Literary criticism of bureaucratic texts

15.04.2024 14:15 - 15:30English

What can social scientists learn from literary criticism methods for analysing public-facing texts?

Photo: Colourbox

Researchers in the social sciences, including legal studies, political science, social work, and sociology, use specific, discipline-based approaches to analyse written texts. This includes frequency counts of words and text segments and determining thematic patterns in the data.

This seminar aims to go beyond the boundaries of these social science approaches by introducing the methods of literary criticism and reflecting on their methodological potential.

“Public-facing texts” are written by street-level bureaucrats (such as child protection caseworkers, judges, teachers and police officers) as part of public policy implementation. Examples of these texts in child protection are court judgments or university course curricula for future child protection caseworkers.

How can literary criticism methods be used to systematically examine and interpret these texts?

Katrin Križ (Emmanuel College) and Daniela Reimer (Zurich University of Applied Sciences) will use their research on child protection-related court judgments by the European Court of Human Rights as an example. Tarja Pösö (Tampere University) will be a discussant and Frøydis Lønborg Haarberg (UiB) will moderate.

You are invited to read this information about literary criticism if you want to learn more about it before the seminar (total reading time: 10 minutes):

The seminar is part of the RDV series, a collaboration between the Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism and the Centre on Law and Social Transformation. The RDV-webinar series is an interdisciplinary webinar where national and international researchers are invited to talk about their pioneering research on topics regarding law, democracy, and welfare.

Example text:

  1. In his expert report of 31 January 2014 to the Board, B.S. had given the following assessment of the situation: “According to information received, the father is currently in Iraq. If he returns to [Norway], he must expect to be arrested to serve the prison term he was sentenced to for the abduction. [I do] not know if he would then be expelled from the country. The present situation resembles the situation that the High Court deemed to be associated with less risk for the children [(see paragraph 49 above)]. [I do] not necessarily agree with the High Court’s assessment. This is a complex issue, and to the extent that the question of risk can be clarified with a sufficient degree of certainty, that would require extensive investigation which would also involve the parents’ relatives and other networks in countries other than Norway. That is far beyond the remit of the expert examination. Nevertheless, it is possible to make some general reflections based partly on knowledge about what is common in the parents’ culture, and partly on information provided by the parents themselves. The children belong to the father’s family. Not just to the father, but to his family. The mother has main responsibility for bringing up the children as long as they are regarded as children. It is therefore unproblematic for the father to accept that the children be returned to the mother to grow up with her. Once they are grown up, however, they will still belong to their father’s family. They will be considered ‘adult’ long before the Norwegian age of majority; age of sexual maturity is a more relevant criterion than chronological age. For a family that is concerned with the honour code, the actions of an adult daughter have a bearing on the whole family’s honour. If she leads a life in conflict with the family’s norms, particularly as regards her sexual life, this affects the whole family, which will lose all prestige in the eyes of the surrounding world. In extreme cases, the family may feel forced to track down the woman and kill her to restore the family’s honour and prestige. This does not necessarily diminish with time and distance. Nor does this only apply in conservative religious families; it is more a question of culture than of religion. There are several examples of relatives tracking down women living in Western countries and committing so-called honour killings despite the family having lived in the West for many years and appearing to be modern and well-integrated. If such mechanisms are at play in the father’s family, the father’s whereabouts are less important in relation to the risk. Nor will the risk diminish with time. The opposite may even be true. A and B are young children, and children are not in a position to disgrace their family. As they become older, keeping them under control may become much more important for the family than it is today. Preferably, they should be ‘saved’ before they have the opportunity to do anything wrong. The family could achieve this by organising another abduction and taking them to Iraq. If the children were nevertheless to bring dishonour on the family, or if the family assumed that to be the case because they lived outside the family’s control, there is a possibility that A and B would risk being hunted for years and maybe even killed if their family found them. On the basis of the above, [I am] of the opinion that the risk associated with disclosing A and B’s whereabouts has not decreased, even though the father is abroad. This means that returning them to their mother would still entail a serious threat to their care situation, even if the mother, seen in isolation, may be able to provide proper care. Based on what is known about the mother from before, [I am] highly uncertain whether the mother would keep her and her children’s identities secret from the father’s family in the event that she was given a new identity and a secret address. In order for such an arrangement to be safe, the mother would probably have to break off all contact with her own family as well. It is neither realistic nor ethically justifiable to make this a condition.” (CASE OF MOHAMED HASAN v. NORWAY, S. 11 – 12)

Event info.

Bergen Global
Jekteviksbakken 31, Bergen

14:15 - 15:30
Add to calendar 15.04.2024, 15.04.2024

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