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Doctoral thesis, 2016

In the gap between legality and legitimacy

Von Essen, Erica


It may be challenging to see how illegal hunting, a crime that ostensibly proceeds as shoot, shovel and shut up in remote rural communities, at all communicates with the regime. Examining the socio-legal interplay between hunters and state regulation, however, clarifies illegal hunting to be part of a politically motivated pattern of dissent that signals hunters’ disenfranchisement from the polity. While few contemporary illegal hunters cut conscientious figures like Robin Hood, their violation of illegitimate law may likewise testify to a profound disjuncture between legality and legitimacy. This is the premise taken in the following research. Here it is observed contemporary Swedish hunters experience the deliberative system pertaining to wildlife and wolf conservation to be systematically stacked against them and unable to serve as a site for critical law-making that provides equal uptake of all voices. One manifestation of their growing disenfranchisement is the establishment of a counterpublic mobilised on the basis of shared semantics for the sorts of deliberative deficits they argue befall them in the present. Within the remit of their counterpublic, hunters undertake and justify illegal hunting along with other forms of disengaging dissent like abstentions, non-compliance, boycotts and conscientious refusals with state agencies. The research captures hunters’ dissent in Smith’s deliberative disobedience, a deliberative and Habermasian grounded reinterpretation of the more familiar classical theory of civil disobedience. On this perspective, illegal hunting signals a deficit in the deliberative system, which hunters both bypass by taking an alternative conduit for contestation, and draw attention to when they undertake dissent. The dissent in this case study is deconstructed in terms of its grammar—as simultaneously engaging and disengaging with the premises of power—and in terms of its communicative content. Set within the field of Environmental Communication, the dissertation is intended as an empirical and theoretical contribution to a discussion on the boundaries of political dialogue in the context of civic disenfranchisement: it asks whether some of hunters’ dissent may be parsed as a call for a more inclusive debate, or as dialogic acts in themselves. Finally, it presents ways toward short-term and longer-term reconciliation of hunters with the deliberative system, drawing on the work of contestatory citizen mini-publics from the third wave of deliberative democracy.


deliberative disobedience; dissent; poaching; illegal hunting; communication; critical theory; green criminology

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2016, number: 2016:81
ISBN: 978-91-576-8664-0, eISBN: 978-91-576-8665-7
Publisher: Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

UKÄ Subject classification

Law and Society
Public Administration Studies
Communication Studies

URI (permanent link to this page)