Welfare States, Climate Change and New Social Risks (Nova/OsloMet)

Background for the project

Since the 1970s European societies have undergone significant transformation. Labour markets and family structures have become more instable. International economic competition associated with globalisation have intensified, and the consequences of expected demographic trends have put social protection systems and eldercare under pressure. These developments have underpinned the emergence of new kinds of social risks. Therefore, in the 1990s and the 2000s much of the comparative welfare state literature was concerned with how welfare states could and should respond to these changes. The sustainability of advanced welfare states was at stake, but this challenge was mainly couched in social and economic terms.

Two decades into the new millennium the mentioned challenges of population ageing, instable labour markets and family structures have not disappeared. Nonetheless, the question of sustainability in the context of European welfare states can no longer be reduced to a matter of balancing long-term fiscal and social concerns. In the 21st century it should be commonplace for social policy scholarship to include the ecological dimension when discussing the sustainability of modern welfare states.

Project description

We offer thesis supervision to MA students in social policy or social work who would like to study the welfare state-climate change nexus theoretically and/or empirically.  

Possible thesis questions

Examples of questions and themes that could be further developed in a thesis include (but are not limited to):

  • There is a knowledge gap regarding the implications of climate change and mitigation for the social risks against which traditional welfare states are designed to protect, such as poverty. Put differently, how does climate change give rise to a new generation of social risks and what are the implications for mature welfare states?
  • Are the ‘old’ tools and institutions of social protection and welfare/social services sufficient to meet the social challenges linked to climate change/climate policy? What kind of new policy tools do welfare states need in response to climate change? These are questions relevant to the fields of social and labour market policy as well as social work.
  • What is the significance of factors like inequality and (re)distribution in different types of welfare states? Under which institutional conditions do they hamper or facilitate the development of balanced eco-social policy agendas? 
  • What implications does climate change have for the way welfare programmes are funded?
  • To what extent is the European Union as a forerunner in the development of an integrated eco-social agenda
  • The politics of eco-social policy: What social, ecological and economic interests and associated actor constellations are mobilised in the political struggles over the ‘green’ transition at national and/or European level? How and why do these differ across countries and with what consequences for policy output?
  • The political potential for reforms that push welfare states in a ‘sustainable’ direction, including studies of popular attitudes, political party/electoral manifestos or elite discourses.
  • Are some welfare models or varieties of capitalism better at balancing long-term ecological and contemporary social concerns. If so, what are the mechanisms driving differential policy performances?
  • How may have hegemonic perspectives shaped imaginaries concerning the “sustainable Norwegian welfare state” historically and currently? In the face of climate change, how may welfare policy ideologies, policy development and policy “solutions” regarding welfare state sustainability reinforce such perspectives? How may we need to re-orient such perspectives in addressing climate change in a globally equitable way?
  • We need further research on the normative and empirical dilemmas facing the Norwegian welfare state in the context of climate change and global social justice. This kind of knowledge serves to understand better the implications of different choices when it comes to future institutional reforms in the fields of social and labour market policy. 

Methods and data

Policy, media and other document analysis, process tracing, popular attitude survey data, qualitative and/or quantitative methods depending on the chosen thematic focus.

Relevant for

International Social Welfare and Health Policy, Social Work.

Potential supervisors are

Mi Ah Schoyen, NOVA

Therese Dokken, NOVA

Erika Gubrium, Department of Social Work, Child Welfare and Social Policy

Contact person

We encourage potentially interested students to contact Mi Ah Schoyen (miah.schoyen@oslomet.no) as soon as possible and to submit a short outline (1-2 pages) of preliminary interests and ideas along with a brief CV by 15 March 2024.

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