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Photo: Jonas Gustavsson, illustratör
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EPI - Everyday Practices of Integration

Research project
Active research
Project period
2020 - 2023
Project owner
School of Global Studies

Short description

Over the past decade, public discussions as well as research on diversity and integration have become increasingly polarized. At the same time, diversity is regulary experienced in everyday life. Migration is the new normal in Sweden, and this project aims to explore how sameness and differences are practiced within this new diversity. This project view integration not as a problem, but as a constant process which we are all engaged in.The project studies how identities are negotiated, through an examination of how different social and cultural categories are ascribed importance within interactions between people. The project takes the new approach of researching how diversity is lived and practiced through fieldwork at different workplaces in Gothenburg.

Background

In the year of 2020, the Swedish foreign-born population was just over 2 million people, that is one fifth of the population. The majority of these individuals have already established themselves on the Swedish job market, and are thereby integrated in the most general sense of the word. Migration is the new normality and diversity is now commonplace in most social arenas of the Swedish society. Even if diversity has become part of the everyday it continues to be a divisive matter in the political discourse, and integration is the recurrent focus for these disputes.

Integration has been a topic of discussion in political, social and academic debates for decades, with an increasing polarization of ideas since 2015. Despite integration being a frequent topic of discussion, we still have limited knowledge about how diversity is experienced and practiced in everyday situations. Integration has neither been ascribed a definitive academic definition, nor has it been imputed with an exact political intention despite being frequently employed. The contemporary public discourse on integration is conflict-laden and dominated by negative stories. There is also an academic focus on segregation, discrimination, and exclusion, rather than on more nuanced representations of everyday complexities. The inherent problem with integration has become a truism in academic and public discourses, where integration have come to connote imminent issues – that there are inevitable problems when people of presumed distinctive differences have to coexist, cooperate, and coalesce.

This project takes an alternative  approach and regards integration as an everyday and inevitable outcome of the post-migrant society. Or in other words, as migration is the new normal, the project acknowledges integration as constantly practiced. The project’s objective is to move beyond the migratory and ethnicity focus in integration research and establish a study of mundane and social practices of everyday intergration. Thus, rather than being an immediate issue, integration is perceived as a contionous process in which we are all engaged in. Without contributing to a simplified rhetoric on diversity as either altogether harmonious or entirely divisive, the project allows for more nuanced ideas on integration.

To research the everydayness of integration - the project takes the novel approach of exploring these practices at workplaces around Gothenburg. The workplace is one of the most mundane spaces there is, for most people it is linked to routine and regular practices. The workplace is therefore, beyond doubt, a pertinent field to investigate how sameness and differences are enacted within encounters between people.

By looking at how specific social and identity-constructing categories are made important, how these categories come to intersect, and how identities are negotiated the project will investigate how experiences of diversity are expressed. The project shifts focus from ethnicity toward an understanding of ethnicity as one possible social category amongst others, such as for example socio-economic differences, religion, and gender to realise the practices of boundary-work in everyday life. Furthermore, in understanding how, when and why specific social categories are made salient, the project aims to understand how these categories are utilised and realised as ways to construct social worlds. The project acknowledges ethnicity and nationality as important identity-constructing categories, but it moves beyond the primordial treatment of these categories and investigates what other categories are made important in and through everyday practices.

Research aims

This research project sets out to problematise dominating narratives and traditions of integration. The project approaches migration as a normal state of society and aspires to  move beyond the focus on migrants in integration research and focus on the extensiveness of diversity in the Swedish society. This diversity reaches far beyond ethnicity and concerns for example socio-economic conditions, religious expressions, increased variation of life-courses, and upsurge of cultural expressions and intakes. By closing in on how identities are negotiated in relation to social categorisations at workplaces, the project intends to generate new perspectives on contemporary diversity.

The projects strives to illustrate conditions of diversity that tend to be relatively invisible in traditional research that focuses on integration as a problem to be solved. Instead the project takes the alternative route to treat diversity as a self evident part of everyday life in Sweden.The main aim of the project is to analyse in what contexts ideas and practices related to social categories are made relevant and how they come to intersect with each other– in order to understand the new diversity.

Research questions

  • When, how, and what social categories are made relevant in semi-official situations, for example in workplace meetings, in information meetings, and in meetings with users/customers?
  • When, how and what social categories are made relevant in informal situations for example in work team meetings, in daily work, and during breaks?
  • How do different social categorisations interact and how are they understood and practiced in these situations?

Methods

This project requires in-depth fieldwork in order to research a politicised subject, and the researchers needs to be present in the everyday to be able to capture how diversity is commonly practiced. The project make use of  anthropological methods, including participant observation and interviews at various workplaces in Gothenburg city. Although the workplaces differ, they all represent spaces where diversity has become commonplace. The workplace is a space that is often marked by diversity,  thus it is an arena where identities and boundarymaking constantly is negotiated. Many workplaces are also suited for this research from a methodological point of view since they are an enclosed space that allows for participant observation for a longer period of time, as well providing situations where people involuntarily or volountarily encounter each other. Also, within the frames of the project, a qualitative content analysis on the integration discourse in Swedish media will be carried out. By applying these methodological approaches, this project will contribute with new perspectives and conceptual devices to describe contemporary Swedish integration.