Idleness: Energizing the Danish Welfare State


  • Henrik Hvenegaard Mikkelsen University of Copenhagen



passivity, Denmark, welfare society, Bartleby, energy


This article appropriates the concept of energy in order to analyze the interaction between the Danish welfare state and the category of citizens referred to among social workers and health professionals as “passive citizens.” While passivity might commonly be seen as mere inactivity—a certain non-action beyond the unfolding of social life—this article argues that in the Danish welfare society, the opposite is the case. In fact, in this context various forms of passivity have become the object of concerted political and media attention and the general schism between energy and passivity has become part of a public discourse on elderly health care and aging. By examining the way health care professionals talk about passive senior citizens in terms of a lack of energy, this article shows how, in a wider sense, passivity is framed as a particular problem that can be overcome through the right health care intervention. I argue that energy and passivity have become of key interest to the Danish welfare state in managing its aging population and that the attempt to activate the passive citizen in fact energizes the welfare state.


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