Department of Government
Research group

Law, Politics and Welfare

Law, Politics and Welfare is a research group at the Department of Government which is lead by Professor Marit Skivenes. Two research centres are associated to the group: Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism, and Centre on Law and Social Transform.

Ordsky med ord assosiert med forskningsgruppens temaer

Main content

In this research group we are concerned with key areas within political science. We focus on the relationship between the state and its citizens, especially the exercise of state power and the justifications thereof. We study how legal strategies are used as political tools (lawfare) to advance goals such as children's and migrants' rights, health, and sustainable development goals. We examine the normative fundament for the welfare state and the backlash on key democratic rights across the globe. We analyze discretion in the judiciary and amongst frontline professionals in welfare states, and the role and impact of paternalism. Some key research themes include how governmental institutions and its decision makers function in society; how law shapes societies and if and how rights and courts are tools for social change; and what affects the population's views on core institutions - national and supra-national - and their outputs. 

Our current projects collect data from all regions of the world, with an emphasis on Europe, the Americas and Africa.

Research profile

Many government decisions are of a paternalistic nature, as well as discretionary. Such state intervention is often justified with references to the common good, or that certain services or limitations on personal freedom are in the best interest of the individual. State decisions on the best interest of a child is an example of such discretionary and paternalistic intervention. In the area of child protection in particular, the government has the power to forcefully intervene into the private lives of its citizens, and to decide what is in their best interest. The families and cases are never the exact same - making discretionary reasoning necessary. Child protection is a particular focus of the research group. Understanding how professionals in different states decide what is in the best interest of a child is essential for understanding mechanisms of both discretion and paternalism. By examining how decisions regarding the child's best interest are made, DIPA aims to unlock the black hole of discretion in the welfare state. 

In democratic states, protection of rights, trust in institutions and a functioning legal system, are key components. This research group is concerned with questions regarding these components within countries and across countries. Key research themes are legitimacy and strategies of legitimacy, policy making and implementing, decision-making, discretion and paternalism, citizens' opinions and trust of the state, political participation, social and political mobilization, and consequences og globalization. Empirical research areas are child protection services, children's rights, rule of law and courts, the welfare state, welfare services and different welfare systems, human rights, and health and social policies. 

The research group has long experience with comparative studies, and we often combine various research methods and data. Data material often consist of decision makers, citizens, laws and rules, judicial decisions, public documents and public expressions. Research methods used are among other interviews, observations, text analysis, surveys and survey experiments. Project associated with the research group gather data from Europe, Africa and the Americas. 

Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism (DIPA) 

The research group is connected to the DIPA centre, a research centre focusing on the relationship between the state and its citizens. The ambition of the centre is to: provide new insights on the dynamics of government power structures and justification of interventions; improve our understanding of how the border between private and public responsibility of children is drawn; develop the theory of discretion by moving beyond the conceptual dichotomy of strong-weak discretion; find solutions to the discretion dilemma by identifying a resolution model that facilitates good judgements. Read more about the research centre on DIPA's website.

Centre on Law and Social Transformation (LawTransform)

The research group is connected to the LawTransform centre. LawTransform is a collaboration between Chr. Michelsen's Institute and the University of Bergen, and is a network of scholars, students and practitioners who share an interest in how law shapes societies, and the use of rights and courts as tools (lawfare) for social change. They explore how law and legal institutions function, and how lawfare is used to advance goals such as children's and migrants' rights, health, sustainable development, peace and gender equality. Read more about the research centre on LawTransform's website.

Ongoing projects 

  • Child Protection Systems Across the World lead by Marit Skivenes. CPS-WORLD aims to groundbreaking research by examining the empirical foundation of an emerging, global typology of child protection systems - systems imbued with the legal authority and responsibility to intervene into the private sphere of the family. The main objective of the project is to examine defining elements of child protection systems and their boundaries by analyzing public and judiciary perspectives across the world, enabling empirical advancements and theoretical innovations. This transdisciplinary endeavor will lay the foundation as a conceptual tool for comparative research on governments' responsibilities to and for children in vulnerable situations. The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway and the University of Bergen.
  • Children's Right to Participation lead by Marit Skivenes. Lack of participation from children is one of the main challenges in the Norwegian child protection services. The PARTICIPATION project will look at how children are involved and heard in child protection. What is the practice today, what can be done better, and what new tools can be used to ensure better participation from children in the future? The project will look at the practice of children's participation both in the municipalities, the county boards and in the courts. The project will also include international perspectives on children's participation, and look at how Norway implements children's right to participation compared to other countries. PARTICIPATION is funded by the Research Council of Norway and coordinated by the DIPA centre in collaboration with Bergen Municipality, the Central Unit for the County Boards, the Norwegian Courts and their administration, and the Change Factory.
  • Legitimacy Challenges for Children's Rights and the Child Protection System lead by Marit Skivenes. CHALLENGES aims to reveal conditions and mechanisms for sustaining legitimacy in societies in which there is a backlash on social and political right developments. The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway.
  • Cosmopolitan Turn and Democratic Sentiments: The Case of Child Protection ServicesThe CONSENT project will study the children's rights situation in Norway and Romania. The research project is coordinated by the Babeş-Bolyai University in Romania, with the University of Bergen (UiB) and Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) as Norwegian partners. Marit Skivenes is the team leader at UiB.
  • Cross-national Experiences of Foster Care: Does the Welfare State Matter? This project explores the differences between Norwegian and US welfare state ideologies, focusing specifically on child welfare. Marit Skivenes (UiB) and Jill Berrick (UC Berkerley) are the pricipal investigators, and the project is funded by Peder Sather Grant Program.
  • Multi-Sectoral Responses to Child Abuse and Neglect in Europe. The project is a COST Action network project with participants from several European countries. The aim of the project is to adress knowledge gaps related to children who experience abuse or neglect at the hands of those who should care for them, specifically in terms of how many of these children get help, which services they receive by which agency, and knowledge on which maltreatment turns fatal. From this research group, Marit Skivenes and Hege Helland participate in the project, which is funded by COST – European Cooperation in Science and Technology (EU Horizon 2020).

Finished projects

  • Discretion and the Child's Best Interest in Child Protection lead by Marit Skivenes. DISCRETION aims to unlock the black box of discretionary decision-making in child protection cases, by doing a comparative empirical study in a number of European countries of how discretionary decisions are made and justified in the best interests of the child. The aim is to imrove our understanding of how and why decisions based on discretion vary. The project is funded by the European Research Council.  
  • The Acceptability of Child Protection Interventions: A Cross-Country Analysis lead by Marit Skivenes. This project examines public values and interpretations of the child’s best interest principle, as well as legal justifications of best interest judgments, in Norway, England, Finland and Germany. The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway.
  • Adoption as a Child Protection Measure Norwegian project lead by Marit Skivenes. This project studies how the Norwegian legislation on adoption, as a measure in child welfare service, is implemented and practiced in the frontline service and in the courts. The project is funded by the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs. 
  • The Basis for Legitimate and Justified State Intervention in Families: USA and Norway lead by Marit Skivenes (UiB) and Jill Berrick (UC Berkeley). This project aims to study the basis for legitimate and justified state intervention, by examining citizens’ opinions and sentiments on the child´s best interests and thresholds for child protection intervention. The project is funded by the Peder Sather Grant Program.
  • Legitimacy and Fallibility in Child Welfare Services lead by Marit Skivenes. This project studies child welfare services in Norway, Finland, England and the United States. The aim is to identify decisive factors and mechanisms in different welfare state arrangements and child welfare systems that promote or hinder high quality decision-making in the best interest of children and families. The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway.
  • The Norwegian Child Welfare System in a Comparative Perspective lead by Marit Skivenes. This research project conducts a comparative analysis of child welfare systems in Norway, England and the USA, focusing on knowledge, decision making and ethnicity. The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway. 
  • Building and Reflecting on Interdisciplinary PhD Studies for Higher Education Tranformation lead by Tor Halvorsen. This project is part of the larger NORHED programme. The programme seeks to strengthen the institutional capacity and performance of academic institutions in the South to deliver quality education and research. The project is funded by Norad.
  • The Future of the Democratic Development State? For information about the project, contact Tor Halvorsen. 
  • Transforming Capitalism - Tranforming Knowledge. For information about the project, contact Tor Halvorsen.  

Members and publications

Research group member:Link to CRISTIN page:
Marit SkivenesMarit Skivenes' publications on CRISTIN
Siri GloppenSiri Gloppen's publications on CRISTIN
Hege Stein HellandHege Stein Helland's publications on CRISTIN
Jenny Krutzinna Jenny Krutzinna's publications on CRISTIN
Audun Gabriel LøvlieAudun Gabriel Løvlie's publications on CRISTIN
Barbara Victoria RuikenBarbara Victoria Ruiken's publications on CRISTIN
Mathea LoenMathea Loen's publications on CRISTIN
Frøydis JensenFrøydis Jensen's publications on CRISTIN
Tarja Pösö (affiliated)Tarja Pösö's publications on CRISTIN
Jill D. Berrick (affiliated)Jill D. Berrick's publications on CRISTIN
Elaine Sutherland (affiliated)Elaine Sutherland's publications on CRISTIN
Katrin Kriz (affiliated)Katrin Kriz' publications on CRISTIN
Asgeir Falch-Eriksen (affiliated)Asgeir Falch-Eriksen's publications on CRISTIN
Line Marie Sørsdal (affiliated)Line Marie Sørsdal's publications on CRISTIN
Irene Aase-Kvåle (affiliated)Irene Aase-Kvåle's publications on CRISTIN
Lucie Ducarre (affiliated)Lucie Ducarre's publications on CRISTIN
Kamilla Aasen-Hauge (student) 
Martine Forsberg (student) 
Marie Bruås Hjortdahl (student) 
Marianne Vika Hansen (student)