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Egalitarianism and Community in danish housing Cooperatives

Proper Forms of Sharing and Being Together

Maja Hojer Bruun

The Danish concept of faellesskab (community) is explored in this article. Faellesskab covers different kinds of belonging and notions of proper togetherness in Danish society, ranging from neighborhood relations at the local level to membership in society at the national level. In investigating the ideals and practices of faellesskab in housing cooperatives, the article shows how people establish connections between these different scales of sociality. It argues that the way people live together in housing cooperatives, in a close atmosphere of egalitarian togetherness, is a cultural ideal in modern Denmark. The more recent commercialization of cooperative property has, however, caused concern. While some believe that faellesskab can still be practiced in the small enclaves of autonomous cooperatives, others fear that this ideal is threatened by economic inequalities.

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Introduction

The Concern for Sociality—Practicing Equality and Hierarchy in Denmark

Maja Hojer Bruun, Gry Skrædderdal Jakobsen and Stine Krøijer

Equality is one of the concepts that people often associate with Scandinavia. Within anthropology, the works of Marianne Gullestad (1946–2008)—particularly, her monograph Kitchen-Table Society (1984) and the anthology The Art of Social Relations (1992a)—are among the few attempts to contribute to the theoretical debate on egalitarianism and sociality. With her concept of ‘egalitarian individualism’, Gullestad inscribes Scandinavia within broader comparative studies of ideological systems revolving around two dichotomies: hierarchyequality and holism-individualism (Béteille 1986; Dumont 1970, 1986; Kapferer 1988; Robbins 1994). Gullestad (1992b: 183) developed a theory of a specific “Norwegian, Scandinavian or Northern European variety” of modernity and of the general modern themes of individualism and equality. Exploring egalitarian individualism from different angles, she argued that equality is cast as ‘sameness’ in Scandinavia (Gullestad 1992d: 174 ff.), meaning that people develop an interactional style that emphasizes similarity and under-communicates difference in order to feel equal and to establish a sense of community. In Gullestad’s (1992b: 197) view, ‘equality as sameness’ is a central cultural idea that balances and resolves the tensions in the Norwegian ideological system between the individual and society, independence and community, equality and hierarchy.