Sammanfattning av publikation

Nielsen, 2011 🔗

The disputed demarcations of the welfare state: Dilemmas of citizenship and migration policy controversy in contemporary Sweden. 

Year: 2011

Type of text: Konferensbidrag, Publicerat paper (Övrigt vetenskapligt)

Published by:  ECPR General Conference, Reykjavik

Language: English 

Author: Amanda Nielsen

Pages: 18

Available at: Inte tillgĂ€nglig online. Info om publikation: 

Short description of text 

The conference paper focuses on discussing a change in Swedish migration policies that have previously until the 1990s been dominated by a broad political consensus that migration needs to be regulated to assure that core welfare political ambitions can be fulfilled. However, since then and especially in the 2000s Nielsen argues that there is politicisation of migration debates: Nielsen focuses on two debates or disputex one regarding regularization of irregular migrants, and another regarding labour migration. The aim of the text is to deepen the understanding of how conceptions of the welfare state, and the legacy of nationalism underpinning it, are crucial to understand contemporary debates on migration, it focuses on both continuities and change in Swedish policies.

The author also briefly raises the issue of the electoral support of Sweden Democrats as a form of explicit nationalism.

Most important results

“The starting point of my discussion has been the generally acknowledged move from consensus to conflict that has taken place in Sweden since the 1990s. In the analysis, then, I have mapped the elements of continuity and change in present policy and debates. I have argued that the overall belief in the need for, as well as the legitimacy of, a regulated migration constitutes the prime example of continuity. Further, I have discussed two recent developments that I have identified as openings to change. That is, firstly, I have argued that the recent ”discovery” of irregular migrants, and the anomaly they are conceived to constitute in the midst of the welfare state in their capacity of rightless residents living in utmost precarity, have initiated a reconsideration of the central principle that rights should only be granted to legal residents. Secondly, I have argued that the recent introduction of a more flexible regime of labour migration can be understood as a step towards abandonment of central elements of the old consensus such as the priority of resident workers and the principle of equality. Both of these so-called openings can, although in very different ways, be conceptualized as potential moves away from the implicit nationalism that characterized the old consensus. Furthermore, I have argued that the Sweden democrats, who have had some recent (relative) successes, pose a counterbalance to these trends. While the two openings to change I identified above was characterized as steps towards an abandonment of nationalism the rhetoric and policies advanced by the Sweden democrats can be conceptualized as a move towards embracement, and reinforcement, of the nationalist underpinnings of previous policy.” (14)

“previous consensus of Swedish migration policy has been replaced by on the one hand explicit challenges of core nationalist components of policy and on the other calls that can be deemed explicitly nationalist. In between these extreme positions, one clearly embracing and the other denouncing nationalism as a guiding principle in the provision of welfare, the majority of positions in the debate can be placed” (15)

Theoretical perspective/framework

Inclusion, exclusion and citizenship. The text analyses the “the inherent tension between inclusion and exclusion in conceptions of citizenship. That is, the tension that arises from the fact that citizenship on the one hand signifies a normative ambition to guarantee all citizens an equal status while these inclusionary objectives, on the other hand, tend to bring about exclusion towards those regarded as ‘alien’ to the community since these objectives, so far, have been framed in bounded communities.”. “The concept of citizenship is thus useful in two ways. Firstly, it can be used to shed light on the close links between citizenship and nationality and the exclusion towards those regarded as non-members this result in. Secondly, it can be used to emphasize how attempts to secure a comprehensive social citizenship, the key feature of the welfare state, results in restrictive positions on migration. Thus, in sum, the concept of citizenship offers a link between the implicit nationalist underpinnings of the welfare state and the restrictions on migration.” (14)

Struggles over migration can be understood as negotiations over the balance between the inclusionary and exclusionary elements of citizenship.

Banal nationalism – Swedish policies on migration understood as guided by implicit nationalism. “Swedish policies on migration are implicitly nationalist since they depart from the understanding that control over movement is necessary in order to ensure that the welfare of those already resident are not jeopardized. This does not preclude a certain degree of openness and, even, an equal treatment of those granted access. The crucial determinant, however, is the fact that openness towards aliens is only considered permissible as long as it doesn’t pose a threat to present conditions and the ambitions to fulfil a certain level of social inclusion for everyone.” (3)


“The discussion is based upon an empirical investigation into statements made in relation to the two debates previously mentioned, that is the debate on irregular migration and the debate on labour migration, in the Swedish parliament throughout the 2000s”( p.2). The material consists of minutes from parliamentary sessions where the issue under scrutiny have been debated. 

The author first provides a short account of the core features of the old consensus based on previous research, discusses elements of stability and continuity in debates. After that the author discusses recent debates on the rights of irregular migrants and the regulation of labour migration, respectively and how these can be interpreted as instances where core principles of the old consensus have been challenged. In relation to each case a short summary of the debate in question is provided as well as presenting the different positions taken in the debate. After that, the author also elaborates on how these debates can be understood in relation to conceptions of citizenship, more precisely to the duality of citizenship, and the welfare state.

Summarized by: Hammam Skaik