This is the personal blog of Sophy Bergenheim, entitled (in Finnish) If I Were the Dictator of the World. I mostly post about social issues and historical research, but entries include texts about various topics, some more serious, some more tongue-in-cheek. Most posts deal with Finland-specific topics and hence are in Finnish, but I also write in English about more general topics.

I am a historian with a background in the history of society and social sciences. I received my doctorate (D.Soc.Sci.) in political history from the University of Helsinki in 2020. I am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in economic and social history at the University of Helsinki, as a member of the Academy project ‘Nordic Fiscal States from the 16th to the 21st Centuries – Transitions from Warfare to Welfare States’ led by Professor Jari Eloranta. I am also affiliated with the Helsinki Inequality Initiative (INEQ).

I am specialised in welfare state history, particularly the Finnish and Nordic welfare states, as well as Nordic state/society relationships and corporatist traditions. In terms of theoretical orientation, I am interested in the interrelated histories of knowledge, ideas and concepts; not only in terms of academic expertise and verbal (textual) concepts, but different forms and arenas of knowledge, as well as visual and material dimensions of concepts and ideas.

I am fascinated by the complex gestalt of society and the welfare state, which is reflected in my wide range of research interests as well as my methodological versatility. My research topics include, among others, the history of social and health policy, history of medicine, urban history and housing policy, and gender and reproductive history. I have studied these topics through a variety of sources, from archival materials and government documents to news materials and other published sources.

Current research

In the project ‘From Warfare to Welfare States’, my role is to look at the development of state capacity and the role of civil society from the perspective of welfare state development since the late eighteenth century. I approach this topic by looking at a selection of Swedish and Finnish state committees that have been appointed to prepare significant social insurance reforms. The working title of my sub-project is ‘A corporatist model of welfare, knowledge and power? State committees and social insurance in Sweden and Finland, late 1800s–1990s’.

Doctoral research

Link to my dissertation (in Finnish with English abstract): https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/318006

In my dissertation, I look at Finnish organisations specialised in social policy and welfare, medicine, and health policy, and analyse their role as public policy experts in Finland’s formative welfare state and nation-state development in the 1930s–60s. In my conclusions, I emphasise the importance of refraining from overly simplistic labels in analysing historical social realities, instead taking note of ‘messy’ nuances and seemingly conflicting ideas or goals.

I characterise the epistemic-political role of the studied NGOs as social engineering, which I define as a technocratic and seemingly apolitical ideology. It refers to the idea that society, even humanity itself, could and should be improved through knowledge- and data-driven governance.  Nonetheless, regardless of rhetorical appeal to reason, no political activity is void of ideology, which also applies to the studied organisations. I use the umbrella term ‘bourgeois social reformism’ to describe their activities, which sought to normalise bourgeois values and gender models. However, this should not be merely seen as gendered class control, but also as compassionate endeavours to help impoverished and otherwise vulnerable individuals and groups: both aspects were based on the premise of equating good quality of life with the bourgeois middle-class lifestyle.

The 1930s–60s were also marked by an ideational transition from collectivism to individualism. Hence, fundamentally opposite ideas of the rights and responsibilities of the individual vis-à-vis the collective (e.g., the society or state) prevailed simultaneously, and policies were legitimised through collectivism and individualism alike. This manifested itself, for example, as the active promotion of eugenic measures alongside extensive social and health care reforms in the post-war decades.


My reseach profile (UH)