Scholars associated with Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College have since 1990 carried out pioneering research on the character and activities of Swedish civil society. These efforts were initiated at the Sköndal institute, where the focus at first was on voluntary social work; including both the institutionalized social services provided by voluntary and non-profit organizations and the informal social care carried out by family members, friends, and neighbours.
Over time, this focus on the social welfare dimension has broadened to encompass civil society as more generally defined, i.e. as the rich diversity of associations, non-proft organizations, faith-based communities, and other similar phenomena, that neither constitute a part of the market nor of the public sector. These activities have a plethora of purposes ranging from political lobbying and social welfare to non-profit economic activity. In connection with the move from Sköndal to Ersta that the research group made in 2006, the team also changed their name and is now known as The Institute for Civil Society Studies.
Among the groundbreaking projects that scholars from Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College have taken part in can be mentioned a series of large-scale population surveys that have mapped out the extent and character of Swedish civil society. Several of these surveys were carried out within the framework of larger international efforts, such as the Johns Hopkins Project. This international dimension is characteristic for the research team, which has extensive experience of working both with and within institutions in other European countries and in the United States, as well as in non-Western countries, among others Lebanon and Nicaragua.
Aside from the quantitative population surveys, researchers at Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College have also conducted a large number of qualitative studies within a number of different academic disciplines, including sociology, social work, political science, theology, anthropology, history and geography. This means that the intellectual environment at Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College is distinctly cross- and inter-disciplinary. This reflects the multiple, historical roots of civil society research, grounded as it is in a number of academic disciplines with varying methodological and theoretical traditions.
Alongside the research, Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College also offers a number of courses at the PhD- and Master-levels. The team also takes very seriously its mission to reach out beyond the academic community. In order to reach a broader audience and to participate in the current public debate, individual members of the team also publish extensively in newspapers, appear on radio and on television, and give public lectures. Of similar importance to the research group are its close relations to other academic institutions and, not least, to Swedish and international civil society organizations.
Civil society refers to the rich diversity of associations, non-profit organizations, faith-based communities, and other such phenomena, which neither constitute a part of the market nor of the public sector. These activities have a plethora of purposes ranging from political lobbying and social welfare to non-profit economic activity. It is common to define civil society as one of several spheres of society, along with state, market, and family.
At Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College the emphasis has traditionally been on the social dimension of civil society, what in practice is known as ‘voluntary social work’, including the institutionalized social services provided by voluntary and non-profit organizations as well as the informal social care carried out by family members, friends, and neighbours. Examples of civil society organizations with a social welfare orientation are The Red Cross, Save the Children, and the Swedish temperance organization IOGT-NTO.
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