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The Economic Research Institute, Stockholm School of Economics SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Business Administration

No 2004:18:
The Popular Movement Marinade – The dominant civil society framework in Sweden

Johan Hvenmark () and Filip Wijkström ()

Abstract: The existence and scale of formal memberships in a country or a region have often been used as an indicator of the country’s degree of civility or the civic and voluntary engagement in the population (Almond and Verba 1963; Curtis, Grabb and Baer 1992; Curtis Baer and Grabb 2001; Putnam 2000). At the same time, many of the larger nonprofit organisations that exist today, and attract scholarly as well as political interest on national as well as international level, are often organised as federative, membership-based organizations. Despite this interest in memberships on a macro level, the organisational level is often left out of the analysis, thus ignoring the primary context in which these memberships are defined and develop. Furthermore, only a very limited line of research has hitherto recognised the importance of member-based organizations and their federated organizational structures in the last couple of decades of nonprofit or voluntary sector literature (6 and Kendall 1997; Smith 2000a; Young 2001).

In this paper, we line out and develop an argument where a popular movement tradition dominates the Swedish civil society and its organizations, but it is fairly easy to imagine also other dominant traditions or frameworks in other countries. In France we would, for example, probably find a tradition inspired from or developed out of the social economy paradigm so strong in the French-speaking civil society culture (Archambault 1996). In the Netherlands we would instead probably find a tradition that in some way includes the “three-pillar-system” that stands central in this country (Burger and Dekker 2001), while the charity or voluntary tradition found in Britain (Kendall 2003) and other countries where the Anglo-Saxon influence has been strong, are so dominating that it sometimes is used as a frame even for international civil society comparisons or theoretical work.

The main aim of this paper is to line out, describe and analyse one of the most central elements in a wider and dominant civil society framework in Sweden, the membership. In this paper we will argue that a certain group of nonprofit organizations in Sweden, the popular movement organizations (folkrörelserna), have so many organizational attributes in common that they constitute an institutionalized organizational field in the way for example DiMaggio and Powell (1983, p. 148) use the term. The main empirical material used in the paper are in-depth interviews with top-level national leaders in a number of large Swedish federations often understood to be popular movement organizations. In the analysis of the interviews, we focus on the use of two central aspects that often are seen as central for the understanding of the popular movement concept – membership and democracy. These features are repeatedly used and given meaning both by top-level leaders of Swedish voluntary or nonprofit organizations and others.

A second purpose of the paper is to point at and discuss the relation between this wider civil society framework and the nonprofit or voluntary organizations found in a particular country. In this paper, Sweden is used as the empirical example and we will report on a specific legal case where the dominant civil society tradition was challenged and defended. We will argue that an important element in the relationship between the wider popular movement framework and the organizations in Swedish civil society in this case can well be understood as one of coercive isomorphism, one of the mechanisms identified by DiMaggio and Powell (1983). As indicated, our paper and research is inspired by a line of institutional theory and research in which organizations and organizational arrangements are found at the core of the analysis and where the work of authors like Meyer and Rowan (1977), DiMaggio and Powell (1983) and Deephouse (1996) stand central.

Through the use of a mix of empirical evidence our intention is to explore and make visible what we have chose to term a popular movement marinade. This “marinade” is a metaphor for the organizational cultural context in which not only Swedish nonprofits or voluntary organizations and their members are found, but also for example the legal system around the civil society arena, the construction of various public subsidy structures or the political debate. In the paper, we argue that this strong popular movement tradition or understanding represents something so heavily embedded and well institutionalised in Sweden that it often seems to be taken for granted. The popular movement tradition can be described as a frame so strong that not only civil society social practice but also thinking could be understood as more or less marinated in it (see also Wijkström 2004a; Wijkström, Einarsson et al. 2004).

Keywords: popular movement; civil society; discourse analysis; membership; federation; Sweden; (follow links to similar papers)

29 pages, July 11, 2004

Paper presented at ISTR´s 6th International Conference in Toronto, Canada, July 11-14, 2004

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