Young people in a group
Photo: Unsplash

A new Nordic lexicon for young people

There are many stereotypes and clichés that dominate the rhetoric around the Nordic countries...

And many believe that the Nordic populations are very homogeneous in all sorts of ways.

Another cliché that often dominates the rhetoric is...

....that the Nordic people love all winter sports activities, namely skiing.

Photo: Tam Vibberstoft/, iStock and Danmarks Radio/DR

Many people also associate the Nordic region with the so-called Nordic noir TV series, a genre of crime fiction.

The Killing was one of them and became world famous in the early 2000's.

But do these clichés correspond to reality?

Challenging self-perceptions of ‘Nordic’ 

"Rhetoric around the Nordic countries is often dominated by clichés. Stereotypes can of course be partly correct, but, with this lexicon, we can continue to provide a foundation for a more nuanced and knowledge-based discussion about what characterises the Nordic societies," says Nicola Witcombe, who is part of the project Reimaging Norden in an Evolving World: An Excellence Hub in Research, Education and Public Outreach (ReNEW).

"Our idea of what ‘Nordic’ means is also influenced by how other countries see us. Abroad, many people associate the Nordic region with TV series such as The Killing, and many believe that the Nordic populations are very homogeneous in all sorts of ways. Over and above that, the images that appear outside the Nordic region often reflect back on our understanding of ourselves," she adds.  

She cites as an example that many Nordic politicians refer to the fact that we have a reputation for welfare and at talking to each other and building consensus, but according to the project's researchers, it is important to question some of these assumptions. According to Nicola Witcombe, clichés in many contexts have influenced the rhetoric around the Nordic countries, and commercial and political branding often reduce the Nordic region to easily understandable messages. 

Portrait of Nicola Witcombe from Aarhus University.
Nicola Witcombe. Photo: Aarhus University.

Involving young people from the start 

The main target group for the project is young people in the Nordic region aged between about 16-25 years. ReNEW's researchers have previously mainly focused their dissemination activities towards other researchers, politicians and journalists, but now young people in high schools and higher education are the focus. 

"We are organising meetings with students from four of the Nordic countries to find out what they are interested in within the humanities and social sciences, and what issues they think are important to society today. We think it is important that researchers don’t just disseminate what they think is relevant, but are in dialogue with and speak to the interests of the younger generation," says Nicola Witcombe. 

Podcasts will also be published as part of the project where young people will get the opportunity to meet researchers face to face, to ask questions and discuss Nordic concepts.  

"There is already a lot of information available on the Internet, but much still remains behind a paywall, and it can be difficult to reach a wider audience. This lexicon will be freely available to everyone, young people do of course not expect to pay for content – and it is even more unusual for them to actually meet a researcher face to face," she says.  

The New Nordic Lexicon will comprise of 50+ Nordic terms and concepts in English and a variety of Nordic languages. Students and researchers from across the Nordic countries will help to choose which terms and concepts will be included and their discussions will be shared via associated films and podcasts.  

The project has attracted the support of the A.P. Møller Foundation, and the idea for it came from researchers involved in the existing University Hub, Reimaging Norden in an Evolving World: An Excellence Hub in Research, Education and Public Outreach (ReNEW) funded by NordForsk. 

Nordic universities collaborate 

The team behind at Aarhus University’s School of Culture and Society will coordinate the project with the collaboration of: 

  1. Excellence Hub in Research, Education and Public Outreach Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World (ReNEW) 
  1. The Centre for Nordic Studies at Helsinki University 
  1. The Institute of Contemporary History at Södertörn University in Sweden 
  1. UiO:Norden at Oslo University 

The lexicon will be launched in 2023. 

What is Reimaging Norden in an Evolving World: An Excellence Hub in Research, Education and Public Outreach?

ReNEW (Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World) is a research hub established to strengthen the collaboration to develop new and groundbreaking expertise in research on the Nordic region. This will be done by strengthening the research capacity - through mobility, exchange, high-level conferences and education - among six Nordic universities in one strategic and world-leading centre that researches the Nordic region. 

Learn more about ReNEW



Lise-Lotte Wallenius

Senior Adviser
Guttorm Aanes. Photo: NordForsk

Guttorm Aanes

Head of Communications