Summary: Experiences of racism in contact with Swedish public institutions – a literature review


Markus Lundström, Researcher at The Multicultural Centre
Fanny Wendt Höjer, Research assistant at the Multicultural Centre

This report concerns people´s experiences of racism in contact with public institutions in Sweden. It is based on a literature review that comprises 523 scientific articles, books, book chapters, and reports, published between January 2016 and May 2021. All studies concern racism, a technology that orders and grades people based on stereotypical conceptions of race, ethnicity, culture, nationality, or religion.

The selection of studies comprises three levels: an overarching level (A) with all identified studies of racism in Sweden, a general level (B) concerning racism in public institutions, and a specific level (C) focused on people’s experiences of racism in contact with these institutions.

Selection level A – the complete selection of 523 studies – consists partly of historical analyses (7 %), but primarily concerns racism in Sweden today (93 %). The selection includes scientific articles (59 %), chapters in anthologies (16 %), reports (16 %), doctoral dissertations (6 %) and academic books (3 %). The studies are mainly based on qualitative research methods like interviews and text analysis (82 %), but also include survey studies and other quantitative inquiries (18 %). The overarching picture emerging from this state-of-the-art is that racism in contemporary Sweden recurs at different areas and societal levels.

Selection level B consists of 195 studies that concern racism in public institutions. They focus primarily on Swedish school and day care services (21 %), the Government/Parliament (13 %), and the Police (12 %), and signal altogether that racism is operating through public institutions in Sweden today.

Selection level C holds 16 studies that document people’s direct experiences of racism. These experiences include racial profiling, harassment, and physical violence in contact with the Police. The studies also document experiences of suspicion and neglect in contact with the social services, as well as signs of racist stereotyping at residential care homes. In both higher education and health care systems, the studies document experiences of stereotyping and exclusion.

The literature review concludes that racism in Sweden continues to operate through public institutions. Yet knowledge about this operation is still incomplete. Most institutions have not been examined at all, and there is a lack of comparative and longitudinal studies, meta-analyses, international comparisons, as well as analyses of how racism interacts with other power asymmetries in the Swedish society. In conclusion, documented evidence about racism in public institutions designates a vast research field that is largely unexplored.