The Nordic Human Rights Paradox: Moving Beyond Exceptionalism

36 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2013 Last revised: 5 Sep 2015

See all articles by Malcolm Langford

Malcolm Langford

University of Oslo, Faculty of Law, Department of Public and International Law

Johan Karlsson Schaffer

Göteborg University - School of Global Studies; University of Oslo - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 4, 2015

Abstract

Existing research paints a contrastive picture of how the Nordic states engage with international human rights. In this paper, we critically survey scholarly literatures on ‘Nordic exceptionalism’ in the field of human rights in order to reframe Nordic human rights-related scholarship as a set of multi-disciplinary research problems and propose an agenda for future research. In particular, we argue that existing essentialist accounts, which emphasize values, culture and ideas as the key factor shaping Nordic approaches to human rights, need to be complemented. The paper sets out alternative theoretical approaches that focus on how: idealist commitments and branding exercises may backfire when international norms gain new authority; rights policies are shaped by domestic political contestation; and growing social pluralism is reshaping the domestic uptake of rights. We also suggest that thorough comparative studies, both within the Nordic group and with relevant points of reference, could diversify our knowledge of the Nordic states varying commitment to and compliance with international human rights norms. In sum, we suggest that a more theory-driven approach may make the alleged Nordic Sonderweg less of a paradoxical enigma.

Keywords: human rights, Nordic states, foreign policy, exceptionalism, constitutionalism

Suggested Citation

Langford, Malcolm and Karlsson Schaffer, Johan, The Nordic Human Rights Paradox: Moving Beyond Exceptionalism (September 4, 2015). University of Oslo Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2013-25. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2275905 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2275905

Malcolm Langford

University of Oslo, Faculty of Law, Department of Public and International Law ( email )

P.O. Box 6706 St. Olavs plass
N-0130 Oslo
Norway

Johan Karlsson Schaffer (Contact Author)

Göteborg University - School of Global Studies ( email )

POB 700
Gothenburg, SE 40530
Sweden

University of Oslo - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavsplass
Oslo, 0130
Norway

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