Course description

The objective of this interdisciplinary course is to explore challenges to sustainable modernity in cultural, economic, political and institutional realms.

It is now widely acknowledged that modernity has emancipated us from dogma, promoted individual freedoms, and unleashed unprecedented entrepreneurship and innovation in science and technology, and productivity and welfare in work and social life. But modernity also has a downside. In recent decades, the banner of ‘modernization’ has often implied the depletion of natural resources, increased social inequality and exclusion, and exacerbating the climate crisis.

Some thinkers suggest that the self-destructive success of modernity has been its competitive mindset and the growing lack of cooperation amongst societies (e.g. Turchin 2007; Sennett 2013; Wilson 2014; Soros 2016). Implicit in this view is a call for a paradigm shift based on a mindset which would foster novel forms of social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Against this background, the course will address questions such as:

  • How can individual self-interest and the neglect of the commons be reconciled with the work for the public good and less pressure on the environment?
  •  If competition is the engine of successful innovation - how to square it with fostering a sustainable modernity and the ideal of ‘good life’?


This interdisciplinary Ph.D. course has a threefold objective:

1) Using Nordic welfare states as its laboratory, it will explore challenges to sustainable modernity in cultural, economic, political and institutional realms; 

2) It will illuminate challenges from an interdisciplinary perspective, involving a dialogue between the social sciences, humanities and evolutionary theory;

3) The course will invite PhD students and lecturers to come up with ideas drafting contours of a more socially and environmentally sustainable modernity.

In addition to lectures, the course will allow those conducting Ph.D. research to present their own work and comment on that of others, guided by senior experienced academics who are themselves working in this field.

Course capacity: 20 students

Language of instruction: English

Syllabus: Approx. 1000 pages of compulsory readings.

Learning outcomes

The course is designed to provide students with:

  • A nuanced understanding of the multiple challenges to a sustainable and fair society;
  • The ability to critically examine – and come up with solutions to - ‘wicked problems’ bedeviling late modernity;
  • Insights into what make the Nordic model attractive to the world; what are its strengths and downsides; can it be ‘exported’ outside Scandinavia?
  • Knowledge on the nature of cultural, economic and institutional innovation for a sustainable future.

The course invites PhD students to present their work and enrich their insights via an interdisciplinary feedback from - and interplay with - course lecturers and participants.

Tags: phd, sustainable, modernity, cooperation, competition, society, interdisciplinary By Gudrun Cecilie Eikemo Helland
Published Dec. 5, 2016 2:19 PM - Last modified July 4, 2019 1:35 PM