Promoting Nordic Justice

I am really honored and excited to contribute to this new blog and venue for discussing Nordic criminology. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to introduce a new project, which I hope will be of great relevance to the Nordic countries, to criminology, and to our discussions.

Kjersti Lohne, University of Oslo. Photo: UiO

Kjersti Lohne is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo. Her primary research interests focus on global violence, (in)justice and order-making combining perspectives from criminology, international relations, and international law.

Promoting Nordic Justice

The study of Nordic criminal justice is usually studied via the notion of ‘Scandinavian penal exceptionalism’, which posits that punishment in Scandinavian states is relatively humane, due to their lower imprisonment rates and more decent prison conditions compared to those found in other liberal democracies (see Pratt and Eriksson, 2014). Although the exceptionalism thesis is highly contested (Barker, 2012; 2018) – not least from within Scandinavian criminology itself (Ugelvik and Dullum, 2011; Smith and Ugelvik, 2017) – no work displaces the penal exceptionalism thesis from its association with the Scandinavian welfare state to consider how it fares outside the national frame of justice.

In a new project entitled JustExports, funded by the Research Council of Norway’s Young Research Talents grant, I will examine how Scandinavian penal exceptionalism is put to work as a policy to promote the Scandinavian states as ‘penal humanitarians’ (see Bosworth 2017; Lohne 2020) of particular value for international export, and in this way to facilitate the travel of Scandinavian penal power beyond the confines of their territorial nation states.

This is because Scandinavian states export criminal justice through their foreign policy and international aid on issues ranging from prison and judicial reform to women’s rights, and in locations as vast as Afghanistan, Colombia, Kosovo, Myanmar, and Uganda. However, the role of ‘penal exports’ and what it says about Scandinavian penal power, foreign policy, and position(ing) in the international order has never been explored.

With aim to develop criminological theory on how penal power travels beyond the nation state, JustExports will combine theory from international relations and international law in an empirical study of Scandinavian penal exports. It will explore the overall research question ‘How do Scandinavian states engage in penal exports?’ through three sub-questions

(1) How do penal exports travel?; (2) What are similarities and differences in Scandinavian states’ foreign policy use of penal exports; and (3) How do geopolitical changes shape the use of penal exports in Scandinavian states’ foreign policy and international aid?

These questions are all analyzed in work packages exploring three different fields of Scandinavian exports: for example, one work package will provide a discursive overview of how Scandinavian penal exports travel; another will delve into a case of penal exports directed towards the national level, such as rule of law development in Ukraine; and yet another will explore a case of penal exports directed at the international level such as in international criminal justice.

Hopefully, the project will provide a knowledge base for civil servants to assess foreign policy and the challenges of the liberal international order by providing them with increased knowledge about how policies are produced, travel, and with what effects, and of the multiplicity of actors and agendas involved in the dynamics of penal exports. As for criminology, JustExports’ ambition is to provide a more comprehensive view of the ‘penal state’ (Garland, 2013) than found in the inward-looking national framework of justice that dominates contemporary criminological approaches. While indebted to the strains of criminological literatures that increasingly takes issue with the ‘methodological nationalism’ (Aas 2012) of the discipline, these bodies of literatures remain fragmented in their thematic approaches to issues of migration, policing, and international crimes.
By focusing explicitly on the state’s external penality, JustExports hope to advance criminological thinking on the penal state in a global world. Moreover, by detaching the notion of Scandinavian penal exceptionalism from its association with Scandinavian nation-state welfarism, JustExports will provide insight into the value of Scandinavian penal exceptionalism as, potentially, a policy to promote the Scandinavian states as particularly good punishers, which is advantageous for strategic positioning and status in international relations.

In addition to myself and an international advisory board, JustExports’ research team consists of Vanessa Barker (Stockholm University) and Mikkel Jarle Christensen (University of Copenhagen), a PhD researcher and a research assistant (yet to be recruited), and will start up – due to maternity leave – in late 2021.