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Inventing an Immigrant: An Emotional Geography of Guest Worker Images in Denmark, 1960-1989

Project: Research

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Immigration is one of the most polarising societal issues in Europe. Therefore, public perceptions of immigration shape and legitimise a wide range of political standpoints. In Denmark, as in many other countries, the image of the troublesome non-western immigrant plays a decisive role in this context. However, looking back half a century, it was not a given that this image would gain currency at the expense of alternative representations. Conceptualising images as imaginings, the dissertation analyses perceptions of the first non-western immigrants who arrived in Denmark as guest workers. The historical analysis explains how Danish society developed the negative emotions about migrants that persist to this day.
With inspiration from cultural studies and emotional geography, the dissertation focuses on the emotional life attributed to the figure of the guest worker from the 1960s through the 1980s. It asks how media, including mainstream media, media created by immigrants, and the urban environment as a medium in itself, influenced the changing contours of this figure in the Danish welfare society. The research design highlights the interaction between the emotional repertoires associated with or identified by visible minority workers and the urban places (material and fictional geographies) in which the guest workers were installed. The figure of the guest worker is understood as a contested and often racialised public imaginary shaped in collaboration by the self-perceived majority population and visible minority groups. The dissertation engages with a wide range of empirical data, including an extensive corpus of TV programs as well as drawings, short stories, literary dialogues, poems, newspapers articles, radio programs, political reports, and social surveys.
The dissertation conceptualises the welfare society, not merely as a political institution but also as a cultural mindset. Each chapter focuses on a specific geographical setting. In this way, the dissertation explores the late 1960s iconography of melancholic guest workers at train stations; the images of the 1970s factory floor channelling feelings of naïve loyalty and hysterical female dedication; and the visions of the stigmatised mass housing areas of the 1980s which brutalised the guest workers. The dissertation argues that the perceptions of immigrants, associated with specific undesirable emotions and highly charged locations, shifted in accordance with the Danish society’s collective feelings towards the guest worker phenomenon. Thus, by analysing particular emotio-spatial settings, the dissertation explains how Danish society developed a cultural repertoire of racial visibility and suggests a way forward. Perhaps there is a chance of establishing unproblematic (self)images or racially invisible immigrants by imagining migration in terms of new locations and emotions.

Short titleInventing an Immigrant
Effective start/end date01/02/2016 → …

ID: 129041842