The moral elites. Who shaped the Danish welfare state (1890-1933)?

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Anders Sevelsted


Copenhagen Business School


DKK 1,250,000




Reintegration Fellowships


The project analyses the so-called 'moral elite' from 1890 - 1933. Across state and civil society, a network of particularly active individuals were at this time engaged in philanthropy, social policy, insurance etc. to shape the emerging welfare state 'avant la lettre'. This network consisted of a core of particularly influential individuals: Politicians, priests, scientists, and medical doctors. The project aims to map and analyse this 'moral elite', asking the questions: 1) How was the moral elite composed? Did it follow the 'pillarist' class-based structure of society and what was the role of the professions, e.g. medical doctors and priests? 2) What was the role of this elite in adapting international trends in ideas and practices of social provision to the Danish context?


Most existing research on Danish welfare focuses on the state and the national context after 1933. Before the emergence of the welfare state, however, a network of central actors was the driving force in several organisations across several societal spheres: politics, philanthropy, and social insurance. This network adapted and promoted ideas and practices related to social provision from abroad. Consequently, to understand the early formation of Danish welfare, one must understand the composition and influence of the moral elite: Who the central actors were and what ideas and practices they promoted.


New relational methods in the social sciences, such as social network analysis and sequence analysis, allow for more sophisticated analyses of elite networks. While these methods are currently proving productive in research on contemporary elites, they have only been used in small measure within historical research. Social network analysis enables research to empirically map the overlapping networks of individuals and organisations, and to identify elite actors with notable influence. Sequence analysis provides a toolkit for explaining what career pathways became prevalent among the elite. These methods will be applied to a unique and so far unexamined data set, namely the Danish Blå Bog, first published in 1910, and combined with qualitative studies of ideas.

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