NA Reports – Norwegian Sociological Association (NSA)

Issue 43: Sociology Beyond Europe Mon 15 Jul 2019 0

Kristian Berg Harpviken, Deputy President of the NSA Board
Magnus Heie, Member of the NSA Board

Members: 434
President in 2019: Marit Haldar

The Norwegian Sociological Association (NSA) – Norsk sosiologforening in Norwegian – is a platform for collaboration among sociologists in Norway. Founded in 1949, the NSA preceded the institutionalisation of sociology by one year (with the first university department established in Oslo in 1950) yet followed a century’s evolution of sociological research (with theology-trained Eilert Sundt as the pioneer and represented in our logo). The NSA is organised as a national association with a number of local branches. It serves as a platform for debate, hosts an active website (sosiologen.no), hosts the annual sociological seminar (Vinterseminaret) and cooperates with leading university departments in publishing the peer-reviewed open-access Norsk sosiologisk tidsskrift [Norwegian Journal of Sociology]. As a discipline, sociology in Norway has been highly influential, both in political debate and for policy development. Nonetheless, the NSA also encounters challenges to the organisation and the discipline as a whole.

Sociology in Norway
The pioneer in Norwegian sociology was Eilert Sundt, a Lutheran priest and theologian who conducted extensive empirical research, using statistical and ethnographic methods, to study living conditions, as well as economic and cultural practices. Education in sociology was first offered at the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo in 1934 (currently hosting the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law), with the Department of Sociology founded in 1950. Other universities followed, with Sociology Departments established in Bergen (1966) and Trondheim (1971), and as part of a multidisciplinary Social Science Department when the University of Tromsø was founded in 1968. Despite several encompassing reforms in higher education and research, at these four so-called ‘old universities’, sociology today retains a position broadly similar to its initial one upon institutionalisation.

However, Norway also has a group of ‘new universities’, which originated in the founding of regional district colleges from the late 1960s onwards and have pursued university status in the context of more recent reforms. Sociology is taught at many of these newer universities, as well as at several colleges, sometimes as a distinct discipline, but more often in interdisciplinary contexts or as part of vocational training programmes (i.e., nursing, teachers’ training and social work). At Bodø (now Nord University), sociology teaching dates back to 1971, whereas at Stavanger (now University of Stavanger) and Vestfold (now University College of Southern Norway), it started only in the 1990s. Today, the largest number of sociologists among Norwegian institutions can be found at Oslo Metropolitan University (formerly Oslo and Akershus University College).

A peculiarity of Norway is its strong social science research institute sector. Here, the Institute of Social Research, founded in Oslo in 1950 (the same year as the establishment of the university department), is particularly important. A number of the early institution builders in Norwegian sociology – including Arne Næss, Vilhelm Aubert and Stein Rokkan – were associated with the institute, and many of its associates subsequently became key players in developing new departments or research institutes elsewhere in Norway. Since the late 1950s, several research institutes with strong roots in sociology have been founded. Some have a national mandate; others are regional in scope. Interactions between research institutes, on one hand, and universities and colleges, on the other hand, have been extensive. More recently, and again as a result of government reforms, several mergers have occurred, in some cases between institutes, and in others, between institutes and universities or colleges.

In 2018, sociology (alongside other social disciplines) was subjected to a national evaluation by the Research Council of Norway, with separate reports assessing research, education and the interaction between the two. The evaluation (which soon after its release became the topic of extensive debate) offered both praise and criticism. Norwegian sociology was described as strongly committed to empirical research, with the potential to make important contributions to international sociology.

However, the evaluation raised a set of critical questions about a certain degree of insularity in research foci and international collaboration, the low levels of collaboration (and division of labour) among the main educational institutions, as well as significant gaps in training. A potential weakening of the disciplinary identity with the development of strong sub-disciplinary specialisations was also pointed out. Overall, sociology in Norway was described as a mature discipline, with its solid quality of both education and research and well-developed relevance to key societal challenges.

The NSA’s purposes
As a platform for collaboration among sociologists in Norway, the NSA is committed to the promotion of its members’ professional interests. In this regard, the association should promote the founding and the strengthening of networks among sociologists in Norway, as well as their cooperation on an international scale. Cultivating a broad societal interest in sociological questions goes hand in hand with strengthening the contributions of sociology to society. Naturally, the NSA also works to improve the conditions for sociological research and the development of disciplinary training and education. These objectives are pursued through a number of platforms and activities, as described below.

Organisation

Marit Haldar, Professor of Sociology at the Oslo Metropolitan University (Oslomet) and President of the NSA

The association offers two types of membership, one for students and the other for ordinary members. While the NSA primarily caters to those who have a background or are currently engaged in sociology studies, formally it is open to anyone interested in sociology and its subject matter.

The ultimate authority of the NSA resides in its National Assembly, which meets annually. The assembly elects a National Board (meeting at least twice annually), which consists of one member each from the local branches, as well as the six to eight members of the Executive Committee, including the President and the Vice-President. The Executive Committee is responsible for the association’s daily operations, including hosting the annual seminar.

As of the fall of 2018, the NSA has seven local branches around the country, most of them connected to a university. The local branches host meetings and seminars, as well as other sociology-related events for students, researchers and the general public. The local branches’ outreach activities constitute a significant share of the association’s overall outreach.

Website

The webpage sosiologen.no, initiated and funded by the Norwegian Sociological Association, was launched in 2015 with a one day "sociology-festival". Photo: Maren Toft

The NSA runs sosiologen.no, an open website that serves as a platform for exchange, professional reflections and communications, to the membership and beyond. The website contains contributions on theory and method (such as the need for modifying curricula and teaching methods emphasised in recent evaluations), specific analytical issues (such as rising inequality), sociology in professional life (such as job prospects) and organisational matters.

Sosiologen.no fills an important gap between academic journals and the regular media in Norway, and serves as a platform for students and experienced researchers as well as a broader audience interested in debate within sociology and the social sciences. In 2017, sosiologen.no had 60,000 clicks. The website is run by an editorial staff of volunteers in Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim. The editor serves for a two-year period and is a regular member of the Executive Committee.

Annual seminar

Photo from one of the events at the annual seminar – Vinterseminaret – where post graduate students present the findings from their master theses. Photo: Matthis Kleeb Solheim

The annual seminar – Vinterseminaret in Norwegian, a word that reflects the traditional hosting of the seminar at a mountain resort with ample opportunities for skiing – normally takes place during the first week-end of February. The seminar is the most important meeting place for Norwegian sociologists, whether they are researchers, students, or sociologists working outside academia.

The seminar has a different theme each year, in addition to working groups covering the most central themes in our discipline. In previous years the seminars have focused on topics such as gender, youth, migration, and the sociology of religion. The 2019 seminar is devoted to inequality and class. For the NSA, the seminar is its single most important activity, providing the association with an opportunity to promote substantial debate at the core of the discipline, including about its future development, as well as a chance to network.

Journal
Norsk sosiologisk tidsskrift aims at being the pre-eminent journal of sociology in Norway. The journal is a partnership between the NSA, sociology departments at various universities, and the publisher Universitetsforlaget (The Norwegian University Press). The journal is rooted in two Norwegian sociological journals with a long history, with its first issue coming out in February 2017. The journal has six issues annually – three are special thematic issues and three are open.

It is an open access and peer-reviewed journal with the main aim of featuring Norwegian sociology in Norwegian (it also accepts submissions in Danish, Swedish, or English from authors not in command of Norwegian). The editors underline that the journal plays an important role in publishing articles that closely relate to contemporary Norwegian (and Nordic) themes.

The Nordic Sociological Association
All members of the association are automatically members of the Nordic Sociological Association, which is an alliance of the national sociological associations in the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). The Nordic association is led on a rotational basis between the membership countries, and for the period 2018 to 2020 this is the responsibility of Norway. The chair of the Nordic Association for this period is Kristian Berg Harpviken (Deputy President of the Norwegian Association).

A major engagement of the Nordic Association is the hosting of a biannial conference for Nordic Sociologists. The 2018 conference – ‘The Global North: Welfare policies, mobilities, inequalities and social movements’ – was hosted in Aalborg from August 7 to 10. In two years’ time, in 2020, from August 5 to 7, the Norwegian Association will host the 2020 conference in Oslo ‘The Sociology of Conflict: Global transformation – Local manifestations’.

The Nordic Association is also the owner of Acta Sociologica, a peer-reviewed journal published by SAGE, which brings out four issues annually. Members of the Norwegian Sociological Association receive the journal.

Challenges ahead
Sociology in Norway is solidly institutionalised, remains societally relevant, and is at any time (as manifested on sosiologen.no) subject to intensive debate on the discipline and where it should be going. The association as such, based almost entirely on voluntary work, is well placed by virtue of the fact that it hosts the main national meeting (Vinterseminaret) and co-owns the main peer-reviewed journal in Norwegian sociology. Nonetheless, both the sociological discipline and the larger sector of higher education and research are extremely dynamic and subject to encompassing policy shifts, so looking ahead, there is no lack of challenge. Here, we will focus on three overarching challenges for the association and its ability to live up to the mandate.

  • Organisational development: The main challenge here lies in maintaining the number of existing members, while successfully expanding the member base, which will depend on the ability to develop new platforms, bring to birth exciting debates and important insights, and continue to serve members’ interests (without being an interest organisation as such).
  • Identity-building: The association’s mandate is reflective of an ambition to bring together sociologists who apply their knowledge in a multiplicity of contexts, from conventional academics to those who apply their knowledge within government, business, the media, civil society, or the domain of arts and culture. In parallel, the disciplinary fragmentation that comes with increasing thematic specialisation weakens the sociological core. A key task is to maintain – and even build – an identity that has a shared core yet caters to scholars and practitioners who apply their insight in highly variegated settings.
  • Disciplinary enhancement: A major task of the association is to stimulate sociological insight and its contribution to society. This is a dual task in that it entails both an introspective dimension – improving the competencies, techniques, and communication channels used in education and research – and a focus on the structure and organisation that enable quality and diversity in the discipline – the funding streams, recruitment patterns, employment practices, publication platforms and much more. In Norway, the already hotly debated 2018 evaluations of the discipline offer an ideal platform for this.

 

Further reading
Allardt, Erik, 1989. ‘Recent Developments in Scandinavian Sociology’. Annual Review of Sociology 15: 31–45.
Aspers, Patrik, Jukka Gronow, Lars Bo Kaspersen, Lars Mjøset, Guðbjørg Linda Rafnsdóttir and Aino Sinnemäki, 2014. ‘Nordic Sociology’, pp. 303-317 in Sokratis Koniordos and Alexandros-Andreas Kyrtsis (eds.), Routledge Handbook of European Sociology, London: Routledge.
Birkelund, Gunn Elisabeth, 2006. ‘The Genesis of Norwegian Sociology – A story of failures and success’, pp. 41-67 in Sosiologisk Årbok 2006. Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo.
Mjøset, Lars, 2006. ‘Nordic Social Theory: Between social philosophy and grounded theory’, pp. 123-137 in Gerard Delanty, (ed.), Handbook of Contemporary European Social Theory. London & New York: Routledge.
NOKUT, 2018. ‘Educational Quality in Sociology in Norway: Joint evaluations of research and education’. Oslo: Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT).
NOKUT and the Research Council of Norway, 2018. ‘Joint Evaluations of Research and Education: A pilot study of the interplay between research and education in political science, sociology and economics in Norway’. Oslo: Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT).
Research Council of Norway, 2018. ‘Evaluation of the Social Sciences in Norway: Report from Panel 4 – Sociology’. Oslo, Research Council of Norway.