Confronting challenges to political legitimacy of the natural resource management regulatory regime in Sweden: The case of illegal hunting

Last changed: 16 September 2020
A wolf facing the camera. Photo.

This four-year interdisciplinary research project explored the sociopolitical drivers to illegal hunting in Sweden through a multi-method approach comprising an in-depth interview study with Swedish hunters, a quantitative survey, critical discourse analysis and literature studies.

Symptom of legitimacy problems

Illegal hunting is a complex crime that may also be understood as a societal phenomenon of sorts: in this research, it is studied as a potential manifestation of distrust in the regulatory regime, disenfranchisement with nature directives and radicalization of some factions of the hunting community into a counterpublic. In short, it is approached as a symptom of, and challenge to, a crisis of legitimacy for authorities. The illegal killing of large carnivores like the wolf has been especially studied for its motivations, implications and the attitudes and experiences that provide the social climate around it.

The research project had the following principal objectives:

1. Deconstruct the notion of illegal hunting

2. Identify the constituting factors of illegal hunting in Sweden

3. Map the attitudes and perceptions toward illegal hunting and the relative distribution within the hunting community

Illegal hunting needs to be understood in a socio-political context also of other manifestations of dissent on the part of rural communities, including non-compliance, non-cooperation, boycotts, protests,  spreading of rumors and the advancement of political populism from these seeds of resentment. The project saw illegal hunting as the most troublesome manifestation of dissent for the following reason: it signifies the disengagement and radicalization of hunters beyond communicative forms of dissent that seek to engage decision-makers in a political dialogue about change. Instead, it becomes about taking the law into one’s own hands – a strategy of shoot, shovel and shut up.

The landscape of illegal hunting of the Nordic countries, with minor studies in other parts of Europe and the world, has been extensively outlined by publications, popular articles and presentations in the project. Two extensions have been born out of this project in particular: the need to cultivate alternative and socially legitimate spaces for the popular engagement of citizens, and the need to map the Nordic hunting ethic (hyperlink).




Hans Peter Hansen, Researcher at Department of Bioscence - Wildlife Ecology at Aarhus University, previously researcher at the Division of Environmental Communication, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Hansen works with the challenges of modernity and the responses of society; within this, he has looked at sustainable and democratic approaches to natural resource management.

Erica von Essen, Associate Professor, Researcher at the Division of Environmental Communication, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. von Essen’s research areas include illegal hunting, wildlife ethics and political theory.

Helena Nordström Källström, Researcher at the Division of Environmental Communication, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. She has been working with livestock farmers, their ethics, and social sustainability of rural livelihoods and lifestyles.

M Nils Peterson, Associate Professor, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, College of Natural Resources, North Carolina State University. His areas of expertise include intersections between human and natural systems and, in particular, issues pertaining to wildlife management and hunting.

Tarla R. Peterson, Professor of communication, Department of Communication, University of Texas at El Paso and former Guest Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Professor Peterson specializes in qualitative social research, environmental communication and natural resource management. 

Peer-reviewed publications

von Essen, E. Allen, A. 2016. "The Implications of Victimhood Identity: The Case of ‘Persecution’ of Swedish Hunters." International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy [under review]

von Essen, E. Allen, A. 2016. "Interspecies Violence and Crimes of Dissent: In what Sense are Wildlife the Victims of Message-Crimes?" Green Criminology Special Issue for Critical Criminology [forthcoming]

von Essen, E. Allen, M. Hansen, H.P. 2017. "Hunters, Crown, Nobles, and Conservation Elites: Class Antagonism over the Ownership of Common Fauna". International Journal of Cultural Property [forthcoming]

von Essen, E. Hansen, H.P. 2017. "Hunting in Modernity: The Impact of Sport Hunting on Food Procurement Ethics." In Kaplan, D (ed). Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics 2nd edition. [forthcoming]

von Essen, E., Hansen, H.P. 2017. ”Policing Peers between law and morality: A socio-legal perspective on managing misconduct in hunting. International Journal of Rural Criminology [forthcoming]

von Essen, E., and Allen, M.P. 2017. “From Obstructionism to Communication: Local, National and Transnational Dimensions of Contestations on the Swedish Wolf Cull Controversy” Environmental Communication. DOI: 10.1080/17524032.2016.1269821, pp. 1-13

von Essen, E. Allen, A. 2017."A Reluctant Right-Wing Social Movement: On the ‘Good Sense’ of Swedish Hunters?" Journal of Rural Studies. 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.01.007

von Essen, E. Nurse, A. 2016. Illegal Hunting Special Issue: Editors' Introduction. Crime, Law and Social Change, DOI: 10.1007/s10611-016-9676-9, pp. 1-6

Peterson, von Essen, E., N. Hansen, H.P., Peterson, T.R. 2016. ”Illegal fishing and hunting as resistance to neo-liberal colonialism”. Crime, Law and Social Change. Special Issue: Illegal Hunting doi:10.1007/s10611-016-9664-0

von Essen, E. 2016. In the Gap between Legality and Legitimacy: Illegal Hunting in Sweden as a Crime of Dissent. Doctoral thesis. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

von Essen, E. Allen, M. 2016. ”Wild-But-Not-Too-Wild Animals: Challenging Goldilocks Standards in Rewilding”. Between the Species, 19(1) 80-108

Eszter Kovács, Veronika Fabók, Ágnes Kalóczkai, Hans Peter Hansen. Towards understanding and resolving the conflict related to the Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) conservation with participatory management planning, Land Use Policy, Volume 54, July 2016, Pages 158-168, ISSN 0264-8377,

von Essen, E., and Allen, M.P. 2016. “A Rabble in the Zoopolis? Considering Responsibilities for Wildlife Hybrids”. Journal of Social Philosophy 42 (2): 171-187

Hansen, H.P. von Essen, E. Sriskandarajah, N. 2016. Citizens, Values and Experts: Stakeholders and The Inveigling Factor of Participatory Democracy. In Hansen, H.P. Nielsen, B.S. Sriskandarajah, N. Gunnarsson, E (eds.). Action Research for Democracy. Routledge: pp. 125-150

Theodorakea, I. von Essen, E. 2016. “Who Let the Wolves Out? Narratives, rumors and social representations of the wolf in Greece.” Journal of Environmental Sociology 2 (1): pp. 29-40

von Essen, E. 2016. Environmental Disobedience and the Dialogic Dimensions of Dissent.Democratization. DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2016.1185416

von Essen, E., Hansen, H.P., Nordström Källström, H., Peterson, M.N., and Peterson, T.R. 2016. Illegal Hunting: Between Social and Criminal Justice. In Donnermeyer, J. (ed). International Handbook of Rural Criminology. Routledge.  (p. 319-329)

von Essen, E. 2015. “Whose discourse is it anyway? Understanding resistance through the rise of ‘barstool biology’ in nature conservation”. Journal of Environmental Communication. DOI:10.1080/17524032.2015.1042986

von Essen, E. Hansen, H.P. 2015. ”How stakeholder co-management reproduces conservation conflicts: revealing rationality problems in Swedish wolf conservation”. Conservation & Society. 13(4) p. 332-344

von Essen, E., and Allen, M.P. 2015. "Reconsidering Illegal Hunting as a Crime of Dissent: Implication for Justice and Deliberative Uptake. " Criminal Law & Philosophy:1-16. doi: 10.1007/s11572-014-9364-8.

von Essen, E., Hansen, H.P., Nordström Källström, H., Peterson, M.N., and Peterson, T.R. 2014. "The radicalisation of rural resistance: How hunting counterpublics in the Nordic countries contribute to illegal hunting." Journal of Rural Studies. no. 39, p. 199-209

von Essen, E., Hansen, H.P., Nordström Källström, H., Peterson, M.N., and Peterson, T.R. 2014. "Deconstructing the Poaching Phenomenon: A Review of Typologies for Understanding Illegal Hunting." British Journal of Criminology no. 54 (4):632-651.


Media & popular publications

Vad Orsakar Illegal Jakt? (2013) Svensk Jakt

Danish television program “Ulvetimmen”: Hans Peter Hansen as panel member and Erica von Essen as expert interview (January 2016).


von Essen, E. (2017). Vi måste förstå drivkrafterna. Svensk Jakt. Nr. 2. 2017, p. 21

von Essen, E (2017). Därför tar vissa jägare lagen i egna händer. Svensk Jakt. Nr. 1, 2017.

von Essen, E (2016). Tjuvjakt som hatbrott är en bortförklaring. Uppsala Nya Tidning Debatt. Published: 16-10-08. Uppsala.

Events and conferences

Some events and conferences at which the project has been presented include:

History of Game seminar: Stockholm held by Roger Bergström & Sveriges Vildnad. Sept 22, 2013

Illegal Hunting Research Workshop, Copenhagen, 16-17 June 2014

Rural Crime and Community Safety Special Issue seminar. Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. Sept 18-19, 2014

SKANDULV Annual Meeting (23-25 November 2015)

Conference on Environmental Communication, Boulder Colorado 2015

British Society of Criminology Conference, Criminology: Voyages of Critical Discovery. Plymouth, UK. June 30 - July 3, 2015

Doing Green Criminology. University of Oslo. Oslo. Oct 15-16, 2015

SLU Grand Prix for young researchers, SLU, Uppsala. 2015.

Symposium Animals wild and tame – peering beyond categories. “A Rabble in the Zoopolis? Considering Responsibilities for Wildlife Hybrids”. Turku University, Finland. May 30-31 2016

Swedish Hunting Association’s bi-annual Board Members Conference, February 10, 2017.

Presented research at the National Hunters Association’s annual Organization Conference, February 19, 2017.

The Future Of The Nature Directives: Where Are We Going? Conference - 7 March 2017, European Parliament, Brussels, at the invitation of FACE (The European Federation of Associations for Hunting & Conservation)


The research was funded by the Swedish Research Council FORMAS in 2012, to run 2013-2016. It concluded with a symposium at Bergendal in Sollentuna on November 30-December 1 2016 with practitioners and researchers.