Reproduction and the Welfare State: Notes on Norwegian Biopolitics
Keywords:biopolitics, Foucault, ethnonationalism, social democracy, neoliberalism, fertility
Norway has long been considered to be a bastion of social democracy due to its strong, protective, decommodifying welfare state. However, with the recent rise of neoliberalism and right-wing populist politics across the West, this Northern European society has gradually shifted from Keynesian Fordism to a moderate form of neoliberalism. This political-economic pivot has also resulted in a transformation of what Foucault termed biopolitics: a politics concerned with life itself. In early 2019, leading politicians in Norway’s centre-right coalition government placed the problem of the declining fertility rate on the national agenda and framed the problem of biological reproduction in ways particular to their political-ideological perspectives. The Conservative Party discussed reproduction in terms of producerism, or the problem of supplying the welfare state with labouring, tax-paying citizens. The Progress Party emphasised ethnonational exclusion, engaging in racial denigration with the aim to ensure the reproduction of ‘ethnic Norwegians’. The Christian Democrats highlighted a conservative Christian ‘right to life’ topos amidst growing secularisation and pluralism. All three parties signalled a turn from traditional social-democratic ideologies. Neoliberalism has proven to be malleable, able to fuse with a wide range of biopolitical programmes including moral exhortations, ethnonational exclusion and religious discourse to approach the problem of reproduction. However, this post-social-democratic approach generally is unwilling to provide material security through large-scale social expenditures and universal welfare institutions, preferring instead to address the ‘hearts and minds’ of the populace. Consequently, the fundamental cause of sub-replacement fertility—the gradual proliferation of ontological insecurity—remains unaddressed.
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