The Nordic Human Rights Paradox: Moving Beyond Exceptionalism
36 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2013 Last revised: 5 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 4, 2015
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
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