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Seeking Asylum and Residence Permits in Sweden: Denial, Acknowledgement, and Bureaucratic Legitimacy

Critical Criminology

Published online on


Sweden’s reputation as one of the most encompassing welfare states in the world is maintained by means of a good self-image, not least in relation to refugee policies. At the same time, external authorities have been critical of Sweden’s handling of the process of seeking asylum. Drawing on Stanley Cohen’s concepts of denial and partial acknowledgment, the article explores how Swedish state officials respond to complaints regarding the process of seeking asylum and other forms of residence permit. The study analyzes judgments from the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Chancellor of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. The analysis suggests that even within the well-developed democratic state, denials constitute a form of account that may be utilized to maintain bureaucratic legitimacy. In addition, partial acknowledgments serve to present state actors as decent and self-correcting. At the same time these acknowledgements could be understood as constituting a means of avoiding moral censure.