Stockholm university

Livia Johannesson

About me

I am Associate Senior Lecturer at the School of Public Administration, University of Gothenburg, and researcher at Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research (SCORE), at Stockholm University. I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from Stockholm University in 2017.


I teach at all levels and in both Swedish and English. The major part of my teaching has been devoted to qualitative methods, research design, and public administration. At the School of Public Administration at the University of Gothenburg, I am responsable for a bachelor course about the role of law and courts in Swedish society. 


My research covers migration policies, asylum determinations, studies of law and society, public healthcare planning and political ethnography. I have a background in feminist political theory and a general interest in sociomateriality, symbols, and interpretive methods. In 2014, I was a visiting scholar at Melbourne Law School and in 2022 I was a visiting scholar at International Institute for The Sociology of Law at Oñati, the Basque Country, Spain.

In a research project called “Dilemmas in Courtrooms: How Judges Practice Equality before the Law at Swedish Administrative Courts” (2019-2023) funded by the Swedish Research Council, I study how legal principles such as equality before the law, objectivity, and justice are practiced and perceived by judges at the Swedish administrative courts when deciding compulsory care cases and asylum appeals.

Within another research project called “The Materialization of Changes: How Built Spaces Drive, Prevent, and Modify Organizational Changes in Two Swedish University Hospitals” (2020-2024) funded by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare I explore the tensions between managerial strategies to reform public healthcare and the strategies of resistance, innovation, and modification used by healthcare professions in two University hospitals in Sweden.

My research has been published in both Swedish and English, among others in journals such as Citizenship Studies, Journal of International Migration and Integration, Social & Legal Studies, International Migration Review, and Policy Sciences.

Research projects


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Border Bureaucracies: A Literature Review of Discretion in Migration Control

    2023. Lisa Maria Borrelli (et al.).


    This literature review summarizes findings from 63 articles published between 2001 and 2020 that study discretion of frontline workers at migration control. The results demonstrate that discretionary practices in various migration control situations (e.g., border zones, migration agencies, courts, public welfare services, and detention centers) are widespread but share common patterns. Frontline workers’ racialized prejudices and perceptions of migrant deservingness were the most dominant patterns found in the data, although there were some disagreements about which were most influential. Discretion of frontline workers was described as foremost detrimental to migrants, as itamplified the migrants’ vulnerable situations, even if it occasionally could increase individual migrants’ room for agency and strategic maneuvering. Contrary to the assumption underpinning the control gap-thesis in immigration policy literature that governments’ capacity to control migration is hampered by the significant discretion at the frontlines, many studies in our sample describe how governments shape the discretionary practices of frontline workers through informal, subtle, and opaque governing strategies. These informal governing strategies enable central governments to deflect responsibility for discriminatory and inhumane policy outcomes. 

    Read more about Border Bureaucracies
  • Editorial Introduction: The Role of Language and Communication in Asylum Procedures

    2023. Daniel Hedlund, Livia Johannesson. Journal of International Migration and Integration

    Read more about Editorial Introduction
  • Just another benefit?: Administrative judges’ constructions of sameness and difference in asylum adjudications

    2022. Livia Johannesson. Citizenship Studies


    This ethnographic study examines how Swedish administrative judges apply the principle of treating like cases the same and unlike cases differently when adjudicating asylum claims. The findings suggest that judges construct asylum claims like citizens’ claims for welfare benefits and unlike protection claims made by citizens. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s critique of the state-centric foundation of contemporary human rights framework, I demonstrate that the Swedish asylum procedure is structured according to a similar state-centric foundation. Therefore, it reinforces injustices that exist between those who belong to a political community and those who stand outside that community asking to be let in. This study contributes to previous research on asylum adjudication by shedding light on structural injustices embedded within legal practices rather than searching for explanations in extra-legal factors. The implication of this approach is that it makes visible a paradox: that judges’ commitment to procedural justice principles can perpetuate structural injustices.

    Read more about Just another benefit?
  • Silence and Voice in Oral Hearings: Spatial, Temporal, and Relational Conditions for Communication in Asylum and Compulsory Care Hearings

    2022. Livia Johannesson. Social and Legal Studies


    The legal right to be heard by a judge is an important human right. However, what happens if a claimant does not meet the requirements of legal communication when given the opportunity to be heard in court? In this article, I address this question by exploring how temporal, spatial, and relational conditions encourage or silence vulnerable claimants’ voices in asylum hearings and compulsory psychiatric care hearings in Swedish administrative courts. In addition, I analyze the multiple functions orality has when judges make decisions in these case types. The results provide nuance to claims in previous studies about the importance of enough time, spaces that signal solemnity, and flexibility in judges’ approaches to vulnerable claimants’ voices by demonstrating how these conditions interact with each other and generate different communicative atmospheres. Moreover, this study challenges the idea that oral hearings are necessarily beneficial for claimants as it demonstrates that under certain conditions orality can place claimants at a disadvantage and amplify their defenselessness. However, orality brings legitimacy to court proceedings even in these cases as it communicates justice to the public evaluating these procedures from a distance.

    Read more about Silence and Voice in Oral Hearings
  • The Symbolic Life of Courts: How Judicial Language, Actions, and Objects Legitimize Credibility Assessments of Asylum Appeals

    2022. Livia Johannesson. Journal of International Migration and Integration


    Asylum determinations are highly complex and difficult decisions. At the heart of this decision lies a credibility assessment of the asylum claimant’s narrative, which confronts the decision-maker with a seemingly straightforward question: do I believe this person’s story? To uphold legitimacy of this assessment, semi-legal criteria have been established internationally. However, these criteria have been criticized for relying on inaccurate and simplistic assumptions about human behavior, autobiographical memory, and communication. In light of this contestation, I ask how the legal-administrative practice of assessing credibility of asylum applications gains legitimacy in the eyes of the public, policy-makers, and legal professionals despite resting on highly disputable assumptions? To answer this question, I draw on interviews, observations, and written judgements from the Swedish administrative courts to explore how symbolic messages are tacitly conveyed through the use of judicial language, activities, and objects. The analysis suggests that cohesive, albeit tacit, messages about credibility assessments being accurate (rather than arbitrary), objective (rather than subjective), professional (rather than lay), and just (rather than unjust) are produced to both near and distant audiences. The study contributes to the literature on credibility assessments by offering a theoretical perspective that can unpack the relationship between symbolic communication in courts and perceived legitimacy for disputed practices within asylum determinations and migration control.

    Read more about The Symbolic Life of Courts
  • En fråga om ansvar: Demokratiska mekanismer för ansvarsutkrävande och ansvarsflykt i megaprojekt

    2021. Livia Johannesson. Megaprojekt, 23-46

    Read more about En fråga om ansvar
  • How to blame and make a difference: Perceived responsibility and policy consequences in two Swedish pro-migrant campaigns

    2021. Livia Johannesson, Noomi Weinryb. Policy sciences 54 (1), 41-62


    In this paper, we explore the assumption that blame-attribution can be an effective rhetorical strategy for non-elite interest groups who want power holders to be attentive to their demands. Through a qualitative analysis of two pro-migrant campaigns led by grassroot activists in Sweden, one taking place in 2005 and the other in 2017, we offer a nuanced empirical examination of non-elite initiated blame-games. We show how perceived responsibility influences these blame-games, and explore which policy consequences might emanate from them. We demonstrate that blame-making, under certain conditions, can be a successful strategy to gain policy influence, but that this strategy is conditioned by the complexity and transparency of the institutional arrangements of accountability within the policy sector. The focus on non-elite blame-making in order to change policies enables us to contribute to the theoretical discussion on the relationship between anticipatory and reactive forms of blame-avoidance behaviours, and to discuss the democratic implications of blame-games in both shorter and longer time perspectives. One implication of this study is that successful non-elite blame-making at one point in time actually can lower the chances of successful blame-making in the future.

    Read more about How to blame and make a difference
  • Navigating the policy stream: Contested solutions and organizational strategies of policy entrepreneurship

    2020. Livia Johannesson, Martin Qvist. International Review of Public Policy 2 (1), 5-23


    In the Multiple Streams Framework (MSF), policy entrepreneurs are primarily defined by their ability to promote and seek support for policy solutions. Recent research, however, points to the importance of policy entrepreneurs as “arena shapers” who attempt to create favorable conditions for their solutions in conflictual policy settings. In this paper, we seek to incorporate such strategies into the MSF by drawing on the organizational foundations of the original garbage can model. The main question is what role do policy entrepreneurs play in “organizing out” opposition from pre-decision processes, as a way of advancing contested policy solutions. We answer this question in a case study of a controversial hospital “mega-project” in Stockholm healthcare that shows how a small but influential team of entrepreneurs used the project as an opportunity for policy change. The study helps to identify three different organizational strategies: 1) regulating participation in order to neutralize opponents: 2) specializing attention to limit the “searchlight” and 3) sequential attention in order to reduce complexity and build commitment. While effective for advancing solutions in the face of conflict and entrenched positions, organizational strategies also have important democratic implications for the legitimacy of pre-decision processes and the prospects for broad deliberation.

    Read more about Navigating the policy stream
  • Exploring the “Liberal Paradox” from the Inside: Evidence from the Swedish Migration Courts

    2018. Livia Johannesson. The international migration review 52 (4), 1162-1185


    Courts are influential actors during the implementation of immigration policies in liberal democracies. The “liberal paradox” thesis stipulates that courts are driven by logics that hamper restrictionist immigration policies. This study contributes to this theory by exploring the norm construction of impartiality among judicial workers in Swedish migration courts when deciding asylum appeals. Its findings contradict the liberal paradox assumption that courts act according to inner logics that benefit immigrants’ rights. At Sweden’s migration courts, judicial workers show impartiality by using a skeptical approach to asylum applicants and do so to distance themselves from the political discourse of generosity that has dominated Swedish political debate for decades. The broader implications of these findings are that immigration policy theories can benefit from qualitative research exploring informal norm constructions in courts, as such work can offer new insights about the role of courts in the implementation of immigration policies.

    Read more about Exploring the “Liberal Paradox” from the Inside
  • In Courts We Trust: Administrative Justice in Swedish Migration Courts

    2017. Livia Johannesson.

    Thesis (Doc)

    The research problem this dissertation addresses is how judicial practices generate administrative justice in asylum determination procedures. Previous research on immigration policies argues that when asylum determinations are processed in courts, principles of administrative justice are ensured and immigrants’ rights protected. In this dissertation, I challenge that argument by approaching administrative justice as an empirical phenomenon open for different types of interpretations. Instead of assuming that administrative justice characterizes courts, I assume that this concept acquires particular meanings through the practices of the courts. Empirically, this dissertation studies practices of assessing asylum claims at the Swedish migration courts. The migration courts are the result of a major reform of the Swedish asylum procedure that took place in 2006, with the motive to end inhumane rejections of asylum seekers by enhancing administrative justice in the asylum process. By interviewing and observing judges at the migration courts, litigators from the Migration Board and public counsels from different law firms, this interpretive and ethnographic study analyzes how administrative justice acquires meanings in the daily practices of assessing asylum claims at the migration courts.

    The main result is that a ceremonial version of administrative justice is generated at the migration courts. This version of administrative justice forefronts symbolic dimensions of justice. The asylum appeal procedure succeeds in communicating justice through rituals, building design and metaphors, which emphasize objectivity, impartiality and certainty on behalf of the judicial practices. However, these symbols of justice disguise several unfair aspects of the asylum appeal procedure, such as inequality in resources and trustworthiness between the state’s representative and the asylum applicants as well as the uncertainty inherent in both the factual and the credibility assessment of asylum claims. The implications of these findings are that immigration policy research needs to reconsider the relationship between the courts and immigrants’ rights by paying more attention to the everyday practices of ensuing administrative justice in courts than on the instances when courts oppose political attempts to restrict immigrants’ rights.

    Read more about In Courts We Trust
  • Introduktion till politisk etnografi: metoder för statsvetare

    2016. .

    Book (ed)

    Politisk etnografi har alltmer kommit att betraktas som en oumbärlig metod inom statsvetenskapen. Utgångspunkten för den politiska etnografin är att människors uppfattning om sin egen sociala och politiska verklighet är helt central för att vi ska kunna förstå och förklara politiska fenomen. Med sin utgångspunkt i människors upplevelser och vardagsliv ger metoden ovärderliga insikter om vad politik och makt faktiskt är.

    Introduktion till politisk etnografi är den första svenska läroboken i ämnet. Boken introducerar metoden och redogör för dess historiska rötter och möjligheter inom statsvetenskapen. Författarna har på olika sätt anammat ett politiskt-etnografiskt förhållningssätt och visar här hur sådana studier kan bedrivas. Deras forskning spänner över vitt skilda områden, från antifeministiska rörelser på nätet till handläggare på Arbetsförmedlingen och ex-kombattanter i Colombia, och ger därmed smakprov på hur politisk etnografi används inom statsvetenskapen i dag. I och med att texten visar hur centrala samhällsvetenskapliga problemställningar har hanterats med hjälp av politisk etnografi får studenterna konkreta redskap för att tillämpa politisk etnografiska arbetssätt i självständiga projekt, som uppsatser, examensarbeten, utvärderingar och rapporter.

    Read more about Introduktion till politisk etnografi
  • What about the Future? The Troubled Relationship between Futures and Feminism

    2014. Helena Bergman (et al.). NORA 22 (1), 63-69


    This position paper argues that issues related to the future are worth emphasizing and discussing with more feminist fervour and engagement than is now the case within feminist studies and futures studies. It is concluded that feminists cannot just be critical from an outside perspective, but must engage in creating alternative futures. These futures should not be common goals around which to unite, but a way to inspire feminist thinking about different futures. The authors point out the problem that the futures studies field lacks feminist perspectives, and in this position paper they discuss the gap between futures studies and feminism.

    Read more about What about the Future? The Troubled Relationship between Futures and Feminism
  • Performing Credibility: Assessments of Asylum Claims in Swedish Migration Courts

    2012. Livia Johannesson. Retfærd. Nordisk Juridisk Tidsskrift 35 (3/138), 69-84


    This article explores how adjudicators justify the rejection of an asylum application, by the practice of assessing credibility. This is done by analyzing written decisions from the migration courts in Sweden. By applying an intersectional theoretical approach which emphasizes the performative aspects of identities, it is argued that the court decisions constitute important sites for the formation, subversion and rejection of identities. The analysis reveals that the formal judicial criteria for assessing credibility are not the only tools that are used by the adjudicators. In addition, informal presumptions about how gender, education, culture and religion determine individual asylum applicants’ behavior play significant roles for the outcomes of the credibility assessments. The article suggests that the way in which these presumptions are articulated in the decisions indicates that they actively limit the possibilities for unique or deviant asylum narratives to get recognized as credible in the court procedure.

    Read more about Performing Credibility

Show all publications by Livia Johannesson at Stockholm University