Bordered penal populism: When populism and Scandinavian exceptionalism meet

Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
AuthorJohn Todd-Kvam
Subject MatterArticles
Bordered penal
populism: When
populism and
exceptionalism meet
John Todd-Kvam
University of Oslo, Norway
Penality in Scandinavia has been seen as somewhat of an outlier, a redoubt against the
punitive turn witnessed in other parts of Western Europe and the United States. This
article examines contemporary discourses of penality in Norway following the entry
into government of the populist-right Progress Party. The analysis describes how gov-
ernment representatives frame themselves as protecting individual security and priori-
tising victims whilst pursuing a bordered version of penal populism directed against
non-citizens. These non-Norwegians are shown to be the focus of a range of penal
populist policies, including fast-track justice, a warehousing prison regime, targeting
of petty offenders and the double punishment of imprisonment and deportation.
In a context where the penal welfare consensus with respect to Norwegian citizens
remains relatively strong, it is easier for the Progress Party to ‘do populism’ by focusing
on non-citizens.
bordered penality, crimmigration, discourse analysis, Norway, penal populism,
Scandinavian exceptionalism
Corresponding author:
John Todd-Kvam, University of Oslo, PO Box 6706, St. Olavs plass 5, 0130 Oslo, Norway.
Punishment & Society
2019, Vol. 21(3) 295–314
!The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474518757093
The status of penal exceptionalism in Scandinavia has been under scrutiny for
some time. What began with Pratt’s (2008a) seminal article (see also Green,
2008) has given way to debate over the nature and trajectory of Scandinavian
exceptionalism (Nilsson, 2013; Pratt, 2008b; Pratt and McLean, 2015; Shammas,
2014, 2016; Ugelvik and Dullum, 2012). This article focuses on Norway, where in
2013, a left-of-centre government was replaced by a minority coalition of the
centre-right Conservative Party and the populist-right Progress Party, with the
Progress Party taking charge of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security.
This article seeks to examine how government and media voices frame issues of
punishment, prisons policy and offending. The main question to be addressed is
whether there has been a discursive upsurge in penal populism? Or, conversely,
does Norway retain a sufficiently resilient penal welfare consensus that leaves little
room for such populism?
The article first summarises key features of the punitive turn and the debates
around Scandinavian exceptionalism and the Norwegian penal welfare model.
It then assesses how governing voices in Norway represent themselves as dynamic,
prioritising victims, keen to increase prison capacity rapidly, focused on individual
security and as actively deporting foreign criminals. The analysis then shows how
foreign criminals are framed as unwanted, in need of deportation, requiring swift
justice, deserving of a lesser prison regime and as not requiring rehabilitation. The
article interprets the relative silence regarding the mission of the criminal care
system when it comes to Norwegian citizens as a passive erosion of penal excep-
tionalism, and that the bordered penal populism that permeates the discourse risks
negative implications for the criminal care system as a whole and for the position
of non-citizens within Norwegian society. In conclusion, a broader theoretical
point is made about moving away from a Westphalian notion of unitary national
sovereignty to Bartelson’s (1995) concept of a frame that may be drawn and
re-drawn in a range of contexts, including within the penal system.
The punitive turn versus exceptionalism in Norway
The punitive turn has been well documented in this journal and elsewhere. But it is
worth revisiting some of the milestone texts in order to set out the values and
policies that we could expect from a justice minister of the populist right Progress
Party in Norway.
This is not to say that it will be possible to observe all of the
developments set out below, but rather what we might expect from the extant
literature on penal populism. David Garland sets out the following penal populist
trends in this journal’s inaugural editorial as follows:
The erosion of correctionalist ideologies; the turn to expressive justice and punitive
measures; the return of the victim; the stress upon public protection and the manage-
ment of risk; the changing objectives of community corrections and custodial institu-
tions; the politicization of penal policydiscourse; the commercialization of penality; the
drift towardsmass imprisonment. (Garland, 1999: 7; see also Garland1996, 2000, 2001)
296 Punishment & Society 21(3)

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