In the name of safety : power, politics and the constitutive effects of local governing practices in Sweden

Sammanfattning: In a time of uncertainty and risk, safety has become an increasingly significant concern. In Sweden, a powerful discourse around public safety has developed in recent years, moving it to the top of the political agenda. While safety is often regarded as a prerequisite for a democratic and gender-equal society in Sweden, previous research demonstrates that safety is increasingly linked in public politics to matters of national and individual security, crime, and immigration. Considering this discursive change in relation to the neoliberal transformation of the Swedish welfare state, the centrality of public safety as a political ideal in Sweden raises questions. Why is safety increasingly seen as a self-evident answer to a range of societal issues in Sweden? Why safety, rather than equality, democracy, or justice?Drawing upon a governmentality framework, this thesis examines how, and with what effects, safety is being discursively produced as a political problem in Sweden and how it operates as a practice of governmentality. Three widespread practices of governing safety in Swedish municipalities are examined: community-based safety walks; the safety certification of city centers; and the contracting of private guards to patrol public spaces. The study applies a political ethnography approach and is based on policy materials, observations, and interviews. The overall analysis of these case studies combines to demonstrate that a technical, calculable, and depoliticized representation of safety is produced. Thus, safety is largely reduced to a set of technical details to be measured, fitted into a protocol, ticked off a checklist, or fixed by making changes to the physical environment. This enables the commodification of safety, manifested in the branding of cities as safe and the outsourcing of responsibility for safety to the private security industry. In this context, safety largely becomes a matter of order and uniformity in public space, while those deviating from these normative ideals are marked as unsafety problems. The various societal issues being addressed as “unsafety problems” are in turn marked as individual or community failures. In effect, these issues are detached from their social and political circumstances and understood as problematic primarily due to causing unsafety to others. The analysis shows how the governing of safety in this manner produces a boundary between the familiar, “Swedish”, “us”—to be made safe in public space—and the estranged, “non-Swedish”, “others,” who are marked as problematic and out of place. However, these exclusions are concealed by the depoliticized representation of safety as a technical matter as well as a virtue.The thesis shows how these deeply political acts of deciding who is legitimate or illegitimate in our public spaces, and how altering dimensions of democratic accountability and the monopoly on using force, are enacted through the government of safety as a set of technicalities, largely without political contestation. While safety is often put forward as a democratic tool of inclusion and access to public space, the thesis claims that the government of safety operates through a de-democratizing dynamic of governmental precarization. This means that, despite the centrality of safety as a political ideal, the politics of safety neither challenges nor changes, but rather reproduces and reinforces, prevailing relations of power and the current political order of things. Shadowed by our own demands for safety, we fail to recognize that this order both (re)produces and relies upon a state of unsafety.  

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