear real enough
to merit interest and attention; real enough to
make the organizers interrupt the conversation by
attempting to reassert the difference between art
and politics, fiction and truth.
GUNNAR WETTERBERG’S THE UNITED
NORDIC FEDERATION
The distinction between fiction and truth is
difficult to parse when dealing with the discourse
on Nordic exceptionalism, which has been guided
less by descriptive and explanatory concerns than
by promotional interests in advancing an idealized
image of Nordicity.
55
By successfully exploiting
the performative power of the airbrushed images
of Nordicity at play in this discourse, Kim and
Einhorn’s UNN-project underlines the central
role that images and imaginaries play in political
narratives. The main difference between the
UNN-speech and other so-called ‘‘earnest’’ poli-
tical speech acts is in short not to be found in its
discursive means, but in the question of its
intentional ends.
The UNN-project puts pressure on the inter-
dependence of aesthetic and politics, fiction and
truth, in the discursive construction of Nordic
exceptionalism. This point can be substantiated
further if we approach the UNN-project in per-
spective of the debates that took place in Swedish
newspapers in the weeks leading up to the Nordic
Culture Forum in Berlin. During the annual
Session of the NC in Stockholm in the end of
M. Danbolt
8
(page number not for citation purpose)
October 2009, the Swedish former diplomat and
historian Gunnar Wetterberg published a series of
debate articles in the Swedish newspaper Dagens
Nyheter, where he summoned the Nordic politi-
cians to establish a ‘‘new Kalmar Union’’ that
could gather the five Nordic countries and three
autonomous territories in a ‘‘United Nordic Fed-
eration’’ (UNF).
56
Such a federation, Wetterberg
explained, would give the Nordic countries ‘‘an
international position of power’’ as the ‘‘world’s
tenth largest economy, in reality bigger than Russia
and Brazil’’; a fact that would give Norden a
central positions in all international political and
economic councils and committees.
57
Inspired by
the federal government structure of Switzerland
and Canada, the UNF would secure the individual
states political autonomy on domestic issues,
while a Nordic Parliament would be in charge of
foreign and security policies, financial and labor
politics, education and research strategies, as well
as jurisdiction.
58
Wetterberg’s suggestion for a Nordic union
generated a lively and enthusiastic debate in the
papers, and a poll by Oxford Research suggested
that 42% of the Nordic population supported
the idea.
59
The broad interest in the proposal of a
Nordic Federation made the NC and NCoM
commission Wetterberg to expand on his idea.
This resulted in the book-length study, The United
Nordic Federation, published as NCoM’s annual
yearbook in 2010. Wetterberg’s pitch for a UNF
has striking resemblance to the idealized language
of Kim and Einhorn’s UNN-speech. Although
Wetterberg’s proposal is primarily motivated by
the prospect of how a Nordic union could be a
‘‘catalyst for economic development,’’ and thereby
be a stepping stone to the establishment of a
‘‘new Nordic economy,’’ he makes clear that the
‘‘essential precondition’’ for the establishment of a
union is the historically strong-rooted ‘‘cultural
community’’ between the nations.
60
This cultural
community is known for its ‘‘deep-seated attach-
ment to equality and love of nature,’’ and ‘‘im-
pressive openness to the outside world,’’ a fact
allegedly demonstrated by the Nordic acknowl-
edgement of ‘‘migration [...] as a basis for
progress,’ and consensus on the fact that ‘‘xeno-
phobia conflicts with the forces that underpin
Nordic affluence.’
61
While Wetterberg notes that
these ‘‘Nordic conditions and values may well be
different from those of so many other countries,’’
he stresses that the Nordic states need to join
forces if they are to be able to retain and promote
them in a new global order.
62
In order for this
‘‘realistic utopia’’ to materialize, as Wetterberg
called it, the NC and NCoM should start com-
missioning proper feasibility studies that could act
as a stepping stone for the drastic policy decisions
to come.
63
In the Foreword to The United Nordic Federation,
the then Secretary-General of the NC, Jan-Erik
Enestam, and the then Secretary-General of the
NCoM, Haldo´r A
´sgrı´msson explain that the
Nordic prime ministers all found Wetterberg’s
proposal ‘‘dramatic but unrealistic.’’
64
But since
the NC and NCoM want to support debates that
can ‘‘provide ammunition for new arguments,
new attitudes and new directions for Nordic co-
operations,’’ they wanted to give Wetterberg a
chance to develop his proposal.
65
Given the con-
tinuing legacies of Nordist thinking central to
Wetterberg’s proposal, it might be difficult to see
the radical newness of his ideas. But one of the
things that indeed can be said to be novel here is
his earnest attempt to position the idea of a Nordic
union as a starting point for a ‘‘New Nordic’’ way
that can pull the region out of the crisis caused by
the faltering narrative of Nordic exceptionalism.
THE NEW NORDIC: FROM A CULINARY
TO A CULTURAL MOVEMENT
When Wetterberg and Kim and Einhorn presented
their parallel ideas of a Nordic union in the fall
of 2009, the idea of the ‘‘New Nordic’’ had
already become a circulating trademark and opera-
tive framework for the branding of Nordic culture,
including food, art, architecture, film and litera-
ture. While the notions of ‘‘Nordic art’’ and
‘‘Nordic design’’ have long and complex histories
of their own,
66
the concept of ‘‘New Nordic’’ both
draws on the strategic essentialism operative in the
tradition for speaking of a ‘‘Nordic aesthetic,’ while
suggesting that something new and different is in
play. The use of ‘‘New Nordic’’ as a novel brand
emerged in particular from the discussions around
the so-called NNF-movement in the early 2000s.
The current Secretary-General of the NCoM,
Dagfinn Høybra˚ten, describes this phenomenon
as ‘‘a bottom up movement that started with a
group of food aficionados and chefs who had a
love for Nordic food and food products,’’ in his
New Nordic Exceptionalism
9
(page number not for citation purpose)
introduction to a special issue on ‘‘The Future of
New Nordic Food’’ in the NCoM-journal Green
Growth: The Nordic Way.
67
The most central of
these ‘‘food aficionados’’ is the Danish entrepre-
neur and chef Claus Meyer, who together with chef
Rene´ Redzepi opened the restaurant Noma in
Copenhagen in 2003. In 2004 Meyer took initiative
to a New Nordic Cuisine Symposium, supported
by NCoM, where 12 male chefs from the Nordic
countries signed ‘‘The New Nordic Food Manifes-
to’’ that outlined the ideological program for this
bourgeoning movement.
68
The 10-point manifesto
is well-stocked with autostereotypes of Nordicity,
as seen in the first paragraph that describes how
the NNF-movement seeks to ‘‘express the purity,
freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate
to our region.’
69
The NCoM was quick to support this new
entrepreneurial engagement with Nordicity, as
demonstrated by their 2005 ‘‘A
˚rhus Declaration
on New Nordic Food.’’ The declaration details
NCoM’s commitment in promoting ‘‘New Nordic
Food’’ regionally and internationally as a project
that shall offer ‘‘the consumer a better quality of
life through healthy and tasty food based on Nordic
ingredients,’’ as well as represent ‘‘a forward-
looking answer to increased international competi-
tion in the global food market.’
70
As an ideological
program operating across the cultural, biopolitical,
and economical fields, the NNF-movement stands
out as a perfect exemplification of Duelund’s
argument about the increasing ‘‘political coloniza-
tion’’ in Nordic cultural policies that privilege
commercial initiatives that aid the branding of
Norden. NCoM’s numerous strategy plans and
branding initiatives for the NNF over the last
decade has not only been central in making
New Nordic Cuisine into a celebrated trademark
internationally, it has also turned the ‘‘New Nor-
dic’’ into a brand that has aided the promotion of
contemporary art, architecture, design, performing
arts, films, TV-shows, and other realms of cultural
production from the Nordic region internationally.
The numerous exhibitions, conferences, publica-
tions, events, and strategy plans sporting the phrase
‘‘New Nordic’’ in their titles speak to this.
71
THE CONSERVATION OF NORDEN
The discourse on the New Nordic bear resem-
blance to the utopian language of Kim and
Einhorn’s UNN-project. In the language of
New Nordic, Norden appears as a strong brand
and cohesive national identity, bolstered by an
image of healthy attitudes, values, and practices
of living. The investment in presenting the
New Nordic as an all-encompassing ‘‘social move-
ment’’*to borrow General Secretary Høybra˚ten’s
description of NNF*is on show in articles such as
‘‘Do We All Live in a New Nordic Food World?’’
(2015), published at Norden.org, the main website
of NC and NCoM:
Food culture and gastronomy function like
tasty glue, making people feel attached and
alike in spite of other factors that could divide
them. Agreeing on what is ‘‘our food’’ and
‘‘our eating habits’’ creates strong unspoken
bonds. With the New Nordic Food (NNF)
movement turned into an intergovernmental
vehicle for gastrodiplomacy, the Nordic re-
gion united under one gastronomic banner
has gained an impressive reputation and
overwhelming adoration from the world,
making us Nordics assess the bounty of our
homeland in a new light.
72
The description of how the NNF-movement
operates as an ‘‘intergovernmentalvehicle for gas-
trodiplomacy’’ underscores the politicized nature
of this so-called ‘‘bottom-up’’ cultural movement.
This mythical construction of the ‘‘we-feeling’’ of
the Nordic region, to borrow Karl Deutsch’s term,
where food culture works as a ‘‘tasty glue’’ that
brings people together, also runs through the self-
presentation of the NNF-movement by figures
such as Rene´ Redzepi and Claus Meyer. While
Redzepi frequently references the fact that ‘‘we
were Vikings’’ in his description of the ‘‘authenti-
city’’ of the NNF, Meyer emphasizes the crucial
role played by the Nordic soil or ‘‘terroir,’’ that is
not only pure and unique, but also marked by a
‘‘soul [...] which has remained nearly untouched
by time.’
73
The NNF-movement seeks in short
to bind the Nordic nations together aesthetically,
geographically, and historically by calling for a
return to the imagined roots of a Nordic spirit.
These appraisals of the ‘‘bounty of our home-
land’’ Norden clearly exhibits what critics have
called the ‘‘gastronationalist’’ inflection of the
NNF-movement.
74
In an analysis of the NNF-
movement from a critical whiteness-perspective,
Rikke Andreassen points out that the search for the
purity of the Nordic terroir ‘‘reflects an earlier
historical investment in (or obsession with) finding
M. Danbolt
10
(page number not for citation purpose)
the pure authentic Nordic race’’ among Nordic
racial theorists in the period between the early 19th
century and World War II.
75
Andreassen argues
that the discourse of NNF contributes to the
continuing (re)production of a racialized ideal of
Nordic whiteness: ‘‘In a time where the Nordic
society is becoming increasingly racial and ethni-
cally diverse, the New Nordic Kitchen turns the
opposite way and call for a narrow focus on the
Nordic as mono-cultural and mono-racial.’
76
Despite the positive affective connotations that
cling to the term ‘‘new’’ then, the discourse of the
New Nordic have clear conservative functions.
Analogous to Ha˚kan Wiberg’s description of how
the term Nordic Balance more than anything
worked to conserve the status quo in the 1960s by
‘‘offer[ing] a suitable vehicle for expressing the idea
that [the Nordic countries] were cooperating in one
sense*while not cooperating in another sense,’’ the
New Nordic sells an image of a novel and innovative
Nordic brand and identity rooted in a nostalgic
image of a mythical past of racial, cultural, and
political unity.
77
NEW NORDIC EXCEPTIONALISM
The investment in the New Nordic has enabled the
advancement of what I suggest to call the frame-
work of New Nordic Exceptionalism. By this phrase
I seek to capture how the discourse of the New
Nordic has mobilized the fields of art and culture
to reenergize the narrative of Nordic exceptional-
ism domestically and internationally in a time
where the image of a Nordic Model of political
bridge-building, internationalist solidarism, and
social welfare policies seem increasingly fractured.
The radical changes that has taken place in the
political and socio-economic landscape across
the Nordic countries over the last decades*with
the ‘‘variegated neoliberalization’’ of the Nordic
welfare states, and the dramatic influence of
anti-immigrant right-wing parties as some key
examples*have troubled the idea of the Nordic
states as the political, financial and ethical ‘‘norm
entrepreneurs’’ of the world.
78
Events such as
the Muhammad cartoon crisis of 20052006 in
Denmark, the terror attacks by the white right-
wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in
2011, and the racist school killings in Trollha
¨ttan
in Sweden in 2015, have called international media
to look ‘‘behind the myth of the Scandinavian
utopia,’’ as British journalist Michael Booth
phrases it in the subtitle to his popular travelogue
The Almost Nearly Perfect People (2014): ‘‘[O]nce
you go beyond the Western media’s current
Scandinavian tropes,’’ Booth explains, ‘‘a more
complex, often darker, occasionally quite trou-
bling picture begins to emerge [...]: the racism and
Islamophobia, the slow decline of social equality,
the alcoholism.’
79
The retro-utopian framework of New Nordic
Exceptionalism is not void of ‘‘darker’’ images like
these, but the political problems implicated herein
are often repackaged and presented in the style of
the popular so-called ‘‘New Nordic Noir’’-crime
thrillers, that as the name suggests, are known for
presenting the ‘‘dark underside’’ of the ‘‘cradle-to-
grave welfare system’’ in a simple and precise style
of gritty realism.
80
The deployment of these
‘‘dark’’ images and imaginaries of New Nordic
art and culture in the reenergizing of Norden as a
political and economical brand is explicitly in play
in NCoM’s most recent strategy report, Strategy for
International Branding of the Nordic Region 2015
2018 (2015). The strategy reports aims at turning
the phrase ‘‘The Nordic Perspective’’ into a brand
that can bring ‘‘the Nordic countries [together]
under a single and unified concept.’
81
The
30-page document takes its starting point in
the ‘‘characteristically Nordic cuisine, design,
films, music and literature [that] have been bring-
ing the Nordic region international recognition’’
over the last decade.
82
The ‘‘distinctly Nordic
element*a Nordic trademark’’*that connects
these cultural and artistic ‘‘successes’’ are, accord-
ing to the strategy plan, grounded in the ‘‘Nordic
governance and welfare model.’’ In the strategy
plan the discourse of Nordic exceptionalism and
the New Nordic are thus effectively mapped on
to each other. While the Nordic Model is posi-
tioned as the secret behind New Nordic art and
culture, the rhetoric of the New Nordic is deployed
to describe how the Nordic Model has ‘‘renewed
itself’’ following of the financial crisis, so much
so that ‘‘countries all over the world’’ have once
again started to ‘‘discuss whether our model could
serve as a possible buffering and stabilizing factor
in an increasingly uncertain global economy.’’
83
The role that artistic and cultural imaginaries play
in the description of this ascendant New Nordic
Exceptionalism is especially visible when the
New Nordic Exceptionalism
11
(page number not for citation purpose)
strategy plan references the potential obstacles
ahead:
We in the Nordic region are also facing a
number of serious challenges. We are far
from perfect, and it is perhaps this imperfec-
tion that makes us fascinating. At the same
time, we are always at the top of international
rankings regarding openness, trust, equality,
environment and happiness. These are the
values we want to share with the rest of the
world, along with our pragmatic politics,
dark thrillers, and the strong role of wo-
men.
84
In NCoM’s neoliberal language, problems turn
into challenges, failures appear as assets, and the
troubling political images*such as the main-
streaming of racist and Islamophobic discourses and
politics, to invoke Booth’s examples*appear as
‘‘fascinating’’ episodes of a Nordic ‘‘dark thriller.’’
CONCLUSION: THE LIMITS OF THE
NORDIC ‘‘REALIST UTOPIA’
Kim and Einhorn’s UNN-project presented the
audience at the Nordic Culture Forum with a
discursive mirror that aimed at distorting the
Nordic self-image perpetuated by the discursive
framework I have termed New Nordic Exception-
alism. The fact that the UNN-intervention seems
to have been largely forgotten in the years follow-
ing the Nordic Culture Forum, and has left few
marks even in the debates on contemporary art,
could be read as a sign that the performance
misfired. Yet, whether the intervention was suc-
cessful or not depends on our expectations and
measurements of success of a work like this. To
fault Kim and Einhorn’s critical redeployment of
the utopian language of Nordism for not jamming
the discursive machinery of New Nordic Excep-
tionalism more thoroughly would in my view be
off-target. For as I have hoped to show in this
article, the value of Kim and Einhorn’s UNN-
project is located less in its (dis)ability to rupture
than in its precise display of the troubling traditions
and continuities at work in the discursive frame-
work of New Nordic Exceptionalism.
The UNN-intervention demonstrates the re-
markable resilience of the idealized Nordist narra-
tive of unity and uniqueness*a resilience that
seems able to neutralize even the most exag-
gerated attempts at exhibiting its hyperbolic self-
images and nationalist logics. By highlighting the
interconnectedness of the discourses on Nordic
exceptionalism and the New Nordic, the UNN-
project exhibits how a Nordic framework both has
been and still can be used to legitimize and naturalize
a nationalist safeguarding of the purity and authen-
ticity of the Nordic ‘‘terroir’’ against foreign influ-
ences. The nationalism of the New Nordic seems in
short to follow in the tradition of how Nordism, in
Ole Wæver’s description, has historically functioned
less as a ‘‘tool against separate nationalism, but
rather as a pooling of nationalisms’’; ‘‘a collabora-
tive nationalism with the effect of putting itself
morally above other nationalism.’
85
The idealized
autostereotypes of Nordic excellence and ethics
thus work to make the nationalist inflection of
New Nordic Exceptionalism to appear not only
different from the historical ‘‘troubling’’ national-
isms of the world, but also as a model for others
to follow.
Kim and Einhorn’s UNN-intervention calls on
us to reflect further upon the issues and problems
that have to be neglected and forgotten for
the narrative of New Nordic Exceptionalism to
work, including the unfinished histories of Nordic
colonialism, the political mainstreaming of racist
and Islamophobic discourses, the mushrooming of
depression and stress-related illnesses, and more.
Kim and Einhorn’s examination of mechanisms at
play in the discursive nationalization of Norden
also raise questions to whether the Nordic branding
initiatives will be able to uphold the image of unity
in the face of the increasing antagonistic nationalist
politics at play in the different Nordic states in
the wake of the rising influence of nationalist
right-wing parties in the last decades. The tempor-
ary re-introduction of border control between
several of the Nordic countries in January 2016 in
response to the global refugee crisis is but one
example of the growing discrepancies between
the ‘‘image of reality’’ and ‘‘experience of reality’’
(to use Musiał’s terms) of a Nordic unity today.
The conspicuous absence of any mentioning of
these antagonistic nationalisms from the discus-
sions on the future of Norden suggests that some
‘‘imperfections’’ might be too difficult to reframe
as ‘‘fascinating’*even for the branding machinery
of New Nordic Exceptionalism. Some aspects of
the Nordic ‘‘realist utopia,’’ to borrow Gunnar
Wetterberg’s term, seems just too real to be dealt
with.
86
M. Danbolt
12
(page number not for citation purpose)
Notes
1. ‘‘Nordic Culture Forum to Discuss Profiling,’’ Norden.
org (November 2009). http://www.norden.org/
en/news-and-events/news/culture-forum-to-discuss-
profiling (accessed November 21, 2015).
2. Ibid.
3. Jeuno J.E. Kim and Ewa Einhorn, ‘‘Everything for
Everyone,’African and Black Diaspora: An Inter na-
tional Journal 7, no. 1 (2014): 2223. doi:http://dx.
doi.org/10.1080/17528631.2013.858917
4. Ibid., 24.
5. For a discussion of the exhibition, see Niels Hebert,
‘‘Massiv attack pa˚ varuma
¨rket Sverige’’ [Massive
Attack at the Swedish Brand], Arbetarbladet (Octo-
ber 2010), http://www.arbetarbladet.se/kultur/massiv-
attack-pa-varumarket-sverige (accessed November
30, 2015). Recently, Kim and Einhorn has devel-
oped their UNN-concept within the framework of
an animated TV-series entitled Krabstadt (2013).
See Jeuno J.E. Kim and Ewa Einhorn, Civilisation
& Provocation*The Ultimate Krabstadt Fanbook
(Malmo
¨:Fo
¨rlaget, 2016).
6. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflec-
tions on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed.
(London: Verso, 2006).
7. Kim and Einhorn, ‘‘Everything for Everyone,’’ 24.
8. Karl W. Deutsche et al., ‘‘Political Community and
the North Atlantic Area,’’ in The European Union:
Readings on the Theory and Practice of European
Integration, 3rd ed., eds. Brent F. Nelsen and
Alexander Stubb (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1957/
2003), 123; and Christopher Browning, ‘‘Branding
Nordicity: Models, Identity, and the Decline
of Exceptoinalism,’Cooperation and Conflict 42,
no. 1 (2007): 32. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/001
0836707073475
9. Deutsch et al., ‘‘Political Community and the North
Atlantic Area,’’ 124.
10. For a discussion on the ‘‘Nordic Balance,’’ see Arne
Olav Brundtland, ‘‘The Nordic Balance: Past and
Present,’Cooperation and Conflict 2, no. 2 (1967):
3063. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/00108367650
0100403
11. Christine Ingebritsen, ‘‘Norm Entrepreneurs: Scan-
dinavia’s Role in World Politics,’’ Cooperation and
Conflict 37, no. 1 (2002): 1123. doi:http://dx.doi.
org/10.1177/0010836702037001689
12. Ibid., 11.
13. Browning, ‘‘Branding Nordicity,’’ 35.
14. Olof Palme, quoted in Ibid., 34.
15. Ann Sofie-Dahl, ‘‘Sweden: Once a Moral Super-
power, Always a Moral Superpower?,’’ International
Journal 61, no. 4 (2006): 896. doi:http://dx.doi.org/
10.1177/002070200606100408
16. For a discussion of the relationship between these
different disciplinary takes on Nordic exceptional-
ism, see Mikko Kuisma, ‘‘Social Democratic Inter-
nationalism and the Welfare State After the ‘Golden
Age’,’Cooperation and Conflict 42, no. 1 (2007):
926. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/00108367070
73474
17. Ibid., 16.
18. Kazimierz Musiał, ‘‘Reconstructing Nordic Signifi-
cance in Europe on the Threshold of the 21st
Century,’Scandinavian Journal of History 34, no.
3 (2009): 287. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0346
8750903134723
19. Ibid., 289, 297.
20. Ibid., 295.
21. Browning, ‘‘Branding Nordicity,’’ 35; and Heidi
Haggre´n, ‘‘The ‘Nordic Group’ in UNESCO:
Informal and Practical Cooperation within the
Politics of Knowledge,’’ in Regional Cooperation and
International Organizations: The Nordic Model in
Transnational Alignment, eds. Norbert Getz and Heidi
Haggre´n (London: Routledge, 2009), 88111.
22. Max Jacobson quoted in Browning, ‘‘Branding
Nordicity,’’ 36.
23. Kim and Einhorn, ‘‘Everything for Everyone,’’ 22.
24. Kuisma, ‘‘Social Democratic Internationalism,’’
18; and Marja Jalava, ‘‘The Nordic Countries as a
Historical and Historiographical Region: Towards
a Critical Writing of Translocal History,’’ Histo
´ria da
historiografia 11 (2013): 251.
25. Ole Wæver, ‘‘Nordic Nostalgia: Northern Europe
after the Cold War,’’ International Affairs 68, no. 1
(1992): 77.
26. Ibid., 77.
27. Ibid., 77, 78.
28. Carl Bildt quoted in Browning, ‘‘Branding Nordi-
city,’’ 42.
29. Esko Aho quoted in Ibid., 42.
30. Jalava, ‘‘The Nordic Countries,’’ 250. For examples
of the proposal of the shift toward Baltism, Ole
Wæver, ‘‘Nordic Nostalgia,’’ 96102; and Ole
Wæver, ‘‘From Nordism to Baltism,’’ in The Baltic
Sea: A Region in the Making, ed. Sverre Jervell et al.
(Karlskrona: Baltic Institute, 1992). For an analysis
of the role of the Baltic in the reconceptualization of
Norden since the 1990s, see Musiał, ‘‘Reconstruct-
ing Nordic Significance.’
31. Kuisma, ‘‘Social Democratic Internationalism,’’ 18.
32. The category of the Arctic has similar to the Baltic
become central to the discussions of the future of
Nordic politics and economy, especially following
the establishment of the Arctic Council in 1996,
when Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark (repre-
senting the Faeroes and Greenland), Iceland,
Russia, Canada and the USA signed the Ottawa
Declaration. For a critical discussion on the rising
discourse of ‘‘Arctic exceptionalism,’’ see Juha
Ka
¨pyla
¨and Harri Mikkola, On Arctic Exceptionalism:
Critical Reflections in the Light of the Arctic Sunrise
Case and the Crisis in Ukraine (Helsinki: The Finnish
Institute of International Affairs, 2015).
33. Browning, ‘‘Branding Nordicity,’’ 28.
34. Ibid., 27.
New Nordic Exceptionalism
13
(page number not for citation purpose)
35. Ibid., 44. Browning also points out that the so-
called ‘Europeanization’ of the Nordic model has
also entailed important losses, including the invest-
ment in developing social democratic alternatives to
current liberalist agendas of deregulated markets
and individualists concepts of the social order.
36. Ibid., 30, 44.
37. ‘‘Nordic Culture Forum to Discuss Profiling,’’ n.p.
38. Bo Stra˚th, ‘‘Nordic Modernity: Origins, Trajec-
tories, Perspectives,’’ in Nordic Paths to Modernity,
ed. Jo´ hann Pa´ll A
´rnason and Bjo
¨rn Wittrock
(New York: Berghan Books, 2012), 26.
39. Ibid.
40. N.F.S. Grundtvig quoted in Gunnar Wetterberg,
The United Nordic Federation (Stockholm: The
Nordic Councils of Ministers, 2010), 30.
41. Hans Christian Andersen, ‘‘Jeg er en skandinav!’
(1937), http://visithcandersen.dk/d-hca-jeg-er-en-
skandinav.htm (accessed November 30, 2015).
The English translation is a modified version of
the translation of ‘‘I Am a Scandinavian!’’ at Le
Traveling Students Blog, March 24, 2013, https://
xiaohaizimen.wordpress.com/tag/poem/ (accessed
December 1, 2015).
42. Jalava, ‘‘The Nordic Countries,’’ 250.
43. Ibid., 251.
44. Karl Petander, Willy Kleen and Anders O
¨rne,
Nordens fo
¨renta stater [The United Nations of
Norden] (Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1942). In
her analysis of the debates following the publication
of Nordens fo
¨renta stater, Tora Bystro
¨m notes that
over 20 books were published on the subject in
Sweden alone in the period between 1942 and 1944.
See Tora Bystro
¨m, ‘‘Nordens fo
¨renta stater: Debat-
ten under andra va
¨rldskriget om en nordisk union’’
[The United Nations of Norden: The Debate About
a Nordic Union During Second World War], in
Forskningsfronten flyttas fram: nordiska perspektiv, ed.
Hans Albin Larsson (Bromma: HLF Fo
¨rlag, 2005),
14566.
45. Bystro
¨m, ‘‘Nordens fo
¨renta stater,’’ 155. My trans-
lation.
46. Ibid., 163. My translation.
47. See for instance Browning, ‘‘Branding Nordicity,’’
30; and Ha˚kan Wiberg, ‘‘The Nordic Countries: A
Special Kind of System?’’ Current Research on Peace
and Violence 9, no. 12 (1986): 4.
48. ‘‘Preamble to the Treaty of 23 March 1962’
(1962), Norden.org, http://www.norden.org/en/
om-samarbejdet-1/nordic-agreements/treaties-and-
agreements/basic-agreement/the-helsinki-treaty (acces-
sed November 30, 2015).
49. For a discussion of the importance of NIFCA to
the promotion of Nordic art internationally, see
Cecilia Gelin, ‘‘The Utopian Institution?,’’ in Art
and Its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique and
Collaborations, ed. Nina Mo
¨ntmann (London: Black
Dog, 2006), 67. For a discussion of NIFCA and
its successor Nordic Culture Point in a broader
perspective, see Stuart Burch, ‘‘Norden, Reframed,’
Culture Unbound 2, (2010): 574ff.
50. I use ‘‘neoliberal’’ here in line with David Harvey’s
definition of neoliberalism as a ‘‘theory of political
economic practices that proposes that human well-
being can be best advanced by liberating individual
entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an in-
stitutional framework characterized by strong pri-
vate property rights, free markets, and free trade.
The role of testate is to create and preserve an
institutional framework appropriate to such prac-
tices.’ David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2.
51. Peter Duelund, ‘‘Nordic Cultural Policies: A Cri-
tical View,’’ International Journal of Cultural Policy
14, no. 1 (2008): 18.
52. Ibid., 17.
53. Margaret E. Farrar and Jamie L. Warner, ‘‘Specta-
cular Resistance: The Billionaires for Bush and the
Art of Political Culture Jamming,’Polity 40, no.
3 (2008): 27396. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/
palgrave.polity.2300104
54. Brian Holmes, ‘‘Do-It-Yourself Geopolitics: Carto-
graphies of Art in the World,’’ in Collectivism after
Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945,
ed. Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (Minnea-
polis, MN: Minnesota University Press, 2007), 281.
55. I’m drawing here on Ha˚kan Wiberg’s discussion of
how the concept ‘‘Nordic Balance’’ has been less
descriptive and explanatory than performative in its
creation of an image of a balanced region. See
Wiberg, ‘‘The Nordic Countries,’’ 10.
56. Gunnar Wetterberg, ‘‘De fem nordiska la
¨nderna bo
¨r
ga˚ ihop i en ny union’’ [The Five Nordic Countries
Should Come Together in a New Union], Dagens
Nyheter (October 27, 2009), http://www.dn.se/
debatt/de-fem-nordiska-landerna-bor-ga-ihop-i-en-
ny-union (accessed November 14, 2015). My
translation.
57. Ibid. My translation.
58. Gunnar Wetterberg, ‘‘Historisk mo
¨jlighet att skapa
en ny nordisk union’’ [Historical Possibility to
Establish a New Union], Dagens Nyheter (December
2009), http://www.dn.se/debatt/historisk-mojlighet-
att-skapa-en-ny-nordisk-union/ (accessed November
20, 2015).
59. Mikael Bondesson, ‘‘Ma˚nga vill se Sverige i ny
fo
¨rbundsstat’’ [Many Want to See Sweden in a
New Federation], Dagens Nyheter (November
2010), http://www.dn.se/nyheter/sverige/manga-vill-
se-sverige-i-ny-forbundsstat (accessed November
13, 2015).
60. Wetterberg, The United Nordic Federation, 18, 19,
24.
61. Ibid., 24, 25, 26.
62. Ibid., 9.
63. Ibid., 63.
64. Haldo´r A
´sgrı´mson and Jan Erik Enestam, ‘‘Fore-
word,’’ in The United Nordic Federation, ed. Gunnar
M. Danbolt
14
(page number not for citation purpose)
Wetterberg (Stockholm: The Nordic Councils of
Ministers, 2010), 7.
65. Ibid.
66. See, for instance, Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen
and Kristin Ørjasæter, eds., Globalizing Art: Nego-
tiating Place, Identity and Nation in Contemporar y
Nordic Art (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2011).
67. Dagfinn Høybra˚ten, ‘‘The Future of New Nordic
Food: Introduction,’Green Growth: The Nordic Way
(March 2015), http://nordicway.org/nnf/ (accessed
November 30, 2015).
68. The Nordic Council of Ministers. For a history of
the New Nordic Food-movement from the perspec-
tive of NC and NCoM, see The Emergence of A New
Nordic Food Culture: Final Report from the Program
New Nordic Food II, 20102014 (Copenhagen:
Nordic Council of Ministers & Nordpub, 2015);
and Susanne Kolle et al., Ny Nordisk Mad: 10 a
˚r efter
[New Nordic Food: 10 Years After] (Aarhus:
DCA*Nationalt Center for Fødevarer og Jordbrug,
2014).
69. ‘‘The New Nordic Food Manifesto,’’ New Nordic
Food, http://newnordicfood.org/about-nnf-ii/new-
nordic-kitchen-manifesto/ (accessed November 20,
2015).
70. ‘‘Aarhus Declaration on New Nordic Food’
(2005), in: The Nordic Council of Ministers, The
Emergence of A New Nordic Food Culture: Final Report
from the Program New Nordic Food II, 20102014
(Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers &
Nordpub, 2015), 67.
71. The examples of the use of how the phrase ‘‘New
Nordic’’ has been deployed and disseminated within
the different realms of art and culture are to
multiple to be mentioned here, and deserves a study
on its own. Notable examples in recent years within
the field of art and design include exhibitions such
as ‘‘North by New York: New Nordic Art’’ (2011)
curated by Robert Storr and Francesca Pietropaolo
at the Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in
America in New York, USA, ‘‘New Nordic: Archi-
tecture and Identity’’ at Lousiana Museum of
Modern Art in Denmark in 2012, and ARoS:
Aarhus Art Museum’s series ARoS FOCUS//NEW
NORDIC (2015ongoing).
72. Edith Salminen, ‘‘Do We All Live in a New Nordic
Food World?,’’ Norden.org (March 2015), http://
www.norden.org/da/aktuelt/artikler/do-we-all-live-in-
a-new-nordic-food-world (accessed November 24,
2015).
73. Rene´ Redzepi in: Ursula Heinzelmann, ‘‘An Inter-
view with Rene´ Redzepi: Noma Copenhagen,’
Gastronomica 10, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 99.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2010.10.3.97; and
Claus Meyer in: Rene´ Redzepi and Claus
Meyer, Noma: Nordisk mad [Noma: Nordic Food]
(Copenhagen: Politiken Forlag, 2006), 177. For a
discussion of the use of the Viking figure in NNF,
see Ulla Holm, ‘‘Noma er fascisme i avantgardis-
tiske klæ’r’’ [Noma is Fascism in the Clothes of the
Avant-Garde], Politiken, May 8, 2011, http://pol.
dk/1275730 (accessed November 30, 2015); and
Rikke Andreassen, ‘‘Gastronationalisme*en nostal-
gisk søgen efter det nordiske’’ [Gastronationalism*
A Nostalgic Search for the Nordic], Social Kritik
144 (2015): 615.
74. See Andreassen, ‘‘Gastronationalisme,’’ 10.
75. Ibid., 10.
76. Ibid., 14.
77. Wiberg, ‘‘The Nordic Countries,’’ 10.
78. For a discussion of the ‘‘variegated neoliberaliza-
tion’’ of the Nordic welfare states, see Toni Ahlqvist
and Sami Moisio, ‘‘Neoliberalization in a Nordic
State: From Cartel Polity towards a Corporate
Polity in Finland,’’ New Political Economy 19, no. 1
(2014): 25. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13563
467.2013.768608
79. Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People:
Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, iBooks
Edition (London: Jonathan Cape, 2014).
80. The Economist, ‘‘Inspector Norse: Why Are Nordic
Detective Novels so Successful?’’ The Economist
(March 10, 2010), http://www.economist.com/
node/15660846 (accessed June 10, 2016).
81. NCoM, Strategy for International Branding of the
Nordic Region 20152018 (Copenhagen: NCoM,
2015), 5. The strategy plan is also accompanied
by a five minute commercial video, available at
http://www.norden.org/en/news-and-events/videos/
the-nordic-perspective (accessed November 30,
2015). For a general presentation of the strategy plan,
see Michael Funch, On Top of the World (Norden.
org, 2015), http://www.norden.org/da/aktuelt/artikler/
201con-top-of-the-world201d (accessed November
30, 2015).
82. NCoM, Strategy for International Branding,5.
83. Ibid.
84. Ibid.
85. Wæver, ‘‘Nordic Nostalgia,’’ 88.
86. Wetterberg, The United Nordic Federation, 63.
New Nordic Exceptionalism
15
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