Page 99 of my dissertation introduces the term “Swedish conditions” (Svenske tilstander), a concept circulating in the Norwegian media during my fieldwork in the capital city of Oslo. It refers to a situation where liberal immigration policies lead to dangerous urban neighborhoods with high crime rates, which is an image that some Norwegians have of neighboring Sweden. Although the term had originally been popularized by far-right politicians, it has since been taken up by people with a wide range of political beliefs, and I found that even for many of those who criticized the term, it was more often a question of whether “Swedish conditions” existed in Oslo than whether the term accurately described Sweden.
“Swedish conditions” is just one of many examples throughout the dissertation of how people in Oslo take part in a wide range of situated, perspectival scale-making practices to understand “global threats” to the traditional Norwegian welfare state and to imagine alternatives. I use the example of “Swedish conditions” to argue that a simple citizen/foreigner or host/guest dichotomy does not adequately describe situations of contemporary migration, particularly in Europe. Instead, what even counts as “foreign” or “outsider” is highly dependent on perspective, and understandings of Norwegian national identity include a distinction from a variety of interconnected yet different kinds of “foreignness.” Here, the Norwegian media sees people of non-European, primarily Muslim background, through an imagined Swedish lens.
I would not say that page 99 is representative of my dissertation as a whole. Discourses of “Swedish conditions” were instead something my interlocutors were working against, as they worked to reimagine the Norwegian welfare model as both more inclusive of an increasingly ethnically, religiously, and socioeconomically diverse citizenry, and as something that could be sustained economically without a reliance on oil production. The dissertation traces how, through their linguistic practices, seemingly opposed social actors perform a kind of similarity and coherence, valued in Norwegian understandings of egalitarian democracy, that can give them and their perspectives authority. In these attempts to achieve coherence, ways of listening become more important than ways of speaking to how my interlocutors create identities and envision a democratic future.
Janet Connor. 2021. “Making Welfare ‘Sustainable’: The Language, Politics, and Ethics of Scale-Making in a Norwegian Neighborhood.” University of Chicago Phd.