PhD project: In the Borderland - Palestinian parents navigating Danish welfare state interventions

Projekter: ProjektForskning

  • Danish Institute Against Torture
Se relationer på Aarhus Universitet


This PhD thesis offers an account on processes of marginalization at the interface between the Danish welfare state and migrant families of Palestinian descent living in the largest so-called migrant ghetto in Denmark, Gellerupparken. Empirically, the thesis asks how marginalized Palestinian refugee parents with troubled children perceive and cope with welfare state interventions in order to keep their family together. The thesis focuses on Palestinian refugee parents who are marginalized in the Danish state and society as well as in the Palestinian community and "ghetto" population in Gellerupparken, and who may in this sense may be defined as ‘extra-marginalized’. A basic point of departure for the thesis is that the study of marginalized citizens in Denmark can shed light on general contemporary state-society relationships. A key analytical optic in interpreting marginalization rests on Veena Das and Deborah Poole’s (2004) notion of state-margins as presenting the wild and uncivilized counterpart and necessary opposition to the state. According to Das and Poole the state and the margin is continuously redefined in opposition to each other through the invocation of images of the proper citizen and society (Das and Poole 2004: 8). The thesis explores the constitutive mechanisms characterizing the nature of the relationship between the Danish welfare state and the marginalized Palestinian parents in Gellerupparken, and revolves around issues on parenting, intimate everyday lives, and proximate state control.
The thesis is based on 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork among Palestinian families whose children are approached as troubles and a threat by the Danish authorities. The research was conducted in Gellerupparken in 2009 and 2010. The neighborhood is characterized by a heightened commerce and interaction between different ethnic groups, but it is also known as a public outrage on the basis of increasing crime-rates, violence, social problems, and socio-economically disadvantaged families living off the Danish labor market and in isolation from the larger civil society. Since 2005, the housing project has officially been a ‘ghetto’, fulfilling certain criteria and calling for thorough state intervention and marked by the presence of a vast number of welfare institutions, and policing and surveillance.
The thesis proposes three central arguments: First, I argue that the relationship between the state and the margin is fundamentally unstable. This is so because both the state and the margin appear as internally diverse and unstable with no clear social, cultural, or internal practice-based cohesion, and because the boundaries that demarcate their divide may be just as porous as they may be impermeable. The highly unstable relationship between state and margin is mirrored in the Palestinian parents’ ambiguous practices of searching for the state when it is not there to meet their needs, and simultaneously trying to escape the state when it is perceived to be ‘intruding’ into the family in ways that are not welcome.
Secondly, I argue that marginalization is enacted between state, family, and community, and we need to include the complexity of concerns at stake in this triangular interrelationship in order to understand how marginality is locally produced. Empirically, the thesis shows that the parents perceive their parental position as caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place – between the practices and expectations of the state, the community, and their own children. This position is imbued with insecurity, despair, and a continuous quest for possible ways to keep the family together.
Thirdly, I argue that ways of coping with the interrelationships between state, community, and family is constitutive of the parents' subjectivity. The thesis shows that borderland formations between these different agencies form the basis for the parents’ imperative to keep the family together. This struggle implies keeping the closest family from being split up and preventing the physical distance, absence, or loss of a family member from the home in the face of ‘threats’ of imprisonment, removal of children, punitive expulsion of their sons from school, or eviction of the families from their homes. It also implies avoiding break-ups between family members, including between parents and children. Furthermore, to the parents keeping the family together entails keeping relatives from breaking down. In this context, the families are under pressure from impulses that they perceive to be threatening the family’s self-preservation, such as severe illness, depression and despair.
The PhD project is funded by the Egmont Foundation.
Effektiv start/slut dato01/02/200904/10/2013

ID: 129033249