In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Scandinavia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Influential Early Works
  • Anthropology, Ethnology, and Folklife
  • Ethnographies of Everyday Life
  • Sex, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Nordic Medical Anthropology
  • Globalization and Transnationalism
  • Immigration, Ethnicity, and “Integration”
  • Law, Bureaucracy, and the State
  • Consumption, Finance, and Economics
  • Nature, Landscape, and Environment

Anthropology Scandinavia
Alison Cool
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0044


Scandinavia, a region of Northern Europe, includes Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In English, the term Scandinavia is often used to refer to a broader geographic area that also encompasses Iceland, Finland, and the Faroe Islands, although this larger group is perhaps more accurately referred to as the Nordic countries, following usage of the terms in Northern Europe. To avoid repetition, the two terms will be used interchangeably in this article, according to the common English usage. Historically and culturally, Scandinavia proper—Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—is closely linked, and Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish are mutually intelligible. Icelandic and Faroese—like Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish—are North Germanic languages, while Finnish along with Sámi—the group of languages spoken by the indigenous Northern European Sámi peoples—are Uralic languages. The Nordic countries share important political and economic characteristics, sometimes referred to internationally as the “Nordic model,” including traditionally powerful Social Democratic political parties, universalist welfare states, expansive social safety nets, strong labor unions as well as policy emphases on gender, socioeconomic, and other forms of equality. Early empirical research in the Nordic countries, which has historically been conducted within the fields of ethnology and folklife studies, often focused on indigenous Sámi peoples or was situated in small maritime or agricultural villages. Nordic anthropologists, in contrast, traditionally conducted their fieldwork abroad. However, these older distinctions between these two disciplines have become less relevant over time (see also Anthropology, Ethnology, and Folklife). Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, anthropologists and ethnologists of the Nordic region have increasingly expanded the purview of their research to include urban communities, institutional and bureaucratic settings, medical encounters, and financial markets, to name just a few areas of inquiry. Anthropologists have also addressed cultural and demographic changes corresponding to urbanization and increased rates of immigration to the Scandinavian countries, particularly since the 1970s, examining articulations and transformations of understandings of race and ethnicity in relation to cultural logics of gender, sexuality, and national belonging. Scholarship on globalization has also highlighted the changing place of Nordic national and regional imaginaries as transnational movements of persons, objects, and values map out new connections between the local and the global.

General Overviews

There are important similarities and shared histories linking the Nordic countries, and anthropologists working in this geographical region have long been in conversation, both with other Scandinavian scholars and with transnational developments in the social sciences. However, there are also divergences and differences in the specific theoretical directions and institutional structures that have developed in the anthropologies of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. Nicolaisen 1980 provides insight into some of these national intellectual histories. As noted in Gullestad 1989—probably the most ambitious work that collects and reviews work in the anthropology of Scandinavia—anthropological communities in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway have been particularly well connected, partly due to the mutual intelligibility and readability of their national languages, and partly for cultural and political reasons. Byron 2002 helpfully situates Nordic anthropology within the larger field of European anthropology and includes a discussion of the most Influential Early Works in this field. Although Bruun, et al. 2011 draws most heavily on scholarship about Denmark, it also uses Marianne Gullestad’s work on “equality as sameness” in Norway as a window into themes of egalitarianism and hierarchy that connect a wide-reaching body of anthropological work on Scandinavia. Durrenberger and Pálsson 1995, an edited volume, surveys some of the major themes and preoccupations animating Icelandic anthropology, including special attention to kinship, gender, and national identity. In comparison to American and British anthropologists, Nordic anthropologists are generally more active participants in public intellectual life. Norwegian anthropologists in particular have played a prominent part in their national intellectual community, frequently contributing to popular media and participating in public debates. Eriksen 2008 describes some of the factors contributing to the development of this robust form of public anthropology in Norway.

  • Bruun, Maja Hojer, Gry Skrædderdal Jakobsen, and Stine Krøijer. 2011. Introduction: The concern for sociality-practicing equality and hierarchy in Denmark. Social Analysis 55.2: 1–19.

    DOI: 10.3167/sa.2011.550201

    Editors’ introduction to a special issue of Social Analysis, titled “The concern for sociality: Practicing Equality and Hierarchy in Denmark,” which is in critical conversation with influential Norwegian anthropologist Marianne Gullestad’s work on Nordic egalitarianism and sociality. Includes a comprehensive genealogy of major works in Scandinavian anthropology, particularly those dealing with ideas of equality.

  • Byron, Reginald. 2002. The anthropology of Northern Europe. In Encyclopedia of social and cultural anthropology. Edited by Alan Barnard and Jonathan Spencer, 208–209. London: Routledge.

    Situates the development of Scandinavian anthropology in the context of European anthropology more broadly, and gives a useful compendium of important early works in the anthropology of Northern Europe.

  • Durrenberger, Edward Paul, and Gísli Pálsson. 1995. The anthropology of Iceland. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press.

    Divided into four thematic sections, this edited volume contains a cross section of anthropological work in Iceland across topics of ideology and action; kinship and gender; culture, class, and ethnicity; and the historical commonwealth period.

  • Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 2008. The otherness of Norwegian anthropology. In Other people’s anthropologies: Ethnographic practice on the margins. Edited by Aleksandar Bošković, 169–185. New York: Berghahn.

    This chapter explores the influence of British social anthropology on Norwegian anthropology, and describes some of the trajectories leading to the unusually prominent position of many contemporary Norwegian anthropologists as public intellectuals.

  • Gullestad, Marianne. 1989. Small facts and large issues: The anthropology of contemporary Scandinavian society. Annual Review of Anthropology 18.1: 71–93.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    This review article offers an exhaustive overview of the most important anthropological scholarship of Scandinavia through the late 1980s, and is an essential resource in this field.

  • Nicolaisen, Johannes. 1980. Scandinavia: All approaches are fruitful. In Anthropology: Ancestors and heirs. Edited by Stanley Diamond, 259–273. The Hague: Walter de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110807462

    Gives an overview of the historical development of the field of anthropology in the Scandinavian countries, and is particularly strong on Danish anthropology.

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