Monthly Archives: June 2016

A very warm welcome to Ersta Sköndal University College and the 12th ISTR Conference

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



The following is a guest post from Therese Ydremark, a PhD student at Ersta Sköndal University College, who will be volunteering during the upcoming conference.

Therese-Ydremark2What could be a better start for a PhD student focusing on civil society issues than attending ISTR’s International Conference? We are a group of PhD students at Ersta Sköndal University College that will do so by volunteering. We are all in the process of shaping our subjects and most probably the conference will be a great source of inspiration. So, besides receiving the attendees, preparing the venue etc, we also hope to meet with prominent scholars from all over the world, to get new insights into how to use the theoretical approaches not familiar enough yet and, of course, to get to know fellow PhD students.

And we are not the only ones looking forward to ISTR´s 12th International Conference. One of the previous blog posts gave an idea of the interest from parts of Swedish civil society. There is a strong tradition of extensive contacts between civil society organizations and the Swedish academia focusing on civil society issues. But now it´s time to let us all be inspired by the rest of the world!

I also started out as a `practitioner´ on my way into academia, curiosity has made me move between the two worlds. Always the same procedure; observing a phenomenon and then letting curiosity lead the way to further studies. Now, as a PhD student, what fascinates me is the development and expansion of the Swedish civil society as a consequence of a more heterogeneous society. Migration, of course, is one reason to the increased heterogeneity. My interest has now turned to the role of civil society organizations for political participation in the wake of migration.

When it comes to the conference there is one scholar of particular interest to me. Theda Skocpol was one of the scholars I first read as a student of political science and international relations and I found her theories on social revolutions fascinating. Later on, studying at the master´s level, there she was again, with a focus on institutions, democracy and civil society. And now, as a PhD student, I read her analysis of the American welfare state, as a contrast to the Swedish welfare state. Do I need to say that I´m thrilled she is one of the Keynote Speakers at the conference?

Therese Ydremark, PhD student at Ersta Sköndal University College

Civil Society Research at Ersta Sköndal University College


Johan Vamstad

Ersta Sköndal University College has more to offer than just a pretty view and an impossible name. This small, private college is home to the largest and liveliest civil society research group in the Nordic Region. About 30 senior and junior researchers, representing a multitude of disciplines share facilities at Ersta Sköndal’s two campuses in Stockholm.

It all began in 1992 when a small group of researchers around Professor Lars Svedberg decided to explore the extent to which civil society was of significance to Swedish social work and helping. It had at that time been widely assumed that civil society was of marginal importance in a Scandinavian welfare state like Sweden, something that members of the growing research group had the opportunity to disprove several times over the years.

The research scope has widened since the early 90’s and the group today performs research on organizations, volunteering, philanthropy, theory and a number of other topics. Several research projects are based on data collected by the national survey on civic participation that has been performed five times in the last 25 years.

Another great resource as the university college is the civil society library, CivLib. This small but excellent library hosts a carefully selected collection of 1600 books about civil society. The main focus of the collection is civil society in Sweden and the Nordic countries but also other parts of the world, as well as theory on civil society. CivLib is located at the ISTR 2016 conference venue and it will be open for visitors from 2:00-5:00 pm on the 29th and from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on the 30th of June.

To be able to host the 2016 ISTR conference is of course a great privilege and an important milestone in the history of the research group. It is especially humbling for everyone involved in the local host committee to see the record numbers of attendees that are now confirmed for the conference in Stockholm this summer. It is a practical challenge but first and foremost a pleasure to be able to welcome you all to Ersta Sköndal University College.

Johan Vomstad, Ersta Sköndal University College