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jp 5 ny

David Wästerfors


jp 5 ny

Comparisons and identifications as routes to police skepticism among ethnic minority youth in Sweden


  • Veronika Burcar Alm
  • David Wästerfors

Summary, in English

Tom Tyler’s theory of procedural justice argues that police may foster legitimacy by acting “procedurally just”. This can be done by granting citizens opportunities to partake in decision-making, by making decisions impartial and unbiased, and by showing dignity, respect and honesty in public interactions. Legitimacy depends on people’s assessments of fairness, Tyler argues. His psychological theory, however, does not tell us how people accomplish such assessments in a social setting in which the police face a renowned history of being perceived as unjust and illegitimate. Nor does it tell us the significance of people’s situated accounts on how police-skepticism is fostered in such settings. This article draws on 19 interviews with ethnic minority youth and young adults in so-called vulnerable and deprived city areas in Sweden to show how the police is assessed in practice. We argue that social comparisons and social identifications work as narrative mechanisms through which the police are assessed. Depending on how the interviewees make a comparison and how they identify themselves and others, as well as how they pick instances from their neighborhoods (i.e. the kind of behavior, situation, emotion or identity), police officers may either be portrayed as relatively biased and racist or relatively just and legitimate. Narrators’ comparisons within Sweden or their identifications with police targets, for instance, may give shakier assessments of procedural justice than comparisons with birth countries and identifications with non-targeted categories. We also argue that ethnic minority youth and young adults in police-targeted areas tend to assess police behavior with an eye to how the public framing of their neighborhood is indicated in police-citizen interactions.


  • Sociology

Publishing year




Document type

Conference - other


  • Sociology

Conference name

NSfK’s 59. Research Seminar

Conference date

2017-05-09 - 2017-05-11

Conference place

Glumslöv, Sweden