Scandinavian Sociology

views updated


Scandinavian sociology emerged in its modern form as an academic discipline just after World War II, although its roots go back considerably further. In Helsinki, the sociologist, ethnologist, and philosopher Edvard A Westermarck (1862– 1939) lectured on sociology in 1890; in Göteborg, Gustaf Fredrik Steffen (1864–1929) became a professor of economics and sociology in 1903.

In 1850, the Norwegian clergyman Eilert Sundt (1817–1875) published a study of Norwegian tramps and the lowest stratum of the rural population. Between 1850 and 1869, when he became a vicar, Sundt received state support for his demographic and sociological studies of Norwegian manners and customs, poverty, and living conditions. In demography he is remembered for "Sundt's law," which states that irregularities in the age distribution at a given time generate similar irregularities in the next generation (Ramsøy 1998).

Westermarck held chairs in applied philosophy until 1930, and between 1907 and 1930 he also had a chair in sociology in London. He belonged to the small group of leading European sociologists and philosophers in the early part of the century. His best-known works are studies of the history of marriage (first volume published in 1891) and of the origin and development of moral ideas (1906–1908, 1932).

Between 1907 and 1913 the statistician A Gustav Sundbärg (1857–1914) directed "Emigrationsutredningen," an official investigation of Swedish emigration, which was considered one of the most serious problems in Sweden at that time (Sundbärg 1913). The final report was presented in 1913, and between 1908 and 1912 twenty appendices by Sundbärg himself; Nils R Wohlin (1881–1948), secretary of the investigation; and others were published. The investigation contains a wealth of statistical information of great interest.


In Scandinavia in the 1940s, sociology was confronted with an established discipline of demography, a reliable and accessible population registration system, a positivistic philosophy, and a reformist policy in need of empirical studies of societal problems. Until the late 1960s, Scandinavian sociologists engaged in empirical studies, mostly quantitative, of social inequality, social mobility and the educational system, work conditions, problems of physical planning and social epidemiology, alcohol problems, and delinquency. The works of Allardt in Helsinki (1965), Carlsson in Lund (1958), Rokkan (1921–1979) in Bergen (Rokkan and Lipset 1967), and Segerstedt (1908–1999) in Uppsala (1955) are representative of early mainstream sociology, and those of Aubert (1922–1988) in Oslo (1965) had a qualitative approach. There was a strong American influence from Scandinavians who had studied at American universities, from journals and textbooks, and from visiting Americans; Norway in particular received a series of Fulbright scholars. Scandinavian sociology became strongly empirical, technical, sociopsychological, and survey-oriented. There was less interest in functionalism, Talcott Parsons, and the classics than in survey analysis and social exchange theory.

In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, new sociological voices were heard in Scandinavia, perhaps more in Denmark and Sweden than in Finland and Norway. They can be characterized as aggressively political and Marxist, antipositivistic, antifunctionalistic, and antiquantitative. In general, the "new" sociology was more theoretical and sociophilosophical and less empirical than the mainstream versions. Conflict theories, critical theory, symbolic interactionism, and the labeling perspective came to the fore, as did socioanthropological and hermeneutic methods.


In Denmark, the German refugee Theodor Geiger (1891–1952) was appointed a professor of sociology at Aarhus University in 1938. In 1955, Kaare Svalastoga (1914–1997), a Norwegian historian with a sociological education from the University of Washington in Seattle, became professor of sociology at Copenhagen, where a graduate program in sociology was started in 1958. In the 1960s and 1970s, additional chairs were created at Copenhagen and Aalborg and in sociological subdisciplines at unversities in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg, and Roskilde as well as at the Handelshøjskolen (School of Economics and Business Administration) in Copenhagen. Mostly as a result of problems at the two institutes at the University of Copenhagen, Danish sociology was in a state of crisis after the late 1960s. In 1986– 1987 the government closed down the Copenhagen institutes, and by 1994 they had been reorganized into a new institute with two chairs. The institute offers (as did Aalborg after 1997) a three-year undergraduate program leading to a B.A., followed by a two-year master's program. At present there are only eight chairs in sociology in Copenhagen, Aalborg, Roskilde, and Handelshøjskolen. Outside the universities, the most important institute in sociology is the Socialforskningsinstituttet (Institute for Social Research). With Henning Friis as director from its start in 1958 until 1979, the institute has carried out many social investigations using its own field organization, for instance, the 1976 and 1986 Danish Welfare Surveys and the report on the 1992 follow-up of the 1968 youth study (Hansen 1995).

In Finland, two of Westermarck's ethnosociological students held chairs in sociology in Helsinki and Turku in the 1920s. In the mid-1940s, modern-type sociologists got chairs, such as the criminologist Veli Verkko (1893–1955) in Helsinki in 1946. Heikki Waris (1901–1989), professor of social policy from 1948 in Helsinki, also should be mentioned here. Sociology chairs were first established at Helsinki, Turku, Åbo Academy, and Tampere. At present, there are more than twenty professors of sociology and its subdisciplines at eleven universities and colleges: eight chairs at Helsinki University, four at Tampere, and two each at Jyväskylä and Turku, plus one at Åbo Akademi, also in Turku. Undergraduate studies lead to a master's degree after five years. There also are important research institutes outside the universities. The National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES), under the Ministry of Social and Health Care, was established in 1992. Within STAKES there is a Social Research Unit for Alcohol Studies that conducts research on four principal areas, including narcotics. The research directors are Hannu Uusitalo and Jussi Simpura. There also is the Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, which was established in 1950, with Klaus Mäkelä as its leading researcher.

In Norway, Sverre Holm filled the first sociology chair in 1949 in Oslo, and chairs were added in Bergen, Trondheim, and Tromsø in the 1960s. At present there are some twenty-five professorships. A basic undergraduate program takes four years, after which a two-year program leads to a "cand.polit." degree. Several institutes are important in sociological research and education: Institutt for Samfunnsforskning (Institute for Social Research [ISF]) since 1950, the newly established NOVA (Norwegian Institute for Research on Childhood and Adolescence, Welfare, and Aging), FAFO (Trade Union Movement's Research Foundation), and Statistisk Sentralbyrå (Statistical Central Bureau [SSB]). Institutt for Anvendt Sosialforskning (Institute for Applied Social Research [INAS]), which was established in 1968, is now included in NOVA. Natalie R Ramsøy was its research director until 1981.

In Sweden, the educator and sociologist E. H. Thörnberg (1873–1961) never held a university position. Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987) could claim to be the first modern sociologist, but Torgny T. Segerstedt (1908–1999) became the first professor of sociology by converting his chair in applied philosophy to sociology at Uppsala in 1947. Sociology is now taught at Uppsala, Stockholm, Lund, Göteborg, Umeå, and Linköping as well as in several colleges, of which those at Karlstad, Växjö, and Örebro have become universities. There are about thirty sociology professors at the universities. A bachelor's program in sociology is scheduled for three years, a master degree for a fourth year, and a "licentiat" degree for a fifth year. Outside the universities, Arbetslivsinstitutet (the National Institute for Working Life); Folkhälsoinstitutet (the National Institute of Public Health), established in 1992; the National Council for Crime Prevention (BRÅ), starting in 1974; and Statistics Sweden are important in Swedish sociology. The Institute for Social Research ([SOFI] 1972, beginning in with five sociology chairs) and the National Center for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (since 1999), with Robin Room as research director, are parts of Stockholm University. Since 1992 BRÅ has published Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention, an international biannual journal.

There is considerable interaction among the Scandinavian sociological communities: Professors hold chairs in neighboring countries, such as the leading Finnish alcohol researcher Kettil Bruun (1924–1985) who had a chair in Stockholm in 1982–1984 and Swedish sociologists from Lund who crossed the sound to Copenhagen; comparative studies of the Scandinavian countries are conducted; and there have been joint comparative projects with one editor from each of four countries.

The Scandinavian Sociological Association has some 2,500 members. Approximate memberships are 550 in Denmark, 50 in Iceland, 600 in Finland (in 1995), 700 in Norway, and 500 in Sweden. Since 1955 the association has published Acta Sociologica, a refereed quarterly journal. For the first twelve years Torben Agersnap of Handelshøjskolen in Copenhagen was the editor, and since then editorship has rotated among the countries, with three-year periods since 1985. Each Scandinavian country has a national sociological association. The Finnish Westermarck Society, founded in 1940, is the oldest and includes social anthropologists. There are also national journals: Sociologia (since 1990) in Denmark, Sosiologia in Finland, Tidskrift for Samfunnsforskning (since 1960) and Sosiologisk Tidskrift in Norway, and Sociologisk forskning (since 1964) in Sweden.

Most foreign contacts are still with the United States, although interaction with European, especially British, French, and German, sociologists tends to be more frequent now. Polish, Hungarian, and Estonian contacts are important to Finnish sociology. Comparative studies including non-Scandinavian European or OECD countries (Erikson and Goldthorpe 1992; Korpi and Palme 1998) are conducted frequently as a heritage from Stein Rokkan in political sociology. Comparisons often have been made with the United States and Canada, as occurred when Norway and Sweden were included in Tim Smeeding's and Lee Rainwater's so-called "Luxembourg Income Study" around 1980. Furthermore, several Scandinavian sociologists have been visiting researchers at the European Sociological Institute in Florence, Italy. The Danish welfare researcher Esping-Andersen (1990) has a chair at the University of Trent in Italy. Several Scandinavian sociologists have spent most or parts of their careers abroad, especially in the United States, for example, Aage Bøttger Sørensen from Denmark; the Norwegians Stein Rokkan, Jon Elster, and Trond Pedersen; and the Swedes Bo Andersson and Hans L. Zetterberg.


Essays on Scandinavian sociology can be found in Bertilsson and Therborn (1997). New conceptions in Finnish sociology in the early 1990s and their relation to earlier structural-cultural traditions are discussed by Alapuro (1995), while Martinussen (1993) deals with present-day Norwegian sociology. Allardt et al. (1988) offer an official evaluation of Swedish sociology. Gunnlaugsson and Bjarnason (1994) describe Icelandic sociology.

Even after the wave of New Left sociology subsided toward the end of the 1970s, Scandinavian sociology remained diversified, with a continued interest in Marxism and the classics as well as in social exchange theory and a broad spectrum of data analysis. On balance, the focus now is somewhat more on theory and on macrosociology. Interest in theories of organizations (Ahrne 1994), economic sociology (Swedberg 1990), and, especially after Coleman's book (1990), rational-choice approaches (Hedströem and Swedberg 1998) has been increasing. The statistical analytic orientation has held its own, at least partly because of the rapid development of personal computers and their programs, which permit more adequate analyses. At the same time, the old interest in qualitative methods has remained, especially in connection with the growing field of gender studies.

In Norway, Østerberg (1986, 1988) writes in the hermeneutic and humanistic essay tradition, Yngvar Løchen (1931–1998) carried out action research in medical sociology with relevance to the lives of sociologists, and Elster is a well-known philosopher and social scientist (1989), favorably disposed to Marxism (1985) but closer to the rational-choice approach. In Sweden, Göran Therborn is an internationally respected Marxist and the social psychologist and essayist Johan Asplund has a prestigious position in the discipline; Antti Eskola is Finland's best known social psychologist.

A cluster of overlapping core areas concerning forms of inequality has remained central to Scandinavian sociology. Studies concern gender inequality as well as inequality among social classes and other groupings in regard to political, economic, educational, and social resources, which can be seen as constituting inequality of welfare in a broad sense; these studies present indicators of various welfare dimensions. Research institutes such as the Institute for Social Research in Copenhagen, INAS (now in NOVA) and ISF in Oslo, and SOFI in Stockholm have been important, as STAKES in Helsinki will be. One of the tasks of SOFI has been to follow up an officially commissioned 1968 study of low-income categories. The study was carried out by Sten Johansson, then at Uppsala, and his team, which published several reports in 1970–1971, creating considerable political commotion. SOFI has continued this study as a panel, Levnadsnivåundersökningen (Level of Living Study [LNU]), with new surveys in 1974, 1981, and 1991. A volume edited by Erikson and Åberg (1987) provided a partial summary. Comprehensive welfare studies (level-of-living studies) have been carried out in all Scandinavian countries since the 1970s (Erikson et al. 1987; Hansen et al. 1993). Statistics Sweden has conducted annual level-ofliving surveys since 1974 (Vogel 1988). Studies by Gudmund Hernes in Norway have been influential both politically and sociologically. Hernes was the leading researcher in the first Norwegian level-of-living survey and in an official Norwegian 1972– 1982 project on power in society (Hernes 1975, 1978, also involving exchange theory). The task force gave its final report in 1982 (Hernes 1982). The official Swedish study of societal power, ordered after the success of the Norwegian study, was run mainly by political scientists, historians, and economists, although Åberg (1990) was asked to repeat in modern form a community study from the 1950s (Segerstedt and Lundquist 1952, 1955). Here the different roles of Norwegian and Swedish sociology may reflect differences in public opinion: Norwegian sociologists have easy access to the mass media and the political elite. The criminologist Nils Christie has become a well-known participant in public discussion of social policy issues, and Hernes was the Labor Party's minister of education and research.

Social stratification and social mobility have long been an area of strong interest in Scandinavian sociology (Carlsson 1958; Svalastoga 1959, 1965). Later works in the field include those of Alestalo (1986), Erikson (1987), Knudsen (1988), and Erikson and Goldthorpe (1992). More recently Erikson and Jonsson reported an officially commissioned investigation of social selection to higher education (Erikson and Jonsson 1993, 1996).

In political sociology Stein Rokkan's (1921– 1979) far-reaching project (Rokkan and Lipset 1967; Rokkan et al. 1970; Rokkan 1987) was left unfinished. Other important works in this field include Korpi (1989), Therborn (1986, 1995), Martinussen (1988), Alapuro (1988), and Mjøset (1992).

Gender studies are an exceptionally strong field in Norway and fairly strong in Scandinavia generally. In the late 1960s, Holter (1970) analyzed gender roles and their impact on work life, political behavior, and education. Several Norwegian gender studies, among others those by Helga Hernes and Kari Waerness, were published in the series "Kvinners levekår og livsløp" (Women's Level of Living and Life Course). In Sweden Edmund Dahlström and Rita Liljeström and in Finland Elina Haavio-Mannila pioneered the field.

Outside the sociological core area of inequality there are neighboring fields and sociological specialties. The Finnish demographer Tapani Valkonen is known for skillful context analyses and epidemiological studies. To revitalize Swedish demography, which had stagnated in the 1970s, the Norwegian demometrician Jan M. Hoem was called in from Copenhagen in 1983.

In the lively sociological subfield of literature and mass media, Karl-Erik Rosengren is the leading Swedish researcher. To some extent through east European contacts, the life-course narrative as a research instrument has been developed into a Finnish specialty, mostly by J.P. Roos.

Deviance is another subfield. Usually it is not considered a sociological core area, although it has long-term credentials as a central field both from the classics and from early Scandinavian sociology. The study of deviance has remained an important part of Scandinavian sociology in terms of both applied and basic research. Since the Finnish State Alcohol Monopoly established its research institute in 1950, alcohol studies have been a strong Finnish field. Bruun (Bruun and Frånberg 1985) was its longtime director, and Mäkelä (1996) was his successor. Also Skog (1985) in Oslo and Kühlhorn (Kühlhorn and Björ 1998) and Norström (1988) in Stockholm are well known in the field of alcohol and drug studies. Mathiesen's penology (1987) is a part of Norwegian sociology, just as studies of crime and crime prevention have been a part of Swedish sociology since the official 1956 juvenile delinquency project (Carlsson 1972) and early BRÅ projects.

Gunnlaugsson and Bjarnason (1994) claim that the four fields of welfare research, stratification research, women's studies, and cultural studies do not capture the structure of Icelandic sociology, which centers on two broad themes: social conditions and social and cultural problems associated with the development of Icelandic society. These problems essentially concern crime, in particular incidental violence by strangers, alcohol abuse, and the perceived threat of drug abuse, that is, deviance.

Finally, access to an extensive and reliable population registration system has made good sampling frames available to surveys, and governmental microdata have been helpful in longitudinal data sets in Scandinavian behavioral projects. However, since the mid-1970s, statistically oriented behavioral researchers, especially in Sweden, have had problems with privacy-protecting data legislation. According to the pioneering Swedish Data Act of 1973, running data on identified persons by computer requires a permit from a Data Inspection Board (DI). The DI expanded the informed-consent condition for the permit to include the computer use of identified governmental microdata accessed according to the century-old right-of-access principle. Although this condition has been waived in some cases, it has led to frequent and well-publicized controversies between the DI and social researchers, with the media usually supporting the DI. In Sweden, the media debated privacy issues mostly in connection with statistical data sets, whereas administrative files largely went unnoticed. Since the conflict came to a head in 1986 over the deidentification of the data set of Project Metropolitan, a longitudinal study of a cohort of Stockholmers, the tensions have smoothed out and access to register data has been made easier. The rich governmental microfiles, including the censuses, remain assets to Scandinavian sociology. In 1998, a new Swedish Personal Data Protection Act in line with EU regulations and modern Internet use was substituted for the 1973 Data Act.


Ahrne, Göran 1994 Social Organizations. Newbury Park CA: Sage.

Alapuro, Risto 1995 "Structure and Culture: Finnish Sociology, 1990–94" Acta Sociologica 38(2):167–180.

Alestalo, Matti 1986 Structural Change, Classes, and theState. Helsinki: Research Group for Comparative Sociology.

Åberg, Rune, ed. 1990 Industrisamhälle i omvandling (Industrial Communities in Transition). Stockholm: Carlssons.

Allardt, Erik 1965 Samhällsstruktur och sociala spänningar (Societal Structure and Social Tension). Tampere: Söderströms. Also in Finnish.

——, Sverre Lysgaard, and Aage Bøttger Sørensen (1988) Sociologin i Sverige (Sociology in Sweden). Stockholm: HSFR.

Aubert, Vilhelm 1965 The Hidden Society. Totowa, N.J.: Bedminster.

Bertilsson, Margareta, and Göran Therborn, eds. 1997 From a Doll's House to the Welfare State. Copenhagen: ISA.

Bruun, Kettil, and Per Frånberg, eds. 1985 Den svenskasupen (The Swedish Snaps). Stockholm: Prisma.

Carlsson, N. Gösta 1958 Social Mobility and Class Structure. Lund: Gleerup.

—— 1972 Unga lagöverträdare II (Young Law Violators II). Stockholm: SOU 1972:76

Coleman, James S. 1990 Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap.

Elster, Jon 1985 Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

—— 1989 Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Erikson, Robert 1987 "The Long Arm of the Origin." In Ulla Bergryd and Carl-Gunnar Janson, eds., Sociological Miscellany. Stockholm: Department of Sociology, University of Stockholm.

——, and Rune Åberg, (eds.) 1987 Welfare in Transition. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

——, and John Goldthorpe 1992 The Constant Flux: AStudy of Class Mobility in Industrial Society. Oxford, UK: Clarendon.

——, Erik Jørgen Hansen, Stein Ringen, and Hannu Uusitalo, eds. 1987 The Scandinavian Model: WelfareState and Welfare Research. Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe.

——, and Jan O. Jonsson 1993 Ursprung och utbildning (Social Origin and Education). Stockholm: SOU 1993:85.

——, and —— (eds.) 1996 Can Education Be Equalized? Oxford, UK: Westview Press.

Esping-Andersen, Gøsta 1990 The Tree Worlds of WelfareCapitalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Gunnlaugsson, Helgi, and Thoroddur Bjarnason 1994 "Establishing a Discipline: The Impact of Society on the Development of Icelandic Sociology." Acta Sociologica 1994(3):303–312.

Hansen, Erik Jørgen 1995 En generation blev voksen (A Generation Grew Up) Copenhagen: Socialforskningsinstituttet, Report 95:8.

——, Stein Ringen, Hannu Uusitalo, and Robert Erikson, eds. 1993 Welfare Trends in the ScandinavianCountries. Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe.

Hedström, Peter and Richard Swedberg 1998 SocialMechanisms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hernes, Germund 1975 Makt og avmakt (Power and Powerlessness). Bergen, Norway: Universitetsforlaget.

—— 1978 Forhandlingsøkonomi og blandingsadministration (Transaction Economy and Mixed Administration). Bergen, Norway: Universitetsforlaget.

—— 1982 Maktutredningen: slutrapport (The Power Study: Final Report). Oslo: NOU 1982:3.

——, and Willy Martinussen 1980 Demokrati og politiskeresurser (Democracy and Political Resources). Oslo: NOU 1980:7.

Holter, Harriet 1970 Sex Roles and Social Structure. Oslo: Norwegian University Press.

Knudsen, Knud 1988 "Class Identification in Norway." Acta Sociologica 31:69–79.

Korpi, Walter 1989 "Power, Politics, and State Autonomy in the Development of Social Citizenship." American Sociological Review 54:309–328.

——, and Joakim Palme 1998 "The Paradox of Redistribution and Strategies of Equality." AmericanSociological Review 63:661–687.

Kühlhorn, Eckart, and Jill Björ, eds. 1998 Svenskaalkoholvanor i förändring (Changing Swedish Drinking Habits). Stockholm: Sober.

Martinussen, Willy 1988 Solidaritetens grenser (Limits of Solidarity). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

—— 1993 "A Snapshot of Present-Day Norwegian Sociology," Acta Sociology, 36, 305–392.

Mathiesen, Thomas 1987 Kan fengsel forsvares? (Can Prisons Be Justified?) Oslo: PAX; sec. ed. 1995.

Mjøset, Lars ed. 1992 Contributions to the ComparativeStudy of Development. Oslo: ISF, Report 92:2.

Norström, Thor 1988 "Alcohol and Suicide in Scandinavia." British Journal of Addiction 83:553–559.

Østerberg, Dag 1986 Fortolkende sosiologi (Interpretive Sociology). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

—— 1988 Metasociology. Oslo: Norwegian University Press.

Ramsøy, Natalie R. 1998 "Eilert Sundt."

Rokkan, Stein 1987 Stat, nasjon, klasse (State, Nation, Class). In B. Hagtvet, ed., Oslo: Universietsforlaget.

——, Angus Campbell, Per Torsvik, and Henry Valen 1970 Citizens, Elections, Parties. Oslo: Norwegian University Press.

——, and Seymour M. Lipset, eds. 1967 Party Systemand Voter Alignments. New York: Free Press.

Segerstedt, Torgny 1955 "Kriminalsociologi" (Sociology of Crime). In Ivar Agge, ed., Kriminologi (Criminology). Stockholm: Wahlström and Widstrand.

——, and Agne Lundqvist 1952 and 1955 Människan iindustrisamhället. del I och II (Man in Industrial Society. Parts I and II). Stockholm: SNS.

Skog, Ole-Jørgen 1985 "The Collectivity of Drinking Cultures." British Journal of Addiction 81:365–379.

Sundbärg, Gustav 1913 Emigrationsutredningen (Investigation on Emigration). Stockholm: Offentligt betänkande. Twenty appendices 1908–1912.

Svalastoga, Kaare 1959 Prestige, Class, and Mobility. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.

—— 1965 Social Differentiation. New York: McKay.

Swedberg, Richard 1990 Economics and Sociology. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Therborn, Göran 1986 Why Are Some People More Unemployed Than Others? London: Verso.

—— 1995 European Modernity and Beyond. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Vogel, Joachim 1988 Inequality in Sweden. Stockholm: SCB.

Westermarck, Edvard A. 1891 History of Human Marriage, 3 vols. London: Macmillan.

—— 1906–1908 The Origin and Development of MoralIdeas. London: Macmillan.

—— 1932 Ethical Relativity. New York: Harcourt; paperback ed. 1960 by Littlefield.

Carl-Gunnar Janson