comparative analyses of associative governance in Norden
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are facing various kinds of problems, well beyond isolated misfortunes that will happen in consequence of errors, excesses, and misconduct. Rather, current challenges to associative governance can be interpreted as part of a larger integration crisis of late-modernity, hampered by rent seeking and free-riding behavior, market logics colonizing the civil and public sector, and populist movements demanding “Us before Them”.
In terms of social integration, the Nordic countries have been regularly heralded as prize examples of relatively “crisis resistant” due to strong traditions of associative governance and democratic corporativism, facilitating virtuous circles of reciprocity, deliberation, and self-governance. CSOs offer crisis management at several levels from internal micro-management, trans-organizational meso-level, to macro-deliberation at the national and trans-national level. Briefly stated, the social science narrative explaining the Nordic Sonderweg has been an historically informed combination of uncorrupt civil servants interacting with representative CSOs (corporativist governance from above) combined with voluntary participations in popular movements (associative governance from below). This combination, in turn, is supposed to be the prime mover of the Nordic welfare state, producing high degrees of generalized trust, public spending, voluntary work, and tax-compliance.
Social research, however, increasingly questions these taken for granted premises of representative democracy. In this book we take a closer look at these transformations, identifying the ambivalent roles associative governance play at the interface between the public realm of state and municipalities, the private sector of business, and the civil sphere of voluntary work and non-profit activities. On the one hand, associative action may mitigate the consequences of failing integration in the political and business systems. On the other hand, crisis management of this kind may in turn place associative governance itself in jeopardy, i.e. we do not claim that civic engagement bloom in times of crisis.
The main target of this research program is not contemporary associations as a particular organizational form of internal governance, but more generally, the sum total of associative governance performed by different kinds of incorporated entities in terms of collective and connective action over time. Our aim is to understand if and how different normative traditions may (or may not) motivate civic engagement in times of crisis. In order to do so, we apply the critical approach of Jürgen Habermas, originally presented in Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus (1973) and developed further in Faktizität und Geltung (1992) as a framework for analysis of social integration – and lack of same.
We do not, however, subscribe wholesale to the normative premises of Habermas’ later works on communicative action and universal pragmatics. His public sphere theory, on the other hand, has had massive impact on social scientists in Norden, which in itself can be regarded as an urgent and somewhat overdue call for critical re-reading, leading up to this ambitious research question: What strands of associative facts and norms, developed over time in different Nordic contexts, have been more communicative and instrumental in crisis management during the last 500 years?