An Unlikely Rights Revolution: Legal Mobilization in Scandinavia Since the 1970s

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Why have civil society groups in Scandinavia increasingly turned to legal mobilization in recent decades? In Denmark, Norway and Sweden, a legal-political culture based on parliamentary supremacy, deferential judiciaries, strong-state corporatism, and jurisprudential skepticism towards rights talk supposedly discourages groups in civil society from seeking societal change through litigation. However, in all three countries, diverse groups and organizations in civil society have increasingly adopted litigation strategies for a broad range of causes. In this paper, we seek to account for how and why this shift has occurred. Drawing on socio-legal mobilization theory, we compare Denmark, Norway and Sweden across three episodes from the 1970s to today. Litigation has gradually moved from the political margins to the mainstream. Our findings suggest that while European law, domestic institutional reforms, and a proliferating human rights discourse has opened new ways for resourceful groups and entrepreneurial individuals to challenge the status quo, for mainstream organizations parliamentary and corporatist channels remain often viable and preferred alternatives. The paper thus contributes to emerging literatures on how civil society groups in Scandinavia employ litigation strategies by offering a comparative, historical assessment, and contributes to knowledge about the factors that shape legal mobilization by civil society groups.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNordic Journal of Human Rights
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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