The principal aim of this doctoral thesis is to describe the evolution of juvenile delinquency as a social problem during the post-war period. Through its four empirical studies the thesis advocates an understanding based on a contextual constructionism, which represents a compromise position between the objectivist and constructivist perspectives that dominate the field of social problems.

The first study (Chapter 2) comprises an analysis of the development of juvenile delinquency in Sweden after 1975. The study is based on official crime statistics, victim surveys, insurance statistics and surveys of the alcohol and drug habits of young persons. The analyses do not allow for an exact determination of the actual trends in juvenile crime, but the indicators suggest that at worst the number of juveniles offenders has remained more or less stable since the mid 1970s, whilst at best the number has diminished.

Chapter 3 describes the trends in juvenile crime in ten European countries during the post-war period. The data comprise reports, articles, statistics and personal information from researchers in the countries analysed. The study concludes that in all the countries examined, juvenile crime increases sharply during the first decades of the post-war period (1950-75). After this point, however, these trends level off in most countries.

By means of a content analysis of editorials, Chapter 4 deals with the attention focused on juvenile delinquency in the Swedish daily press during the post-war period (1950-1994). The study shows both qualitative and quantitative changes in the way the press portray juvenile crime. Most importantly, 1986 saw the problem of juvenile violence suddenly becoming the dominant issue.

Chapter 5 deals with the development of, and the societal response to, violence in schools (1980-1997). A content analysis of a journal for school employees indicates that responses to problems of violence in school underwent a transformation at the end of the 1980s. A study of police reports shows that reported cases of violence in schools have increased considerably. The explanation for this rise is to be found in a change in the size of the dark figure. Besides the response-sensitive official crime statistics, there is very little to indicate any substantial change in the number of juveniles being subjected to, or subjecting others to violence.

Chapter 6 discusses the main finding produced by the thesis – namely that there has been a change in the way society reacts to juveniles who commit criminal offences that cannot be explained by the crime trends. Three alternative explanations are discussed: the media and moral panics, the ”racialisation” of the crime problem and the structural crisis of legitimacy faced by the welfare state.

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