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Bringing the context to the forefront of developing a just society

In JUST SOCIETY, we want to promote equality by strengthening the rule of law and access to justice and redistributive public policies through teaching, research, and public engagement.

For this purpose, JUST SOCIETY draws on expertise in the rule of law, welfare state development and, particularly, the intrinsic and instrumental benefits of the so-called ‘Nordic model’. As JUST SOCIETY to some extent works to forward this Nordic model, while the JUST SOCIETY team only represents the global North and primarily work with partners in the Global South, we continuously face the challenge of escaping a North to South transposition.

I believe that JUST SOCIETY will be able to face this challenge. The project enjoys a large support base comprised of experts not just on the Nordic countries, but also globally. Furthermore, our project team have considerable knowledge and an understanding of various non-Nordic contexts as well as extensive experience with empirically grounded research approaches. And most importantly, we constantly challenge each other with alternative perspectives arriving from the different disciplines we represent.

Meanwhile, JUST SOCIETY can only meet the challenge through collaboration with local partners both in teaching, in research, and in public engagement. It is a raison d’être of JUST SOCIETY’s position, given our base in the Global North, to raise funding to create and finance strong research networks and partnerships in and with Global South research institutions; and, on this foundation, to facilitate interdisciplinary and cross-national dialogue on how to strengthen the rule of law and access to justice and redistributive public services.

For my part, I bring with me a long-lived interest in global development that begun in my teenage years and has informed both my studies and, later on, my research. Since first learning about the potential developmental effects of taxation during my BA in Political Science, taxation has been the center of attention in my research. During my degree in Political Science, I took a detour to Centre of African Studies at University of Edinburgh to study a MA in Africa and International Development. This greatly shaped me as a researcher and informed my constructivist methodological underpinnings and my qualitative, at times interpretivist, research approach.

I have had opportunities to do field research in Kenya, Rwanda, and latest in Senegal as part of my PhD, where I conducted research on taxation and social accountability and state-society relations. More broadly, I am interested in the role of taxation in accountable governance, redistribution, and welfare state development in the Global South, with an empirical focus on sub-Saharan Africa. In my research, I combine the empirical approach of social anthropology and area studies with the theoretical landscape and comparative logics from the field of comparative politics. I always bring empirical observations about the social, political, and economic contexts of my research object to the forefront of my analyses, which often lead me to engage critically with theories from a grounded and highly contextual perspective. 

Therefore, and most importantly, I bring to JUST SOCIETY a belief in the imperative of understanding and integrating contextual conditions, institutions and structures in our research, teaching and public engagement. Taking, for example, the Nordic model: While it might have worked well for us, it is fundamentally rooted in the distinct history of our socio-economic and political development.

It is not given whether the Nordic model and/or which of its components are relevant in other countries that have their own unique history. Indeed, there is no single conception of what the Nordic Model and its core components are. Perhaps, it can also be questioned whether the Nordic model is attainable. This question is especially relevant in times where the model is under pressure and revision in its countries of origin due to changes in social and economic structures. Consequently, it would be futile trying to make the Nordic model fit squarely elsewhere. And this would defeat JUST SOCIETY’s purpose.

Rather, to accomplish its mission, JUST SOCIETY will first and foremost have to deepen the understanding of how local social, legal, and political institutions influence an effective and equal access to justice and redistributive public policies. I believe this to be the first step towards strengthening institutions to promote equality. And I look forward to walking the talk.

Ane Karoline Bak

24 March 2021

Responsible for page: Social Science

Last Updated 26.08.2021