Leiden Socio-Legal Lecture: Nordic Nationalism and Penal Order: Walling the Welfare State

Nordic Nationalism and Penal Order: Walling the Welfare State

  • Dr Vanessa Barker
6 April 2018
Kamerlingh Onnes Building
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden

In late summer 2015, Sweden embarked on one of the largest self-described humanitarian efforts in its history, opening its borders to 163,000 asylum seekers fleeing the way in Syria. Six months later this massive effort was over. On January 4, 2016, Sweden closed its border with Denmark. This closure marks the startling reversal of Sweden’s open borders to refugees and contravenes free movement in the Schengen Area, a founding principle of the European Union. What happened? Vanessa Barker’s book sets out to explain this reversal.

What happened in Sweden is the result of the fractured nature of the welfare state, laid bare in this moment of crisis. The Swedish welfare state is based on a cracked foundation in which the core principles of equality, solidarity and inclusiveness do not necessarily or always extend to others and outsiders. The welfare state is a national project first and foremost, and will use its hard and soft power to uphold it – for members only. At the height of the crisis as officials feared a system collapse, welfare state solvency took precedence over humanitarian principles. Social security was preserved for those on the inside even as it meant imposing insecurity for those on the outside.

In her book Vanessa Barker develops the concept penal nationalism to explain the specific role that criminal justice plays in upholding the national order. Here she details the growing penalization of migrants and the unquestioned use of the tools, staff, institutions and material and symbolic violence of the criminal justice in response to unwanted mobility. Penal nationalism highlights how these processes depend on the structuring capacity and moral communication of criminal justice to remake the state and nation. This kind of penal power operates to uphold national interests, reproduce ethnic and gender hierarchies, and preserve resources. Penal nationalism is a significant form of state power that will be critical to our understanding of structural realignments of the twenty-first century.

About Vanessa Barker

Dr Vanessa Barker is Docent and Associate Professor of Sociology at Stockholm University, Associate Director of Border Criminologies, and Visiting Professor at the University of Oslo. Her research focuses on questions of democracy and penal order, the welfare state and border control, the criminalization and penalization of migrants, and the role of civil society in penal reform. Her new book Nordic Nationalism and Penal Order: Walling the Welfare State examines the border closing in Sweden during the height of the refugee crisis and the rise of penal nationalism in response to mass mobility. She is also the author of The Politics of Punishing: How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders and has published in Theoretical CriminologyEuropean Journal of Criminology, Law & Society Review, Law & Social Inquiry, among other social science and popular science outlets.

She was recently a visiting academic at the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford, supported in part by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond sabbatical award, and previously a visiting fellow at the Law & Public Affairs Program (LAPA) at Princeton University. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Law & Society Association, as Co-editor for the Howard Journal of Crime & Justice, as book review editor for Punishment & Society, and on the board of Theoretical Criminology. She studied and worked in the US before moving to Sweden.