Stockholms universitet

Vanessa Lynn BarkerProfessor i sociologi

Om mig

Vanessa Barker is Professor of Sociology at Stockholm University, Editor in Chief of Punishment & Society, Visiting Professor of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo, Advisor to Border Criminologies at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on questions of democracy and border control, welfare states and immigration, the criminalization and penalization of migrants, and the role of civil society in social change. She teaches courses on qualitative research methods, globalization, complex inequalities and introduction to sociology. 

Her latest book Nordic Nationalism and Penal Order: Walling the Welfare State examines the border closing in Sweden during the height of the refugee crisis and the rise of penal nationalism in response to mass mobility. She is the author of a number of academic articles, including pieces on Nordic Exceptionalism, the American crime decline, border control, civic repair, and mass imprisonment, including her first book The Politics of Imprisonment. She has been a visiting academic at the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford and a visiting fellow at the Law & Public Affairs Program (LAPA) at Princeton University. Her work has received grants and awards from Riksbanken, the National Science Foundation and the American Scandinavian Foundation. She served on the Board of Trustees for the Law & Society Association, as Co-editor for the Howard Journal of Crime & Justice, as book review editor for Punishment & Society, and Associate Editor of Theoretical Criminology. She completed her doctoral degree at New York University and worked at Florida State University before moving to Sweden.

Public Scholarship


Research keywords

Borders and migration, sociology of punishment, political sociology, historical sociology, civil society and social movements, nordic and US contexts, cultural sociology, postcolonialism and critical race theory 



I urval från Stockholms universitets publikationsdatabas

  • Nordic Vagabonds:

    2017. Vanessa Barker. European Journal of Criminology 14 (1), 120-139


    In Sweden, control of the mobile poor is often driven by the needs and demands of the welfarestate itself and follows a different logic outside the neoliberal paradigm. By examining the caseof the Roma, EU citizens who travel to Sweden to ask for money on the streets, we can seethe expansion and retraction of the criminal law as the government responds to new forms ofmigration and poverty in its society. The government’s mixed responses – no to bans on begging,but yes to evictions – are the result of dualities inherent in Nordic welfare states, when theirinclusionary ameliorative dimensions collide with their exclusionary and nationalistic tendencies.This article proposes the term benevolent violence to conceptualize this duality. It occurs whencoercive means are used to uphold the state’s ameliorative goals and when the state’s ameliorativepractices have violent effects. In the case of the Roma, it means protecting them from their ownlivelihood and it means protecting the welfare state for nationals, keeping it solvent for members.

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  • Nordic Exceptionalism Revisited

    Vanessa Barker. Theoretical criminology


    Scandinavian penal regimes are Janus-faced: on one side relatively mild and benign; the other  intrusive, disciplining and oppressive. This paradox has not been fully grasped or explained by the Scandinavian Exceptionalism thesis which overstates the degree to which Scandinavian penal order is based on humaneness and social solidarity, an antidote to mass incarceration. This essay examines the split in the foundation of the Swedish welfare state: it simultaneously promotes individual well-being in the social sphere but enables intrusive deprivations of liberty and in some cases, violates the principles of human rights. The backbone the welfare state, Folkhemmet, the People’s Home, is at once demos, democratic and egalitarian and ethnos, a people by blood, exclusionary and essentialist. The lack of individual rights and an ethnocultural conception of citizenship make certain categories of people such as criminal offenders, criminal aliens, drug offenders, and other perceived outsiders particularly vulnerable to deprivations and exclusion.

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  • Penal power at the border

    2017. Vanessa Barker.


    Penal power at the border relies on coercive tools such as expulsion, eviction, criminalization, and penalization to respond to mass mobility, which is perceived to be a social threat rather than a political expression of rights. By deploying its primal power, its material and symbolic violence invested in criminal justice, the state taps into unparalleled capacity to impose meaning on others, backed by the moral weight of censure and sanction. The criminalization and penalization of migrants are effective precisely because they bring moral weight to this sorting process, separating the worthy from the wrongdoer. This article develops conceptual tools to understand the structural and communicative capacities of penal power to reconstitute the nation state, to reset the national frame of reference, and reassert the state’s dominion over it.

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