The welfare state - politics, norms and practice (MSO121)

The main topic of the course is the Norwegian welfare state. The course will provide students with knowledge about relevant Norwegian and international welfare policy. Another important topic is the core values on which welfare policy is founded, as well as political theory’s exploration of what a fair welfare policy entail. The course will enable students to identify characteristics of the Norwegian welfare model, and to analyse relevant political and ethical challenges for social workers.

Active student participation is expected throughout the entire programme. Students are invited in the teaching activities and in the forms of examination to apply the knowledge to their own experiences. Active work methods will be organised including feedback that the students can use in some of the final examination work.

Course description for study year 2024-2025. Please note that changes may occur.


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The content is organised into three main topics. The first main topic is Welfare state policies. Relevant topics include demographic changes, economic crises, distribution policy, family, child and gender equality policies, and new streamlining requirements and management conditions for the public sector. We will also look at distinctive features of the Nordic welfare model, one example of which is how multipartite collaboration works in practice. Through collaboration between the welfare sector and the labour market, the Nordic model has gained its distinctive character.

The second topic is the values of the Welfare state or what we can call the normative basis of the welfare state. The topic stems from the social, legal and political modernisation processes that have taken place in recent decades. These entail changes in values and expectations that provide new premises for professional practice in the welfare state. Modernisation involves new requirements regarding respect for autonomy and facilitation of participation processes. The topic is highlighted at a general level by presenting the main features of political theory’s exploration of what a fair welfare policy entails. It also includes the human rights shift and how legalisation processes in the welfare state play a key role. The same applies to the prerequisites for autonomy, participation and an elaboration of how paternalism issues can be managed.

The third main topic pertains to practice and concerns how the welfare state establishes a framework for the implementation of social work. The two previous main topics are now intertwined with the work of frontline professionals. Street-level bureaucrats or frontline workers are tasked with putting welfare policies into action. This occurs through direct in-person or digital interactions with service users, during which policies are applied to address specific situations and issues. Frontline workers exercise their discretion in accordance with relevant legislation and institutional guidelines. The exercise of discretion involves thoughtful consideration and relies on specialized knowledge, both subject-specific and ethical. Several factors influence and determine whether the exercise of discretion leads to sound or poor decisions. Social policies, ethics, and perspectives from political theory become integral to the practice of social work. Importantly, students achieve this integration when they apply these perspectives to work-related situations.

Learning outcome


  • Has advanced knowledge about key developments in the welfare states
  • Has advanced knowledge about key characteristics of the Nordic welfare states
  • Has knowledge about the complexity involved in frontline workers’ exercise of discretion
  • Has knowledge about the main positions in political theory on the character of the welfare state
  • Has advanced knowledge about ethical challenges in the profession and the ethical models they can be reflected in
  • Has in-depth knowledge about the background of the content of current practice regarding participation at individual and system levels


  • Can identify how success factors and challenges in the Norwegian welfare state provide the premises for current Norwegian welfare and working life policies
  • Can analyse relevant economic, social, political and cultural issues in welfare policy in light of theoretical concepts
  • Can reflect on and analyse the discretionary situation faced by frontline workers in professional practice
  • Can use political, legal and participation theory to analyse practice in social work
  • Can reflect on and identify ethical challenges in the profession

General competence

  • Can think independently, analytically and critically about welfare states and professional practice
  • Can disseminate both empirical and theoretical analyses of welfare policy
  • Can contribute to good participation processes in the welfare state
  • Can reflect on what constitutes a fair use of power in the welfare state
  • Can integrate ethics in thoughts about work challenges

Required prerequisite knowledge



Written school exam and home exam

Form of assessment Weight Duration Marks Aid
Written school exam 1/2 4 Hours Letter grades None permitted
Home exam 1/2 5 Days Letter grades All

Written home examination: Maximum 1600 words including table of contents and notes; excluding source referencing and bibliography. Referencing style: APA 7th.Consequences of failing a re-scheduled examination: If students do not pass the re-scheduled examination, they must re-sit the course examination with the subsequent year group. Students must take the examination in accordance with any new and revised course description, but decide themselves whether to follow teaching in the new examination semester.

Coursework requirements

Written note

This compulsory activity must be approved in order for students to take the examination. Approval/non-approval of compulsory activities is announced on Studentweb, normally no later than 7 days before the examination. Students who lack approval will be withdrawn from the examination.

Written overview: Maximum 800 words including table of contents and notes; excluding source referencing and bibliography. Referencing style: APA 7th.

Course teacher(s)

Study Program Director:

Brita Gjerstad

Course coordinator:

Svein Erik Tuastad

Open for

Social Studies - Master's Degree Programme


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