Losing a discourse of justice? (completed)

This project will analyse how the vocabulary of justice is used in recent crime and security policy initiatives in Norway.

About the project

Vocabulary of justice in Norway

This project will identify some key components in the vocabulary of justice in Norway, before analyzing in more detail how the vocabulary is used. Some key concepts (in the ’justice vocabulary’) will be: Due process, Presumption of innocence, Proportionality and Human Rights.

One hypotheses, following Hudson*, is that these concepts are easier to use and understand in a risk-management than in a risk-control discourse. A risk-management discourse might more easily accommodate the concepts of justice, in contrast to a risk-control discourse, where they tend to be marginalised as something external.

By analyzing legal texts and debates, this project will explore to what extent we in Norway are "losing a discourse of justice", and to what extent justice is still central to legislators. Reading legal texts, we can get a clearer picture of where on the continuum between risk management and risk control Norwegian security politics is situated. Are the texts constructed in a risk management or risk control logic? How is the argument structured that argues in favour of derogation from the rule of law? Are some groups described as outside the realm of rights? How do we deal with the fact that we want to protect ourselves against someone who is the bearer of human rights?


The main objective of this project will be to describe the current state of the vocabulary of justice in Norway, and especially to analyze how recent legal initiatives, influenced by risk or security thinking, have dealt with the issue of justice.


Losing a discourse of justice? is a subproject under the main project Justice in the Risk Society which focuses on the tension between risks and rights. More information on the main project is found on the Justice in the Risk Society homepage.

Empirical data, methods

Legal texts and debates preceding new initiatives, such as covert audio surveillance, sexual grooming law, anti-terrorist laws and the "VIC"-initiatives (Very Important Criminals), will be subject to a discourse analysis. We will especially try to find examples of what Ericson terms ’Laws against law’: New laws that are enacted and new uses of existing law that are established that might undermine or eliminate traditional principles, standards, and procedures of criminal law. Is it the case that traditional concepts and conceptions of justice are increasingly conceived of as detrimental to the more urgent pre-emption of real and imagined sources of harm (Ericson 2007)?

These counter-law measures are designed in order to facilitate pre-emptive strikes against for example terrorists, sexual predators, welfare cheats, and corporate fraudsters. Does this mean that due process standards are evaporating? Are sentencing structures creatively devised to facilitate ease of prosecution, conviction, and incapacitation? Text analysis/discourse analysis will be used to analyze official texts such as laws, regulations, white papers, official handbooks, background papers e.g.

Justice vs risk

*Justice’ is an endangered concept […] our societies seem almost to be losing a discourse, even a vocabulary, of justice (Hudson 2001, p. 144). In her work, Barbara Hudson points to the difficulties of defending justice in the risk society (Hudson 2001; Hudson 2003; Hudson 2006). One can see an increasing lack of commitment to justice in crime and security policy. ’Justice’ is gradually becoming less important than ’risk’ as a preoccupation of criminal justice – "the politics of safety have overwhelmed attachment to justice in the institutions of late-modern democratic policies" (Hudson 2001, p. 144). Hudson describes this as a development from risk managment to risk control: "Risk management is an acceptance of risk, a pooling of risk amongst people who see themselves as a group of some sort; risk control is a refusal of risk, and it is the response to risks posed by people we do not associate ourselves with" (Hudson 2003, p. 59). A discourse of justice, with its focus on due process, proportionality, presumption of innocence, in short, on (human) rights, will be central in a society dominated by risk management. In a society dominated by risk control, this discourse will lose its meaning (p.76).

Bauman has warned of the dangers of defining groups as ’dangerous others’, by demonizing and excluding them from those entitled to justice (Bauman 1989). Both Bauman and Hudson remind us of the need to keep alive the discourse of justice to meet the challenges of the politics of security. In this subproject we will examine the discourse of justice in recent crime and security policy initiatives in Norway. By analyzing these texts we can get a better picture of the state of the justice or rights discourse in Norwegian crime and security policies.


Norwegian Research Council


Ragnhild Hennum, Department of Public and International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo 


Published Nov. 4, 2009 8:46 PM - Last modified Nov. 1, 2012 10:34 AM