Hide menu

Lotta Björklund Larsen

Why do we pay tax – and why not?

Taxes are exciting! From a social anthropological perspective do economic exchanges create relations. Taxation is one such exchange  that is of particular interest as it involves many social aspects. How is taxation made possible in a democracy? I address this by questioning what happens and the tools used at the nexus of individuals’ values, governmental regulations and institutional impact.

Keywords: economic anthropology, taxation, ethnography, valuation studies, algorithms

Ongoing research

Co-producing Tax Compliance. Tax Agencies Mobilization of Citizens, Businesses and Third parties, is part of FairTax (funded by European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, no. 649439) running 2015-2018. This project aims to describe, analyze and evaluate what happens with societal tax compliance in the Nordic countries when tax collection administrations engage taxpayers before tax statements are delivered and control systems take over. The research takes on a fiscal anthropological approach as taxation is part and parcel of social relationships. I coordinate this project and am part of the Executive Board of FairTax.

Algorithms is another exciting societal phenomena. An increasing amount of decisions are taken by computerized algorithms. They sort, hierarchizes, balances and value information, activities and people - something previously performed directly by human decision makers. What are the social and cultural consequences of algorithms. With Francis Lee I coordinate the network Algorithms as Devices of Power and Valuation. In three workshops during 2015-2017 we explore with a multi-disciplinary group of internationally renowned scholars. We will hold a summer school for PhD students interested in the subject, 4-8 July 2016. Both projects are generously funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

The project “Swedish Tax Dynamics. Values and Practices at The Swedish Tax Agency and The Economization of Society” is about to finish. Two studies have been performed that in each their way addresses values and practices at the Tax Agency. The first study focuses on taxation of service exchanges and how the border is constructed between the private and the public domains. The result is published as "'Common sense' at the Swedish Tax Agency. Transactional dimensions separating taxable and tax-free income". In the article are values identified that define the taxable trade from the helping hand. In the second study I followed a risk assessment project from farm to fork, carried out by the Swedish Tax Agency. Through participant observation, ethnographic interviews and document studies, the focus is on the Tax Agency’s internal research practices, the values that govern its (re-)making of policy and how it is implemented in their daily audit work. A book ”Shaping Taxpayers: Values in action at the Swedish tax agency” will be published by Berghahn Books. The project is funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (2011-2014).

I am glad to take part in two very interesting PhD projects. I am Supervisor for Nimmo Osman Elmi and Assistant Supervisor for Johan Nilsson, both at Tema T.


I hold a PhD degree in Social Anthropology from Stockholm University in 2010. My thesis, "Illegal yet Licit", addressed how a group of people create meaning with their purchases of undeclared work and thereby define their relationship with the Swedish society. Which social practices and values make informal purchases justifiable and in what way does deficiencies in the formal economy play a role? In what way are these informal purchases part of everyday life in today's Sweden? The thesis raised questions about the taxation of services, at the intersection between the private and the public. I continue to explore this border, now by looking at the factors that make certain transactions subject to taxation and others not.

I teach issues in Economic Anthropology and Ethnographic and Qualitative Methods. I have been a visiting scholar at IMTFI, UC Irvine (October - December 2012), at CUNY, New York City (November 2010) and I have also spent time at CARR, London School of Economics (2009).

I hold a MA in Social Anthropology from Stockholm University (2002) and a BA in Economics from Umeå University (1986). Prior to the academic work, I worked in the financial software industry.

Publications  (Selected)


2010 Illegal yet Licit. Justifying Informal Purchases of Work in Contemporary Sweden. Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology N.S. 2. Stockholms Universitet.

Articles (peer-reviewed)

2015 "Common sense" at the Swedish Tax Agency. Transactional dimensions separating taxable and tax-free income". Critical Perspectives on Accounting. Available on the web 27 April.

2013 "Moulding knowledge into a legal complex: Para-ethnography at the Swedish Tax Agency". Journal of Business Anthropology. Vol. 2(2), pp. 209-231.

2013 ”The making of a ‘good deal’. Conflicting and complementary values when getting the car repaired informally in Sweden”. Journal of Cultural Economy. Vol. 6(4), pp. 419-433.

2013 “Buy or Barter. Illegal yet licit purchases of work in contemporary Sweden.” Focaal. Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology. Vol. 66, pp. 75-87.

2012 “Cleaning (in) the Swedish Black Market”. Anthropology in Action Vol. 19(1) pp. 8-21.

2006 ”Svart arbete, vitt arbete eller hur lite skit i hörnen blev ett rent helvete”. Tidskriftet antropologi Vol. 52 ”Arbejde”, ,pp. 39-58.


2014 När svarta köp blir grå. In Jenny Björkman, Björn Fjaestad & Susanna Alexius (eds.) Alla dessa marknader. RJ:s årsbok 2014/2015. Göteborg: Makadam förlag

2011 ”Svarta tjänster - att ge, få och ge igen” in Jacobsson, Kerstin red. Känslan för det allmänna. Medborgarnas relation till staten och varandra. Umeå, Borea.
2005 ”Om städning. Hur svart blir vitt” in Sjöstrand, Glenn red. Fiffelsverige : sociologiska perspektiv på skandaler och fusk. Stockholm: Liber.
2003 ”Robin Hood och rättvisan: om småfiffel i det moderna samhället” in Garsten, Christina och Kerstin Sundman red. Moderna människor. Antropologiska perspektiv på samtiden. Malmö: Liber.


2014 The Fiscal State and Social Citizenship: Theorizing tax avoidance from socio-cultural perspectives II (with Åsa Gunnarsson) Skattenytt Vol 64(7-8), pp.587-589.

2014 Skatteverkets analyshandbok. Solna: Skatteverket.

2011 ”Svart arbete and Informal Economy: Fiscal Anthropologist Lotta Björklund Larsen” (intervjuad av Rita Khanduri). Anthropology News, Vol. 52 (7) pp. 36-39.

2010 ”Svarta köp och vita samveten”. Gaudeamus 4/2010 årgång 86.

2009 "Black Work: Justifying Illegal Purchases of Services in Contemporary Sweden". economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter Vol. 10:3.


Telephone: 013-28 66 56
Fax: 013-28 44 61

E-mail: lotta.bjorklund.larsen@liu.se

Department of Thematic Studies -
Technology and Social Change
Linköping university
SE-581 83 Linköping

Project activities


Technology and Social Change is an interdisciplinary research unit focusing on how social actors create and use technology, and how technical change is woven together with cultural patterns, daily life, politics, energy systems, learning, and the economy in history and society.

About Tema

The objective for Tema - The Department of Thematic Studies is to pursue excellent research and education at undergraduate and advanced levels relevant to society.

Child Studies
Gender Studies
Technology and social change
Environmental Change

Page manager: eva.danielsson@liu.se
Last updated: Fri Feb 19 18:19:19 CET 2016