CfP – NGM: No austerity, new austerities, Nordic austerities? Comparative geographies of health and social care in pandemic times


1st Call for Papers – Nordic Geographers Meeting (7–10 Feb 22, Joensuu, Finland)

No austerity, new austerities, Nordic austerities? Comparative geographies of health and social care in pandemic times

Convenors: Ed Kiely (University of Cambridge), Sander van Lanen (University of Groningen)

The Covid-19 pandemic has consisted of three entangled crises: economic, social and fiscal. Firstly, the global economy has seesawed between growth and recession: the uneven distribution of upsides has widened geographic inequalities. Secondly, an unprecedented public health crisis pushed care systems in many countries to the brink of collapse, with deleterious consequences for marginalised populations as well as healthcare workers. Thirdly, a collapse in tax revenues just as these shockwaves necessitated vast increases in social spending has ballooned government debt. Together, these economic, social and fiscal crises have seen states dismantle and remake health and social care systems in Nordic countries, and around the world.

Across much of Europe, the 2008 financial crisis was followed by a wave of austerity. A discourse of ‘virtuous’ belt-tightening (Wilkinson & Ortega‐Alcázar, 2019, p. 156) was one of the more visible modalities of austerity. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the mood seems different: the cheerleaders of deficit reduction have failed to make their voices heard while governments throughout Europe came out to spend money on income support, health care, and to keep businesses afloat. Yet this current silence does not mean that austerity is absent.

Cuts and budgetary restraint are shuffled around the different arms of the state; processes of state rescaling ‘dump’ fiscal crises on different geographic levels of government (Gray & Barford, 2018, p.558; Peck, 2012).

Critics of austerity policies have often turned to the ‘Nordic model’ of social democracy as an alternative, whether celebrating Iceland’s decision to jail bankers or arguing for Scandinavian income distribution and public service provision (Bergmann, 2014). Post 2008, the idea of Scandinavian difference shaped alternative visions on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet Nordic countries also implemented austerity (Hansen & Mailand, 2013; Huijbens & Þorsteinsonn, 2017; Nyby et al., 2018), while some scholars have even argued that Nordic states are entering a ‘post-welfare’ phase (Baeten et al., 2015, p.209). Within this phase, once-generous Nordic welfare states are diminished through exposure to the market, and the devolving of welfare provision and financial pressures to local government – a process defined by Peck (2012) as austerity urbanism (Baeten et al., 2015).

What can these previous crises tell us about the current one? Has Covid-19 driven austerity from Nordic (and European) polities? Or are new austerities lurking within states’ responses?

This session takes a comparative approach to health and social care geographies in the time of Covid-19. We welcome proposals which respond to these questions, or to themes of austerity, fiscal crisis and state rescaling in relation to health, wellbeing and social care. This could include case studies centring on Nordic countries, comparisons between Nordic countries and/or other geographies, and theoretical and/or speculative pieces.

If you would like to take part, please submit an abstract of up to 350 words via the online portal:

Deadline: 29 October 2021