Commercialised Norwegian civil society more volatile

Processes of increased commercialisation and individualisation in the Norwegian civil society may lead to a decline in volunteering and weakened democratic governance.

In the article "Norway: Towards a Volatile Civil Society?" Steen-Johnsen and Enjolras explore how Norwegian civil society is affected by processes of increasing commercialisation, individualisation and digitalisation.

- Based on existing research, we try to identify whether major processes of change are occurring which may make the Norwegian civil society deviate from the traditional model of broad mobilisation, high levels of volunteering and democratic governance, say Steen-Johnsen and Enjolras.

Effects of commercialisation

Commercialisation may refer to either the development of new, commercial activities by voluntary organisations or to a shift from participation to consumption in the relationship between an organisation and its members.

- These two types of commercialisation may have different effects, and the change in the  relationship between members and organisations may have the strongest impact on the dugnad economy, Steen-Johnsen and Enjolras point out.

The authors think a more commercialised civil society may lead to a weakened participatory culture and less democratic governance within the voluntary sector. However, these changes may vary strongly due to variations between different types of organisations and between national and local levels.

New digital tools

Over the last decade voluntary organisations have become increasingly aware of the opportunities digital tools provide for contacting members and for communicating with society at large.

- Optimists claim the use of digital tools might hold the remedy for democratic governance by revitalising the way in which organisations and members interact, and by enabling organisations to reach a broader audience, say Steen-Johnsen and Enjolras.

So far, however, the evidence indicates that Norwegian voluntary organisations struggle with using these tools to mobilise members. Moreover, the use of digital tools seems to reinforce the engagement of already active people.

Opposite tendencies in Sweden

According to a Swedish survey from 2009 Swedish civil society is not characterised by the same decline in civic engagement. Thus, individualisation seems to be a stronger force in Norway.

- However, when looking at the institutional side of Swedish civil society, there are parallels in terms of commercialisation and in the change in organisation/member relationships. The processes in Norway and Sweden are parallel and contradictory at the same time, Steen-Johnsen and Enjolras point out. 

- The causes are complex and must be linked to differing public policies towards civil society as well as different cultural and economic factors in the two countries.

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Norway: Towards a Volatile Civil Society?

Av Luisa Klaveness (luisa.klaveness@samfunnsforskning.no)
Publisert 12. des. 2011 15:18 - Sist endret 11. des. 2017 11:19