Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta


031-786 45 99
Sprängkullsgatan 19
41123 Göteborg
Box 711
40530 Göteborg

Om Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta


Associate Professor (since 2010) and senior lecturer at Political Science Department at University of Göteborg. My research focuses on gender, ethics, public policy and administration.

Current projects

* Gender and corruption

* Diminishing political gender differences? Extrapolitical and intrapolitical causes

* Child and youth wellbeing

* Street-level bureacracy and resiliance

* Ethics of care and politics

Making sense of gender and corruption

(Forte 2014-2018 med Lena Wängnerud) Corruption, commonly defined as the act of using public power for private ends, can be considered a major destructive force in society. As an overview by Treisman shows, a vast flora of recent research confirms how serious the problem of corruption is perceived to be (Treisman, 2007). Corruption reduces economic prosperity and undercuts various dimensions of human wellbeing, such as health, access to clean water and education, and subjective features such as human subjective wellbeing and happiness (Halleröd et al., 2012; North, 1990; Rothstein and Holmberg, 2012; Swaroop and Rajkumar, 2002; Uslaner, 2008).

The point we are making is that previous research demonstrates a clear link between the quality of the state and a number of outcome variables such as human well being, but what produces high quality in government institutions in the first place? After more than two decades of research on corruption and other aspects of government quality, it is clear that the top echelon of society is of fundamental importance, not only because of their direct influence on politics, administration and economy but also since their behavior indirectly signals how things are done. At the same time there is a need for fine-tuned understandings of the role of elites in the complex dynamics between formal rules and informal norms in different settings. In this project we develop new understandings of enabling and hindering factors in the development of high quality government institutions from an intersectionality perspective, where gender is central.

The main idea is to depart from scholarship on feminist institutionalism. This strand of research treats gender as a fluid category and sees gender as dependent on logics within specific institutions. Our take on this argument is that institutions are important mediating factors that affect possibilities for female politicians and bureaucrats to have an impact on the quality of government institutions.

Our study will be conducted in three different settings – Sweden, Spain, and Mexico – and cover three types of institutions or spheres of government; the electoral arena, the bureaucracy and street-level administration. Before we anchor our study in previous research on gender and corruption we want to point out that one could assume that problems of corruption, withering the trust in government, is a problem limited to developing countries, whereas Sweden, with its encompassing welfare state, have a stability reaching beyond these challenges. To this we can say first, that recent scandals in the Swedish context, for example in public–private partnership shows that corruption is not astray to Swedish contemporary society. In Gothenburg outsourced local health service have been found to swindle with their bookkeeping transactions and in Stockholm, local health service and kindergartens have been sold for dump-prices – acts that can be categorized within the grey-zones of corruption.

Publications * Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena, Lena Wängnerud and Richard Svensson ”Gender and corruption in different institutional settings: Distinguishing the electoral arena from the bureaucracy” 2014b, (Accepted for publication in Governance August 2014) ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2013: 8/46 (Public Administration); 22/156 (Political Science).

Why are gender differences in the Swedish parliament diminishing? Inter-political and extra-political causes

(Riksbankens jubileumsfond 2012-2015 med Lena Wängnerud).

Research on the representation of gender has been dominated by the problem of what determines the numerical share of women in representative bodies, as well as the question on whether or not these women make a political difference (Beckwith, 2007; Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook, 2008; Dahlerup, 2006; Grey, 2006; Kittilson, 2006; Mackay, 2004; Lovenduski and Norris 2003; Norris, 1996; Wängnerud, 2000; 2009). In short, empirical research has generally concluded that women in parliament express more concern for social and family issues, i.e., “care-and-career policies” than men and that women more often think of themselves as representative of women and being in close contact with women’s grassroots organizations (Lovenduski and Norris, 19933; Inglehart and Norris, 2003). Recent empirical developments, however, suggest that substantial changes in what women and men represent are currently happening, more precisely, we see that substantial differences between women and men are diminishing. This process has hardly been examined in research, but it opens the field to issues of whether gender equality gives rise to new orientations among both women and men, for example with increased attention to issues of care (Engster and Stensöta, 2011; Stensöta 2004; Williams, 2000; Young, 2000).

Diminishing substantial gender differences among politicians can be seen in a variety of areas. In Sweden, for, which has had a longer history of larger women representation, a clear trend toward diminishing gender differences between women and men can be seen in over a period of twenty years (1985–2006). There is almost complete gender equality in the proportion of women and men on Riksdag committees since about a decade. Further, there are diminishing gender differences of the representative mandate captured, for example, as the percentage of women and men MPs who say it is crucial to promote women’s interests and concerns. Last but not least we see diminishing gender differences between the top ten issues that women and men MPs say are their main political priorities in open-ended answers (Riksdag Surveys); the ranking correlations have increased from 0.42 in 1985 to 0.74 in 2006. This trend is seen across parties, although it is stronger among the left and green representatives (Wängnerud, 2010). Traces of the trend can be found internationally, which is mirrored by the increased critique on a definition of “women´s issues” and the expressed need to update research on this area (Tronto, 1996; Young, 2000).

The project “Why are gender differences in the Swedish parliament diminishing? Inter-political and extra-political causes” aims to explain these diminishing differences. The aim of the project is to determine whether the change is mainly attributable to factors within parliament, here called inter-political forces, or whether they are mainly attributable to factors outside parliament, here called extra-political forces. In the likely case that explanatory factors are interrelated the project will describe how processes interact to produce the empirical phenomena of diminishing substantial gender differences. At large, the project is situated in research on substantive representation, which focuses primarily on the content of representation rather than on the numerical issue, as research on descriptive representation does.

The Swedish case is an optimal case for examining the process of diminishing gender differences. Sweden is generally regarded as being at the front line of establishing gender equality both in terms of political efforts and outcomes, as its high rankings on indices such as the Gender Empowerment Index and Gender Development Index (GEM and GDI, respectively; Human Development Reports) clearly indicate. Thus, one could argue that by examining Sweden and gender equality, we might get a “glimpse ahead” of more general processes. Sweden is further well chosen for discussing especially decreasing differences between women and men priorities and preferences as Swedish gender policy generally is characterized as an “equality route” aiming at shared responsibilities of women and men both at work and at home (Florin, 1998; Lindvert, 2006). Sweden is further generally regarded as a country where the processes of party professionalization have proceeded far (Hagevi and Jahn, 1999). Last, in regard of more formal equality tools such as quotas, Sweden lies far ahead through the voluntary assignment of most parties to this strategy since the beginning of the 1990s (Freidenvall, 2006).

Two broad hypotheses are examined, interpolitical and extrapolitical causes behind diminishing gender differences. The hypothesis of inter-political causes is in turn derived from two strands of research; party-theory, which predicts a professionalization of parties, involving increasing similarities between parliamentarians accompanied by an expanding cleavage towards the general population (Katz and Mair, 2009). From feminist theory, we derive the idea that conscious equality measures such as quotas can be one important cause behind diminishing gender differences (Dahlerup, 2006; Freidenvall, 2006). In previous research interpolitical factors have been discussed on a general level in the previous work of Wängnerud (2010), but no more thorough studies on the problem has been performed. The hypothesis of extra-political causes is derived from more structural oriented feminist theory where changing living patterns in regard of care responsibility are seen as transforming forces in society (Hernes, 1987; Rosenbluth, Salmon and Thies, 2006; Stensöta, 2004). Because living patterns of men and women are becoming more similar in regard of combining work-and-family responsibilities in the private sphere, and because of an increasing share of men in welfare state entrepreneurship, a trend of diminishing differences can be predicted. This idea is widespread in feminist theory generally, however existing theories lack in theoretical precision on how these processes of change take place more precisely, as well as empirical assessment of these more precise theoretical ideas.

Publications * Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena 2014f. Cartel theory from a gender perpspective [Kartellteorin ur ett genusperspektiv]. Svensk Statsvetenskaplig tidskrift. 116. no 1).

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena. ”Managing rather than Steering? Explaining successful implementation of gender mainstreming in Sweden.”

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena and Anna Högmark. Does gender equality affect political preferences? A study on preferences of politicians in Swedish municipalities 1970-2012. (working-paper).

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena More women – more conflicts? A complete study of politicization of gender in Swedish parliament proceedings (reservations and co-worked propositions [motioner] 1971-2012). (working-paper).

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena Do care assignments change men´s political preferences? (working-paper).

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena Political styles among swedish representatives: gender, age and ethnicity. (working-paper).

Child and youth wellbeing - welfare state institutions and civil society

(Vetenskapsrådet 2011-2015).

The project explore differences in levels of objective and subjective wellbeing across Europe as well as the interplay between local welfare state and civil society for youth wellbeing in the Swedish context. It is part of Civil Society Framework Program financed by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet).

Publications * Engster Daniel and Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta. 2011. Do Family Policies Matter for Children Well Being? Medförfattare: Daniel Engster. Social Politics. 18:1 (Spring) pp. 82-124. (Impact Factor 2010 1.579 (5 year 2.138) 6/35 Social Issues).

* Nordlander Erica, and Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta. 2014. Grades - for better or worse? The interplay of school performance and subjective well-being among boys and girls. Child Indicators Research 6.

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena and Tove Wikelhult “Building social trust. Marginalized youth in high trust context Sweden. Under review formajor journal civil society studies, September 2014.

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena ”Youth wellbeing between local welfare state and civil society. Is the young generation lagging behind?” Presented at CES conference, Barcelona 2011, June.

* Building general trust among marginalized youth in high trust context Sweden: Local welfare state and civil society. Working paper.

Street-level Bureaucracy – resilience to managerial pressure?

The project explores current challenges to street-level bureaucracy. Based on longer interviews with public employees handling sick leave benefits we ask whether neoliberal global trends have poured down into welfare state administration, or whether national trajectories may provide defense. We compare the situation in Denmark from that in Sweden. The project started through funding from Social Security Administration in Sweden (Försäkringskassan).

Publications * Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena and Marie Østergaard Møller ”Caseworkers’ discretions of eligibility to social insurance in Denmark and Sweden – signs of Neoliberalism in Scandinavian welfare states? (R&R to major journal in public administration June 2014h).

*Stensöta, Olofsdotter, Helena. 2012. Political influence on street-level bureaucratic outcome: Testing the interaction between bureaucratic ideology and local community political orientation. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. 22:3, sidor 553-571. (Impact Factor 2010 2.086 (5-year 3.832) 2/39 Public Administration).

Ethics of care

Ethics of care has been my main theme in research during several years. I understand ethics of care theory as a way to capture citizenship and human ontology as necessarily involved in care-responsibilities, a notion with political consequences. 

I have developed a theoretical model for how patterns of care-responsibilities on structural level may affect policies, a notion that I examined empirically in my disseration and pursues in the pojrect "why are gender differences in the swedish parliament diminishing?"

I have also argued to include ethics of care in public ethics discourse and elaborated on why this is a good idea as well as how it may proceed. I argued that many areas in which public ethics is thought to improve implementation are actually care areas. However, my point is broader, and argues for the implementation of care ethics in a range of policy areas hither to not consider as care oriented, such as prison management, law enforcement or city planning. The introduction of a public ethics of care serves as to strengthen care considerations in society. 

The last topic in relation to ethics of care that I have engaged in, is the discussion about whether the empathetic state also is the green state, together with Annica Kronsell. 

Publications * Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena. 2010. The Conditions of Care. Reframing the Debate about Public Sector Ethics Public Administration Review. 70 (March-April), pp. 295-303, (Impact Factor 2008 1.503 (5 year 1.915) 3/39 Public Administration).

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena, ”A public ethics of care. A general public ethics for actual implementation.” (R&R to social politics journal. August 2014c).

* Stensöta Olofsdotter, Helena. 2004. The empathetic state. Childcare and Law Enforcement Policy 1950 – 2000. [Den empatiska staten. Daghemspolitik och polispolitik 1950-2000]. Doctoral dissertation. Gothenburg Studies in Political Science No 80. Livrena (250 sidor).

* Kronsell Annica och Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta “The Green State and Empathic Rationality in Backstrand Karin & Kronsell Annica “The green state” (forthcoming).