A Swedish Dilemma : Culture and Rule of Law in Swedish Sickness Insurance

Sammanfattning: Swedish society has been described as both modern, liberal democratic and deeply humanitarian; and as more or less premodern, semi-authoritarian and potentially abusive of groups with weak political representation. In this dissertation, this Swedish dilemma is explored in an anthropology of law tradition, with disputing practices as an inroad to an understanding of law as culture.Detailed data on twenty appeals of denials of sickness cash benefits between 2005 to 2008 and 2015 to 2018 are contextualised with 20 th century history, previous research, government oversight reports, media coverage, and interviews with jurists across the field. The theoretical framing is Geertz’s semiotic concept of law as culture, Charles Taylor’s social imaginaries of modernity and premodernity, the theoretical content of previous research about Sweden with a similar framing and objective, and John Borneman’s anthropological concept of rule of law. Based on Anglo-Saxon scholarship about administrative law and social insurance adjudication, I also develop a practice-based and more anthropological theory of modern Western rule of law in relation to sickness benefits.This study identifies recurrent constructions of meaning, animating ideals, legal sensibilities and models of society. They are: the prerogatives of the state, corporatism, consensus lost, far-reaching administrative discretion, priority given to low costs, and conflictful paternalism. It also suggests that these aspects of Swedish administrative legal culture are made possible by weak elite accountability, weak legalistic awareness in the press, a priori trust in the state, and various forms of political and bureaucratic foul play, such as extra-legal regulations, arbitrary formalism, and government agencies and tribunals which respond to political demands.Taken as a whole, the findings of this study suggest a form of unstable pseudo-rule by law, and even a fundamentally different basis for the Swedish political order. State prerogatives and conflictful paternalism seem to be more important than modern Western rule of law. Causal explanations in the social sciences are difficult, but the results nonetheless suggest that Sweden has had less influence from modern Western notions of natural law and individual rights because of a greater continuity from some version of a Lutheran-Orthodox Prussian Machtstaate and other premodern social imaginaries.

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