A Crisis of Care in the Nordics

What is care? What is crises of care? And what does it imply in the Nordic welfare model? Anette Fagertun in this text introduces the crises of care in the Nordics by discussing some of the basic concepts framing this topic and by sharing insights on how care work is feminized, naturalized, non-recognized and silenced.

What is care? What is crises of care? And what does it imply in the Nordic welfare model? Anette Fagertun in this text introduces the crises of care in the Nordics by discussing some of the basic concepts framing this topic and by sharing insights on how care work is feminized, naturalized, non-recognized and silenced.

Anette Fagertun is a social anthropologist currently working as Professor of Social Science at the Centre for Care Research west, HVL (Wester Norway University of Applied Sciences). Fagertun’s research interests are in the anthropology of labor, feminist political economy and political philosophy, and in particular in the ways labor is re- and de-politicized and gendered implications of different labor regimes and agents within these. Her latest publications is the forthcoming co-edited anthology The Political Economy of Care.

This text is a part of the miniseries following up on the Crises of Care event organized by GRIP in collaboration with the Centre for Care Research west (HVL). This miniseries include texts that were presented at the event and engages with wider explorations of labour and inequality topic that GRIP currently focuses on.


Care is an “existential” for humans. Care is relational, social and intrinsically tied to human interdependency. Care is also embedded in specific socio-historical cultural and institutional arrangements and contexts. Thus, care is political. Care is also work – formal and informal, paid and unpaid, recognized and unrecognized – by various social orders. As paid work care is commodified, politicized and categorized as labor, and, in the Nordic welfare state context both part of the public welfare services as well as of the division of labour in society.


While care is a fundamental feature of how families, societies and economies are organized, care is largely devaluated or even neglected in social and economic policy, and therefore carries many injustices and inequalities. In the US and UK context, a “care crisis” is established as a societal problem that needs to be solved. In the Nordic context, however, problems relating to issues of care are often eclipsed by ‘other’ issues. The problems of a greying society, the sustainability of the welfare state, or the workforce shortage in the public sector are all recognized as current societal challenges. Yet, such problem constructions may not tackle the root cause of the problems – that care goes unseen in today’s social order. Feminist and social science scholarship in the Nordic context, such as for example in the “ethics of care” and “feminist political economy” traditions, has insisted on that that care is a political and public matter and explored the relationship between care and the broader societal order. Issues such as universalism, egalitarianism, social inequality, class and gender have been discussed in relation to care work, its societal value and institutional standing. A key insight is that care – as a value, as work and as a relation – is feminized and naturalized, non-recognized and silenced.


Democratic governance involves grounded social institutions and functional arrangements, but also contingency and political re-articulations – thus, difference and division, antagonism and polarization, are predicaments of a democratic polity. The Nordic welfare states, and the “the Nordic model”, are known for their universalist and “generous” welfare system and inclusive welfare policies. The welfare system serves as an important mechanism in the counteraction of social inequality produced by processes of societal divisions. Thus, public and accessible welfare and health care services can be conceptualized as “a commons”, referring to the complex of systems, practices and conflicts connected by a commitment to life beyond self-regulating markets. Care is at the base of such a system.


Neoliberal capitalism – as an order of reason, a modality of governance, and economic policy – is ‘multi-vocal’ and articulates differently in various contexts (Brown, 2015; Fraser, 2022). Nevertheless, neoliberalism has challenged and changed the welfare state through logics at odds with for example egalitarianism and universalism (Dahl, 2017) and through gendered and racialized dynamics (Isaksen & Näre, 2022). This situation may represent a disjuncture, a triple movement overlapping Polanyi’s description of the structural properties of the double movement, yet it also differs from the double movement because of fragmented counter-hegemonic projects in the era of post-politics narrowing ‘the political’ (Mouffe, 2019). Nancy Fraser (2022) coins the “care crisis” as a fundamental crisis in the capitalist social order caused by the inherent contradiction between social reproduction and production in late capitalist welfare states where “…capital accords carework little if any value, is unconcerned to replenish it, and seeks to avoid paying for it insofar as it can” (Fraser, 2022, p. 144).


Contemporary diagnoses of societal challenges of our era are manifold and span over a web of interconnected domains. Diagnoses of the late modern and capitalist welfare state are also many but all point in the same direction; this commons is slowly melting through many small but not minor enclosures. Contributions presented in this “Crises of Care” event discusses the care crisis, its many articulations and implications within a Nordic welfare state context, as well as the potential risks of invoking the historical “super concept” (Koselleck, 2006) of “crisis” in grasping contemporary social and sociological problems.




Brown, Wendy 2015. Undoing the Demos. Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Zone Books.

Dahl, Hanne Marlene 2017. Struggles in (elderly) care. A feminist View. Palgrave Macmillan.

Fraser, Nancy 2022. Cannibal Capitalism. How our system is devouring democracy, care, and the Planet – and what we can do about it. Verso.

Isaksen, Lise Widding & Lena Näre 2022. Care Loops, Mobilities and the Neoliberalization of Care in Transforming Welfare States, chp 1 in Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, central and Eastern European Welfare States, Lena Näre & Lise Widding Isaksen (eds.), pp. 1-18. palgrave macmillan.

Koselleck, Reinhart (2006). Crisis, Journal of the History of Ideas , Vol. 67, No. 2, pp. 357-400.