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Back in the 1960s and 1970s the community study was a popular genre among anthropologists, European ethnologists, social historians as well as qualitative sociologists. These studies were often organized in the polarity of macro-micro perspectives, taking the shape of topdog versus underdog. Today, the genre has nearly disappeared from the social sciences and cultural research.
This thematic issue of Ethnologia Europaea seeks to re-invent the genre in new forms, employing strategies that avoid a nostalgic “the loss of community” air. The authors collaborating also opted to work in a different format. They conjoined their separate yet parallel investigations into one joint piece, elaborating on the same questions in each section. The discussion thus takes its departure from the presentation of a multi-disciplinary research project on health and welfare in contrasting Swedish communities. The project tackles the analytic potential of community studies through ethnographies of the interface between the nation-state and local communities. How do citizens and local administrators of national welfare systems interact and how are local climates of trust and hope created or threatened?
We have asked four scholars to comment on the presentation of the project from different angles. Gisela Welz discusses the development and demise of the community study tradition and its potentials for revival, with a plea for more comparative and contrasting studies of statecraft.
Stef Jansen takes the concept of hope as his focus, drawing on his studies of displacement of refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What are the tensions between home as a site remembrance and belonging and as a future-oriented project?
Tian Sørhaug’s contribution centres on the concept of trust and looks at the new relations emerging between state institutions and local communities in what has been called “the audit society”. What happens when communication between welfare institutions and citizens are formalized into sets of indicators and incentives?
Pertti Alasuutari directs attention to the ways in which general systems of governance are domesticated as they are put into local practice. His examples come from an ongoing study of how global trends and frameworks are transformed in different national settings.
Finally, Jonas Frykman, who is the guest editor of this issue, takes the commentaries as a point of departure to suggest avenues for developing local ethnographies of the dynamic and often surprising ways in which the state and a local community interact. “Is the world becoming more global, national or local?” is a question often posed today. The answer is of course: “Yes”. There are intertwined processes of cultural globalization, nationalization and localization going on and to understand these dynamics we need research situated at different levels as well as comparative and contrasting research approaches.