Findings shared at sociology congress

Profiles of Norwegian science

World Congress of Sociology

Toronto was the site of the World Congress of Sociology this year.

Ilan Kelman
Agder, Norway

Every four years, thousands of scientists gather to explore the latest findings and debates in sociology. This year from July 15 to 21, the World Congress of Sociology was held in Toronto, Canada, and Norway was well represented.

The program showed the vibrancy and creativity of Norway’s substantial contributions to sociology across many disciplinary and interdisciplinary specialties. From Kristiansand to Tromsø, and elsewhere around the country, the listed affiliations and topics depicted the country’s scientific diversity.

The science often focused on contributing to society, investigating improvements in how we help people. Bjørnar Blaalid from Nord University contributed an abstract about better rehabilitating young drug users in a northern Norwegian town. By understanding drug users’ experiences and identifying the recurring reintegration problems many of these youth face, programs can be better designed and money better spent.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Rolf Rønning (Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences) and Siv Magnussen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) examined how technological innovation sometimes fails to serve the elderly. Rather than reducing or bypassing technology for services, they prefer to involve elderly users in designing digital approaches, so that everyone has equivalent access.

Agnete Vabø from the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research, and Education proposed diving deeply into progressing the Nordic approach to higher education. Her summary chronicled how the system was originally based on egalitarian ideals. Changing state support and direction for higher education led to diverging from the baseline principles, with increased diversity of institution sizes, types, and mandates.

Understanding history was not neglected elsewhere. Baard Borge from the University of Tromsø identified difficulties experienced by the children of Norwegian collaborators during the second World War. He aimed to strike a balance between punishing treachery and reducing the detrimental consequences for the children of those convicted.

Some researchers from Norway on the program seek to marry research and action. Andreas Ytterstad from the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences labels himself as “a researcher and activist.” He uses this position to outline his view of how employees in Norway’s fossil fuel industry might be convinced to support action against climate change even when it involves Norway as a supplier country.

Målfrid Irene Hagen, based at Østfold University College, researched activism by Norwegian artists. The painter Per Kleiva died last year, but his legacy continues through political protests expressed through art.

The variety and importance of the work presented by scientists from Norway reinforces the need for it to continue. Sociology, the study of society and societal relations, teaches us about ourselves.

What interactions, norms, rules, functions, and institutions do we want for ourselves? What goes right and what goes wrong? What are the good and bad consequences? How do we judge good, bad, right, and wrong?

Scientists can and should help us figure out our foibles and successes. A large conference fosters interaction and exchange, so that sociologists and non-sociologists based in Norway can bring their perspectives to colleagues from around the world.

They also learned from everyone, carrying so much back to Norway. The Canada-based organizers ensured that Canadian perspectives were easy to come by. Local flavor infused the schedule, meaning that international attendees would return home having gained enormously from the conference’s location.

So after an exhausting but invigorating week with sessions from 8:30 a.m. to 7:20 p.m., the conference was over for another four years. Already, the planning begins for Melbourne, Australia, from July 24 to 31 2022. Toronto—and Norway’s contribution there—proved that the World Congress of Sociology is not just for sociologists nor for only researchers.

Sociology affects us all. We can and should all use the science presented to contribute to a better humanity.

This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.