Moulding Knowledge into a Legal Complex: Para-ethnography at the Swedish Tax Agency

  • Lotta Björklund Larsen


The foundation of a functioning welfare state is a tax system that is widely accepted and considered to be fair and legitimate. How and by what means a tax collecting agency interprets the laws are thus seen to have an impact on taxpayers’ willingness to pay. This article addresses the various practices, knowledge and forms of data that the Swedish Tax Agency applies in a risk assessment project, against a background of the Agency’s on-going endeavour for legitimacy. This article shows how its methods not only entail taking account of massive amounts of Tax Agency regulations, research, and statistical results to follow, but also reveals how stories, hunches and examples from media and everyday life coalesce to affect those methods. So, too, with the ethnographer’s role: how is she to deal with knowledge production within a governmental organization whose employees read, and also learn from, what she writes.