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“An American Dilemma”? Race/Ethnicity and welfare states in the U.S and the Nordic countries



 1-3 October 2009 at University of Southern Denmark in Odense

A conference organized for NCoE NordWel by:

Professor Sonya Michel (University of Maryland, College Park)
Professor Klaus Petersen (University of Southern Denmark)
Professor Pauli Kettunen (University of Helsinki)

In the 1940s the Swedish economist and social engineer Gunnar Myrdal went to the U.S. to study racial conflicts in that country. The result was the influential book An American Dilemma, published in 1944, which has had significant impact on thinking about race in the U.S. and beyond. More than sixty years later, much has been turned upside down, and now the Nordic and European welfare states, confronted with ethnic heterogeneity and multiculturalism, often look toward the American “melting pot” for guidance on how to combine national welfare states with immigration and globalism.

Taking its point of departure from the current academic debates on race/ethnicity and welfare policies, this conference aims to go beyond stereotypes of welfare state models and immigration regimes in order to compare critically Nordic, European and American experiences at significant moments in history.

The conference will bring together a group of U.S.,Nordic and European scholars to engage in a cross-national as well as chronological comparison of one the most complex and controversial aspects of modern welfare states: the question of “us” and “them” in relation to the development of social rights and welfare institutions. By facilitating a cross-cultural conversation, we also hope to cross the border  between two very different welfare state narratives: the “idealistic” history of the Nordic and European model of welfare, and the more conflict-orientated history of the American welfare state. The organizers plan to publish the papers presented in an edited volume after the conference.

In relationship to the conference will be organized a research workshop for PhD-students who are working on these questions across disciplines. This will be organized by Research School for Welfare and Diversity and take place at Roskilde University Centre.

The conference is financed by NCoE NordWel (

For more information:
Klaus Petersen:
Sonya Michel:

PRELIMINARY PROGRAMME (only working titles)

October 1

10.00-10.30  Opening of conference

10.30-12.00  Session 1: Myrdal’s dilemma
Thomas Etzemüller (University of Göttingen): Myrdal’s visions of society

13.00-15.00 Session 2: Ethnicity and welfare in the interwar period

Niels Finn Christiansen (University of Copenhagen): Ethnic homogeneity and the Nordic Welfare State in the interwar period

Alice O’Connor (UC Santa Barbara): Myrdal and the race relations in the US in the 1920s and 1930s

16.00-17.00 Session 3: Immigration and Welfare in the Western World – an overview

Eskil Wadensjö (University of Stockholm): Immigration in the US, Europe and the Nordic Countries – a quantitative overview

October 2

09.00-12.30  Session 4: Race and welfare in the US I

Desmond King (University of Oxford): Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the Origins of the Diverse Democracy

Ivan Light (UCLA): Immigration and welfare regimes in the USA

Dorothy Roberts (Northwestern University): Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare

14.30-17.00 Session 5: Ethnicity and welfare in Europe

Yasemin Soysal (University of Essex): Cultural and political implications of international migrations

Thomas Faist (University of Bielefeld): Transnational Social Security through Cross-Border Mobility

October 3

09.30-12.30 Session 6: Ethnicity and welfare in Nordic countries

Grete Brochmann (University of Oslo): Immigration and the welfare state in Scandinavia

Helena Blomberg-Kroll (University of Helsinki): Integration through work in a multicultural society

Klaus Petersen & Heidi Vad Jønsson (University of Southern Denmark): The making of Danish integration policy 1960-2007

13.00-15.00 Session 5: Welfare and immigration – A global perspective

Rhacel Parreñas (Brown University): The Other Side of the Welfare State: Caring Work in Global Perspective

15.30-16.00  Closing remarks