Unemployed Migrants and Statist Individualism in the New Norway
Kelly McKowen (Princeton University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the ways migrants interpret, accede to, and resist a shared ethos of statist individualism.
Paper long abstract:
The Scandinavian welfare states are distinguished not only by particular redistributive institutions but by a distinctive shared ethos that integrates high trust in the state with the aspiration to individual autonomy. Swedish scholars Henrik Berggren and Lars Trägårdh describe this unique ethical orientation as "statist individualism," and suggest that it underpins a seemingly counterintuitive arrangement that makes comprehensive state intervention the preferred means to individual freedom and well-being. While a discussion of statist individualism is essential to any exhaustive account of culture in contemporary Scandinavia, however, it has yet to feature prominently in the burgeoning scholarly literature on the social incorporation of migrants in the region. In this paper, I draw on more than a year of fieldwork among unemployed migrants in Oslo to describe the myriad ways non-natives encounter, interpret, evaluate, accede to, and resist social and active labor market policies animated by statist individualism. Highlighting these policies' role in reconfiguring relations of dependency to elevate the individual-state relationship above others, I argue that statist individualism should be seen not only as a common ethos that sustains Norway's welfare state but a common ethos produced by it. I conclude with thoughts on how an account of migrant encounters with statist individualism can be mobilized in order to challenge the reductive, but nevertheless powerful, rhetoric of welfare chauvinists who claim that migrant cultures and the ethos of the Norwegian welfare state are incompatible.
Uncertain solidarities: migration, social incorporation, and European welfare states