The term ‘welfare’ is of Nordic origin. The Old English wel faran, meaning getting along and/or doing well, comes from Old Norse velferd, which in modern English means welfare (Hoad, 1996). This linguistic connection should certainly not be exaggerated, but the Nordic welfare states definitely enjoy a special position in international political and scholarly discourses. The Nordic or Scandinavian welfare state is a wellestablished model, and there would seem to be widespread agreement that the Nordic welfare state is something special. The question we pose here is: does this Nordic welfare state also come with a distinct social policy language?
In this chapter, we address this question by studying aspects of social policy language in Denmark and Sweden. The two countries have their separate histories, distinct national contexts and political cultures – and these national features naturally influence the terminology. Even so, there are shared characteristics. As North Germanic languages, Danish and Swedish are closely related. The Nordic setting is also characterised by a high level of transnational economic, political and cultural exchange, which also influences the development of social policy and social policy language (Petersen, 2011). Intra-Nordic diffusion and emulation, however, are not a self-contained system. On the contrary, the social policy languages of the open economies of Northern Europe have been influenced continuously by outside debates and reforms. In the following analysis, we use ‘Nordic’ and ‘Scandinavian’ interchangeably, but strictly speaking Denmark, Norway and Sweden are the Scandinavian countries, whereas ‘Nordic countries’ also include Finland and Iceland.
Answers to the workers’ question
The ‘social question’, or the ‘workers’ question’ (Danish: Arbejdersporgsmaalet, Swedish: arbetarfragan) as it was also labelled, concerned ‘the conditions of the labouring classes in primarily economic, social and political respects’, as articulated in 1896 by the Swedish Liberal politician and writer Ernst Beckman in a major new dictionary (Beckman, 1896: 317). This question, formulated in various ways with growing anxiety from the 1870s onwards, concerned the social and economic position of a growing class of wage earners. Beckman argued that the complexity of the social question called for a variety of responses. He pointed out three pathways: ‘individual self-help, help-to-self-help from society and help from the state’.