In this final blog post from ESUC we wish to make two observations: one of a rather practical nature regarding the practical arrangements for the conference, and a second one that concerns the current political and social situation in Sweden. However, first and foremost we wish to extend a sincere welcome to all of you.
Victims of success: many participants bring practical challenges
As local hosts we started this journey two and a half years ago. Since then we have managed to raise the necessary resources as well as enlisted the help of many volunteers, to whom we are extremely grateful. However, what we did not fully anticipate is that we would have more participants than ever before at an ISTR conference. We are proud and very happy about this level of interest and enthusiasm. However, because of the limited campus space at our disposal we have, in close cooperation with the ISTR board and staff, been forced to come up with creative solutions to a number of logistical challenges. We hope everything will work smoothly, but in case of occasional problems we kindly ask for your forbearance and good cheer.
These four days in Stockholm will be very intensive, filled with many academic events along with two receptions and surely many more informal occasions for networking and socializing. We are looking forward to all this and we hope you will enjoy it immensely as well.
The Refugees Crisis and the Role of Civil Society
Finally a few words about the current socio-political situation here in Sweden. Stockholm, along with the rest of Sweden, is presently struggling with issues related to the recent extensive wave of refugees fleeing the war in Syria as well as difficult conditions in other countries around the world. Sweden has also received a large number of migrants from within the EU, many of whom lack both work and housing. While many think and hope that this will be good for Sweden in the long-term, the immediate difficulties are considerable and entail huge challenges to local governments in charge of providing schooling, healthcare, and social services. Even a well-developed welfare state such as the Swedish one cannot handle this situation without the manifold support of organized civil society as well as the more informal engagement by citizens in a variety of ways.
Given this situation, let us keep in mind that we, as engaged citizens but also as critical social scientists, have a special role and an important responsibility to contribute to a credible, long-term and sustainable policy with respect to the possible role of civil society in a crisis like this. This is not the occasion, we would argue, to simply celebrate civil society and “third sector” initiatives; it is equally important to maintain a critical stance and consider equally the limits as well as the potentials for civil society to play a part alongside public sector and for-profit actors. At the Institute for Civil Society Studies we have always worked with these critical points in mind. Here the long-standing Nordic tradition to foster collaboration between state and civil society might well be an advantage for society as a whole.
But now at last, we are very happy to see you here in Stockholm and you are most welcome!
Lars Svedberg & Lars Trägårdh