Illegal yet Licit : Justifying Informal Purchases of Work in Contemporary Sweden
Abstract: Svart arbete, informal purchases of work, is a widely debated societal phenomenon in Sweden. It is often seen as detrimental to contemporary welfare society, eroding taxpaying morals, fair competition and solidarity with fellow citizens. Acknowledged as wrong, it is in many instances also an acceptable and commonplace exchange practice. This study addresses this incongruity and aims to show how these inconspicuous exchanges of work are distinguished in terms of legality and licitness.Methodologically, the study is based on ethnographic interviews with a group of people in all walks of life, who have their roots in a small town in southern Sweden. In the midst of life and work, they address situations where living in accordance with moral standards becomes difficult. The study aims to illuminate multifaceted reasonings about the illegal but licit purchases made and how people make sense and meaning of them in retrospect and in the larger context of societal economy. The ways in which these purchases of svart arbete are justified illustrate inherent tensions in contemporary welfare society.Purchases of svart arbete are often justified as rational economic decisions in terms of being cheap and simple. The study shows that purchasing work informally is not only a rational economic decision, but can also be the result of resolving necessities in daily life due to societal bottlenecks and/or probing tax legislation. As an economic phenomenon, these purchases are therefore not seen as set apart from the formal structures of the Swedish economy, but as co-existing with them. Justifying the illegal but licit svart arbete, purchasers are seen to emphasise a reciprocal relationship with the provider of the work and also with the state. In this way, a sense of balance and justice is achieved.
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