This is the third installment of Border Criminologies’ themed series on our network members. The series aims to present our members’ ongoing research, recent publications, new course modules they might be developing, grants and awards, partnerships and collaborations, and questions they have been considering or struggling with.

Post by Vanessa Barker, Associate Professor of Sociology, Stockholm University.

In the past six months, Sweden opened and shut its doors to refugees and is now preparing to deport about 80,000 people who do not have legal authorization to remain in the country. I am currently working on a project that explains this apparent turnaround. Rather than seeing this as a distinctive break, I place these developments squarely in the logic of the welfare state and its reliance on penal nationalism. Penal nationalism is a form of state power that merges penal power with border control and is mobilized for nationalistic purposes such as shoring up national identities and national sovereignty even as it reflects waning sovereignty over population and territory. This type of penal power is mobilized to keep the welfare state solvent for members, classifying and clarifying who belongs and who does not. Sweden was quick to follow up its massive humanitarian effort with recourse to deportation, a ‘firm hand’ in the words of the current Prime Minister as Sweden ‘could do no more.’ Here state and national interests counter international solidarities even as it is being transformed by global forces. This is a critical moment for the state as it seeks to stabilize itself with what are essentially de-stabilizing measures of exclusion and harm. How far can it go and still live up to the principles of a democratic welfare state?

Photo by A. Steinke
I’ve been working on this project while on sabbatical in Oxford as an academic visitor at the Centre for Criminology (2015/2016), a research leave generously supported by Riksbanken Jubilieumsfond in Sweden. For that and for the good company of everyone at the Centre, I am most grateful. Special thanks to Mary Bosworth and Ian Loader for their gracious hospitality and ongoing conversations. As a visitor at the Centre, I was able to participate in a series of intense and lively discussions, including the Centre for Criminology’s seminar series, the Centre’s 50th Anniversary events, a crime and politics reading group, the Criminal Justice Adjudication in the Age of Migration workshop, the Howard League’s conference on Justice and Penal Reform, the Beyond Prison conference at All Souls College, and the Winant Symposium at the Rothermere American Institute. I was also invited to give talks at the All Souls Oxford Criminology series, the London School of Economics, Birbeck School of Law, University of Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, and the University of A. Coruña in Galicia. All of these exchanges are invaluable to me and are sure to have long-lasting effects on my work.

While here, a number of projects have come to fruition and new ones are now underway.

I am looking forward to seeing a special issue on the criminalization of migration come out later this year in the European Journal of Criminology that Maartje van der Woude (Border Criminologies and Leiden University), Joanne van der Leun (Leiden University), and I have guest co-edited. This issue features innovative contributions on Spain, Italy, Greece, Norway, England and Wales, the Netherlands, and Sweden. My own piece, ‘Nordic Vagabonds: The Roma and the Logic of Benevolent Violence in the Swedish Welfare State,’ examines how the Roma from Romania and Bulgaria are increasingly subject to eviction and other forms of mobility controls in Sweden. I introduce the term ‘benevolent violence’ to explain how the state’s well-known concern for equality and good intentions can actually lead to negative outcomes such as forced deprivation and forced mobility.  

Two recent pieces that take up Sweden’s difficulty with pluralism and diversity may also be of interest to Border Criminologies readers. They both examine how criminal justice practices not only patrol the boundaries of belonging but often produce difference and division often where none exists. The first piece came out this past fall in Anna Eriksson’s provocative Punishing the Other: The Social Production of Immorality Revisited. My chapter, ‘On Bauman’s moral duty: population registries, REVA and eviction from the Nordic realm,’ looks at deportation as a form of public degradation and shows how ethnic minorities are particularly subject to border control even when they are Swedish citizens. The second piece on the Stockholm Riots looks at how the overpolicing of young ethnic minorities in segregated suburban neighborhoods undermines their national belonging and is part of the forthcoming SAGE Handbook of Global Policing edited by Ben Bradford, Beatrice Jauregui, Ian Loader, and Jonny Steinberg. This research seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship and policing ethnicity network in Sweden, led in part by Abby Peterson at Gothenburg University.

In the spring of 2016, I was pleased to be a part of the Howard League’s book launch Justice and Penal Reform: Re-shaping the Penal Landscape. My chapter, ‘Civic Repair and Penal Reform: The Role of the State in Rebuilding Trust,’ argues for the need to build trust to repair social relations that underpin racialized policing and mass incarceration in the US. Following the philosopher Danielle Allen, I suggest we begin to think about a ‘shared future’ if we want to overcome corrosive social divisions and bring about transformative change in criminal justice.

While visiting Oxford, I have also had the chance to develop a collaborative project with Lisa Miller, a political scientist at Rutgers and visiting professor at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford this year. We will be guest co-editors for a special issue of Theoretical Criminology on the ‘state of the state,’ scheduled for late 2017. This issue aims to develop conceptual tools to better understand the central role of the state in producing penal orders and how those penal orders are subsequently transforming the very same state and societies. A dynamic set of contributors will examine the changing nature of state sovereignty and its import for criminology, the consequences of racialized state and contested states for criminal justice, how a carceral state has eroded citizenship, how new forms of punishment merged with border control reflect the changing nature of state power with its corrosive and possibly destabilizing effects on liberal and democratic states, among other topics.

In 2016, the Howard Journal for Crime and Justice was relaunched with Ian Loader as editor in chief. I was invited to join the journal as a co-editor along with Penny Green, Simon MacKenzie, David Scott, and managing editor Anita Dockley. The Howard Journal aims to be at the forefront of debates about the changing nature of criminal justice. I would encourage Border Criminologies scholars to build on this momentum and consider the journal a new outlet for their research. Border Criminologies has such immense political and public policy importance, especially in this historical moment when states, borders, and populations are literally be remade through criminal justice measures, this research should be thoroughly integrated into the journal from the beginning.

In June, I visited New Orleans for the Law & Society Association annual meeting, participating on a panel on Nordic exceptionalism (organized by Keramet Reiter at Irvine) and taking up my duties as a newly elected member of the Board of Trustees. The LSA hosts a wide range of collaborative research networks (CRNs) that organize themed panels and events for the conference, maintain discussion groups and develop research projects and publications outside the meetings. The CRNs on Citizenship and Immigration and Punishment and Society are especially useful and social ways for border criminologies’ scholars to get more involved with LSA if they are not already. The 2017 annual meeting will be held in Mexico City for the first time―this is an excellent opportunity to meet colleagues from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America and develop a more truly global scholarship on border criminologies. Hope to see you there!

On a more personal note, my family and I have had a wonderful year here in Oxford. We’ve had a chance to live in Wolvercote village, send our boys to the local primary, meet new friends, explore the country’s stunning landscapes and coastal areas, spend hours in the local bookshops, indulge in far too many fish and chips in local pubs, and cheer on the Foxes in Leicester. We have all thoroughly enjoyed the people and culture here but look forward to returning to Sweden.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Barker, V. (2016) Research Update: Vanessa Barker. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/06/research-update (Accessed [date]).