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Project about the Scandinavian rights revolution receives funding from the Swedish research council

Researchers from Nordic Branding have received funding from the Swedish research council for the project “The Scandinavian rights revolution: Individual rights, civil society mobilization and democratic change.” The project that grew out of Nordic  Branding has a frame of three years and falls within the pillar “Rights and Democracy.”

The project explores how and whether civil society in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have shifted to a rights-approach. An approach that can facilitate the use of courts in working for the fulfilment of rights. Has the development of rights and judicial review been driven by European institutions and Norwegian judges, or does civil society have a greater part in this?

Docent Johan Karlsson Schaffer from Gøteborgs Universitet, affiliated with UiO as Professor II from Januare 2018, leads the project in cooperation with Malcolm Langford (UiO), Postdoctor Kjersti Lohne (UiO), Professor Mikael Rask Madsen (University of Copenhagen), University Lecturer Anna Wallermann (Gøteborgs Universitet) and Benedikte Høgberg (UiO).

The aim of the project is to look at how civil society in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway may have contributed to expanding the protection of individual rights through the judicial system. The project addresses three core questions: how have courts contributed to the increase in protection of individual rights, what explains civil society’s battle for individual rights, and what are the consequences for society when the protection of rights is strengthened?

Judicial development

The project looks at supreme court decisions from Sweden, Denmark and Sweden, decisions from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the EFTA-court in Luxembourg.

- By systematically reviewing the judicial development, we should be able to observe what kind of rights are prioritized, and judges’ attitudes in the different cases, explains Schaffer.

The mapping will combine qualitative and quantitative measurements. By tracing cases in the judicial system, one should be able to identify particular rights or possible waves of cases on individual rights.

Civil society’s role

To understand the judicial development, the project will look at civil society’s role as instigator. This builds on previous studies that show how rights movements in the USA, Canada and Great Britain have increased the protection of marginalized groups, like the civil rights movement in the USA.

- It has been well documented that civil society mobilizes to increase the protection of rights in different countries. And that this is important. But, we lack knowledge of how or whether this has happened in the Nordics, or if other actors have been more important, explains Langford.

We assume that groups in civil society use the judicial system to secure rights if they have the motive, opportunity, and means to do so. Our hypothesis is that the structure of the relationship between civil society and the state influences which groups have the opportunity to take the judicial path, says Schaffer.

Motive explains whether the judicial system is seen as a means to realize rights. Opportunity relates to the structure of the judicial system, whether the political and judicial institutions are receptive for legal claims, and means is understood as strategic, knowledge, and financial resources.

Implications for society

Through using different methods, researchers will try to identify specific organizations or groups of rights that are more present in the judicial system than others. If the balance of rights in the judicial system is skewed this can have great implications for how society develops.

- We want to look into how similar groups have worked to secure rights in the different countries, like those working on the protection of LGBTQI-rights, says Langford.

A central question is how different groups use courts and whether the courts have taken over the legislature’s power to develop new laws. Are there any groups in society that have greater definitional power than others through active participation in court? Does the judicialization affect states’ room to maneuver?

Contributions to literature

Judicialization of politics is a reoccurring issue. Through assessing the role of the judicial system, how civil society mobilizes, and the implications for the expansion of protection of individual rights in the Nordics, the project contributes to fill a gap in literature. It further challenges the current understanding of mobilization through the judicial system, and develops a new theoretical framework to understand how civil society in Scandinavia works.

The project also tests the collective understanding of the Nordic model from within and from the outside. Is the judicial development a part of the model, or does it challenge it? And how are courts used to develop the idea of Nordic Exceptionalism? Start date for the project is January 2018.

Published Nov. 6, 2017 11:23 AM - Last modified Apr. 9, 2019 1:54 PM