From ‘Nordic Exceptionalism’ to ‘Swedish Expansionism’
Abstract: The recent growth of the Swedish prison population and police force suggests a stark reversal from the small, rehabilitation oriented criminal justice system described in the “Nordic penal exceptionalism thesis.” This paper is based on a narrative analysis of documents published by the Government Offices of Sweden in the collection titled “A Safer Sweden” from 2013 to 2021. This research aims to understand the narratives Swedish criminal justice institutions use to describe themselves and the crime problems to which they respond, as well as how narratives work to shape assumptions about crime control and harm-causing policies. By using the critical narrative criminology perspective, and specifically Lois Presser’s “general narrative logic of harm” this paper will look at how narratives reduce targets of harm and how criminal justice institutions present contradictory stories regarding their license to harm and their unavoidable role in punishing. Presser’s framework allows for narrative theories to be linked with criminological theories on the growth and expansion of penal institutions. Building from these theories on political narratives, I will structure my results and analysis in three sections, actors, plots, and master narratives. These sections will focus on how narratives are used to construct collective identities and “target populations,” how narratives are sequenced in a way that creates causality, and how the narratives found in the dataset are nested within widely known master narratives that encourage specific types of policy action. Taken together, these narratives work to justify the cumulative expansion of penal power, which I term ‘Swedish expansionism,’ and overpower the solidaristic and egalitarian assumptions that were, at least theoretically, at the foundation of the ‘exceptional’ Swedish criminal justice system.
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