About the talk:
In November 2022, the Swedish people voted into office the most far-right government in the nation’s history. Fueled by a moral panic around gang violence in the urban peripheries, campaign slogans from across the political spectrum invoked law-and-order rhetoric, promising harsher punishments, more prisons, and an expansion of police resources and powers. According to projections, if the government’s policy agenda is successfully instituted, Sweden’s incarceration rate will increase six-fold by 2033, going from one of Europe’s lowest incarceration rates to second highest, trailing only Turkey. Yet what may appear as a dramatic shift on the global stage resulting from the swing towards far-right authoritarianism has been unfolding for the past decade at the initiative of center-left coalition governments advancing (neo)liberal reforms.

In this talk, Kelekay discusses her current book project, Weaponizing Exceptionalism, which attends to this conjuncture. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in Stockholm working alongside Afro-Swedish activists, it illustrates how the racialized politics of crime control in Sweden and the policing practices it justifies impacts Black communities. It argues that the punitive turn in Swedish politics has been facilitated by a series of moral panics connecting Black, Muslim, and immigrant communities to what politicians refer to as “system-threatening crime”. Key to the success of these efforts is what she describes as weaponizing exceptionalism, the ways in which Nordic Exceptionalism - as a discursive regime, as an ideology, and as a sociopolitical ethos – is weaponized against racialized working-class communities to justify unprecedentedly punitive shifts in law, social policy, and policing while maintaining the facade of Sweden as the global moral superpower. As such, the subjugation of Black life in Sweden occurs not despite, but rather through, the logics, institutions, and practices of the welfare state, suggesting the importance of abolition as a global imperative.

About the speaker:
Jasmine Kelekay is an interdisciplinary scholar of the global politics of Blackness, with a focus on the with her work lying at the intersections of critical criminology, Black studies, the sociology of race and racism, and cultural studies. She is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of African American Studies and African Diaspora Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2024, Kelekay will begin an appointment as Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Howard University. Her previous work has been published in journals including Annual Review of Sociology, City & Community, Social Currents, Open Cultural Studies, and Meridians.

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