A call for a Global Nordic Criminology!

By Sveinung Sandberg, professor of Criminology at the University of Oslo.

A call for a Global Nordic Criminology!

While globalization and cosmopolitanism were long on the rise in the Western world, the last decade has seen an increasing trend towards nationalism and ethnocentrism. The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced these tendencies, and created an atmosphere where most people have enough trouble dealing with their own problems. This seems to include academia, which has strengthened its already problematic inclination towards a rather narrow focus on a few, selected, rich Western countries. Most research and theorizing in criminology emerges from, and focuses on, the Global North. Unfortunately, Nordic Criminology does little to counter this. On the contrary, it seems particularly trapped in its own academic and societal environment.

The main mission of Nordic criminology should (of course) be the study crime and criminal justice in the Nordic region. As a discipline, there are still several reasons why criminology in particular should be more adventurous. Firstly, Nordic criminology contributes to, or at least does little to counter, the problems of an ongoing academic colonialization. Engaging in more research globally would force us to challenge ingrained assumptions and broaden our perspective in a way that will benefit teaching and domestic research as well. Secondly, the Nordic countries are low-crime societies and Nordic criminologist should study societies were crime and associated problems are more prevalent. In this way, we can contribute to problematics that are far greater than those we experience at home. Thirdly, the crime-to-criminologist ratio in the Nordic region is world-leading. So, if, for no other reason than solidarity, we could share our criminologists a little more.

Instead, what we see is the opposite. The academic structure Nordic criminologists operate in makes studies outside of their “natural habitat” difficult. For students in criminology, readings are almost entirely from Nordic countries, the UK or the US. If there is any kind of pressure, it is to add more Nordic languages to the curriculum, rather than going global. In terms of language skills, there is also little educational infrastructure that can prepare students for research outside of the Anglo-Saxon world. After completing their studies, the job market favors candidates with local research knowledge, networks and skills. The research funding structure, both national research councils and ERC, also predominantly funds national and European-based research. If applying for projects based outside of Europe, criminologists must usually apply in the “open” categories where the chances of funding are small.

So what does NSfK do to compensate for academic structures that favor more of the same domestic research? (Studies of immigration and crime, which has exploded the last decade, does not count, as this interest in the global emerges mainly from its interference with “us”). The answer is unfortunately, not much. In its flagship journal the Nordic Journal of Criminology, most articles are from the Nordic countries, fair enough. However, the international articles often have the same Anglo-Saxon bias as contemporary academia more generally. When funding research, NSfK even goes further than other research councils does, demanding that the research must be carried out in the Nordic countries to qualify for funding.

It might already be too late for my generation of criminologists. The question is what we can do to prepare future Nordic criminologists for engaging in the world outside their own academic and societal backyard. A backyard where it, humorously put, is difficult to find prisoners or street drug users that have not been part of a research project yet. The main aim should not be to socialize young criminologists in the discourse of loud calls for a global, southern or more diversified criminology (such as this blogpost). There are enough of these already. The challenge is instead to provide concrete decolonized knowledge, language skills, institutional structure, and networks outside of Western academia. Nordic criminologists need all this to contribute empirically in close, local research collaborations, to another – more global – criminology.

Sveinung Sandberg, University in Oslo. Photo: UiO.

Sveinung Sandberg is professor of Criminology at the University of Oslo.

He is currently on a research leave in Mexico City (not due to incentives from Nordic criminology, but because his wife got a job there). Ill-prepared, he studies prisons and developments in crime during the coronavirus pandemic in Latin America.