Hygge, Hope and Higher Education: A Case Study of Denmark

  • Marianne A. LarsenEmail author


Higher education institutions have been profoundly reshaped by processes associated with neoliberalism. In this chapter, Larsen outlines the ways in which Denmark has ushered in market-driven reforms to the Danish higher education system to enhance their institutional competitiveness over the past 30 years. Research on the impacts of neoliberal higher education reforms on faculty is reviewed and the author discusses her experiences (at a Canadian university) with market-driven, accountability reforms. The chapter shifts direction and provides the reader with an overview of the concept of hygge, an idealized Danish term that has connotations of coziness, safety, friendliness, and intimacy. Larsen recounts her experiences as a Canadian academic on sabbatical at a Danish university in 2017, illustrating the ways in which she experienced hygge in the Danish university setting. In the final section of the chapter, Larsen argues that hygge can be viewed as a retreat from the individualism, competition, market stratification and other challenges associated with neoliberalism. Hygge marks out the boundaries between the cold and heartless market-place and the warm and cozy home, and despite critiques that is instantiates exclusions, hygge offers hope to resist the alienation associated with neoliberalism and provide an alternative ethos for close and safe social relations within academia.


  1. Anonymous Academic. (2018, April 27). I Thought US Universities Were Driven by Profit—Until I Moved to the UK (Higher Education Network). Available at
  2. Ball, S. J. (2015). Living the Neo-liberal University. European Journal of Education, 50, 258–261. Scholar
  3. Barbour, K. N. (2018). Dark Clouds on the Horizon: Neoliberalism in Higher Education. Cultural Studies, Critical Methodologies, 18, 163–167. Scholar
  4. Bell, D. (1973). The Coming of Post-industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Beltagui, A., & Schmidt, T. (2017). Why Can’t We All Get Along? A Study of Hygge and Janteloven in a Danish Social-Casual Games Community. Games Cult, 12, 403–425. Scholar
  6. Berg, L. D., Huijbens, E. H., & Larsen, H. G. (2016). Producing Anxiety in the Neoliberal University. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe Canadien, 60, 168–180. Scholar
  7. Bille, M. (2015). Lighting Up Cosy Atmospheres in Denmark. Emotion Space and Society, 15, 56–63. Scholar
  8. Cerny, P. G. (1997). Paradoxes of the Competition State: The Dynamics of Political Globalization. Government & Opposition, 32, 251–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Danish Government. (2006). Progress, Innovation and Cohesion Strategy for Denmark in the Global Economy. Copenhagen: The Danish Government.Google Scholar
  10. Degn, L., & Sørensen, M. P. (2015). From Collegial Governance to Conduct of Conduct: Danish Universities Set Free in the Service of the State. Higher Education, 69, 931–946. Scholar
  11. Frølich, N., Kalpazidou Schmidt, E., & Rosa, M. J. (2010). Funding Systems for Higher Education and Their Impacts on Institutional Strategies and Academia: A Comparative Perspective. International Journal of Educational Management, 24, 7–21. Scholar
  12. Greve, C., & Hodge, G. (2007). Public–Private Partnerships: A Comparative Perspective on Victoria and Denmark. In T. Christensen & P. Lægried (Eds.), Transcending New Public Management: The Transformation of Public Sector Relations (pp. 179–201). Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  13. Gullestad, M. (1992). The Art of Social Relations: Essays on Culture, Social Action and Everyday Life in Modern Norway. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hansen, J. F. (1980). We Are a Little Land: Cultural Assumptions in Danish Everyday Life. New York: Arno Press.Google Scholar
  15. Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Howell, J. P., & Sundberg, T. (2015). Towards an Affective Geopolitics. Environ Space, Place, 7, 97–120.
  17. Lim, M. A., & Williams Øerberg, J. (2017). Active Instruments: On the Use of University Rankings in Developing National Systems of Higher Education. Policy Reviews in Higher Education, 1, 91–108.
  18. Linnet, J. T. (2011). Money Can’t Buy Me Hygge: Danish Middle-Class Consumption, Egalitarianism, and the Sanctity of Inner Space. Social Analysis, 55, 21–44.
  19. Lytken, M. (2013). The Danish School of Interior Architecture: A Visionary Functionalist, a Visionary Aesthete, and Their Women Students. Journal of Interior Design, 38, 1–19.
  20. Neave, G. (2012). The Evaluative State: A Formative Concept and an Overview. In G. Neave (Ed.), The Evaluative State, Institutional Autonomy and Re-engineering Higher Education in Western Europe (pp. 36–47). London and New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Olssen, M., & Peters, M. A. (2005). Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Knowledge Economy: From the Free Market to Knowledge Capitalism. Journal of Educational Policy, 20, 313–345. Scholar
  22. Rasmussen, P. (2009). Towards Flexible Differentiation in Higher Education? Recent Changes in Danish Higher Education. In I. Fägerlind & G. Strömqvist (Eds.), Reforming Higher Education in Nordic Countries: Studies of Change in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (pp. 55–87). Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  23. Schmidt, E. K. (2009). Nordic Higher Education Systems in a Comparative Perspective—Recent Reforms and Impacts. The Journal of Finance and Management in Colleges and Universities, 6, 271–298.Google Scholar
  24. Schwartz, J. M. (1985). Letter to a Danish Historian. Den Jyske Historiker, 33, 123–124.Google Scholar
  25. Vingaard Johansen, U., Knudsen, F. B., Engelbrecht Kristoffersen, C., Stellfeld Rasmussen, J., Saaby Steffen, E., & Sund, K. J. (2017). Political Discourse on Higher Education in Denmark: From Enlightened Citizen to Homo Economicus. Studies in High Education, 42, 264–277.
  26. Whelan, A. (2015). Academic Critique of Neoliberal Academia. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 12, 130–152.
  27. Wright, S, & Ørberg, J. W. (2018). Universities in the Competition State Lessons from Denmark. In S. Wright & C. Shore (Eds.), Death of the Public University? Uncertain Futures for Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy (pp. 69–89). New York, NY: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Western UniversityLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations