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 war in Syria. Six months later this massive effort was over. On January 4, 2016, Sweden closed its border with Denmark. This closure makes a 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 new book develops the concept of penal nationalism to explain the use of penal power in response to mass mobility for nationalistic purposes, including state sovereignty, national identity and in the Swedish case, welfare state preservation.


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 the author of The Politics of Punishing: How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders.  

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.

Tea and coffee refreshments will be served from 2:30pm.