This research overview maps out existing research that describes the shadow society in Sweden in terms of its scope and composition. It also examines how the shadow society is problematized as a social phenomenon within the existing research. It therefore constitutes an important contribution to research and to decision-makers and practitioners who encounter people residing in the shadow society in their daily work.

Some overall conclusions and recommendations:

  • When it comes to facts about the shadow society, existing research reflects the limited knowledge that exists about its spread, for example in terms of how many undocumented people live in Sweden and how many of them came to Sweden for economic reasons, or how many work in the informal labor market and under what conditions.
  • A large amount of existing research about the shadow society in Sweden deals with the health of the undocumented and their right to, or actual access to, care. Other central research areas include their social situation and access to social rights.
  • Research also highlights the tensions that arise between authorities such as the social services and the Swedish Migration Agency, which can in turn give rise to internal contradictions within the authorities. Officials have different perceptions about their role vis-à-vis people who live in the shadow society as undocumented.
  • While we find research that focuses on the relationship of authorities/public employees to the undocumented, there is still a lack of a more systematic mapping and analysis of how Swedish municipalities and authorities relate to the shadow society, not least when it comes to the ethical dilemmas they may encounter.
  • More research is needed that examines the conditions for those who are undocumented in Sweden today. This may, however, lead to important ethical considerations for researchers tackling this field.

The author of this research overview is Zenia Hellgren, doctor of sociology (Stockholm University, 2012), lecturer in political and social theory and senior migration and diversity scholar at the Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain).