Four Normative Languages of Welfare: A pragmatic sociological investigation

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This article explores the normative languages used by ordinary citizens to measure ongoing welfare state transformations in Denmark. Empirically, the article turns to qualitative data from a deliberative democratic forum where 35 citizens gathered to reflect upon and discuss the future of the welfare state. Conceptually, it relies upon the order of worth-framework derived from the French pragmatic sociology of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot. The analysis shows how citizens use a number of orders of worth when discussing the future of the welfare state. Four standards of worth seem to be of particular importance: (1) A civic order of worth, defining individualism and welfare consumerism as the big problems while emphasizing the need for every citizen to mentally step out of their selfish state of mind and care more for others and society as such. (2) A domestic order of worth stating that the problems of the current welfare state are particularly located within groups of ill-mannered and anti-social people that must be educated and disciplined. (3) An industrial order of worth, leading participants to problematize bureaucratic inefficiency and waste of resources. (4) And finally, a market order of worth stating welfare dependency to be one of the big problems and stressing the need for individual responsibility and for giving structural incentives for such behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDistinktion : Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)47-67
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2018


  • Deliberative forum
  • Laurent Thévenot
  • Luc Boltanski
  • orders of worth
  • pragmatic sociology
  • qualitative research
  • social policy
  • the welfare state


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