Social Identity Management and Integration

Report from Ocean Marambanyika, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Project 200700333-9

Financial support to the project:
“Social Identity Management and Integration Amongst Indigenous African Refugee Minorities in Norway: The Case of Kvæfjord Commune”

This is a brief report on the fieldwork done for the Master Thesis in Indigenous Studies. The fieldwork was gratefully funded by the Sami Centre. I am indeed grateful for the financial support proffered by the Sami Centre for it would have been practically difficult to carry out the research. This report mainly reports on the Fieldwork Experiences and Challenges in terms of methodologies. A full version of the detailed fieldwork report is available at the Department of Indigenous Studies. The field work took place in Kvæfjord Commune in which I was researching about how African refugees in that area manage their social identities in different situations they encounter vis-à-vis the Norwegian populace and other non-African groups.

The Fieldwork Experiences and Challenges

Limited Literature Published in English about refugees in Norway
It was found out that there is limited accessible literature published in English concerning refugee issues in Norway. An attempt to browse the websites for textbooks like yielded little results concerning relevant literature about refugees in Norway. And further attempts to check books from Kvæfjord Community library published in English concerning refugees also proved challenging. Nevertheless my limited understanding of the Norwegian language will help me to siff through literature published in Norwegian. This challenge will lead to a bias of making the comparative analysis of the research findings with other places were the literature is published in English. This however is not expected to heavily affect the intended objective purpose of the research. Infact publishing this thesis work in English as I intend to do will be of tremendous benefit to future researchers on this area.

Methodological expectations and Challenges

Challenges and Experiences in tape Recording
I intended to make use tape recording in my data gathering. It was hoped that this will provide secure information which I would synthesize after the fieldwork and decode. Nevertheless the informants were very sensitive to the idea of being tape recorded. Any attempt to tape record was going to virtually ground the whole research to a halt. Since some of the refugees have their applications for refugee status in Norway still being processed, they were not comfortable to be tape recorded and it also explains why they chose to be strictly anonymous.

Challenges and Experiences in Focus Group Discussions
The pre-fieldwork expectation was that I will try to use both small and large focus group discussions (FGDs). However during the field work slight changes had to be made. It was realized that in larger focus group discussion some informants were not even willing to participate and some were not at liberty to air their views. I had anticipated this kind of scenario. Since I was prepared for this eventuality I decided to make use of smaller groups of two to three people who were close friends. In this way the informants knew each other and were freer to discuss their points openly. This was very helpful as it unearthed rich information on refugee social identity management amongst the African refugee group.

Experiences and challenges in terms of interviews:
The pre-fieldwork idea was to employ personal face to face and telephone interviews. This went on according to plan as a significant part of the research information was gathered through this technique. Informants from Kvæfjord were interviewed through the face to face interview, whilst some informants from other places like Tromsø and Oslo were reached through telephone interviews. The purpose of interviews informants from Tromsø and Oslo was to have input to the place comparison aspect of the comparative method.

Experiences and challenges in terms of Participant Observation:
Participant observation was a mega qualitative research method in this type of field situation in which sensitivity of interviewing was the order of the day. As I had stayed in the research area before moving to Tromsø I had at least some advantage of being known to some of my informants. As such I would go with them to various activities they performed in their day to day life chores. Before the fieldwork I had planned to use this method extensively and I did exactly that since most information will be accessible in informal discussions on how the African refugees view their situation and how they react and handle it in different scenarios. There was no much unexpected challenge concerning this method.
The participant observation method was equally significant in that almost the whole group of refugees was practically observable in terms of how they acted in various scenarios. Observations were carried out in various settings like on sporting events, social gatherings, meetings (for corporation council and internet), and in the church among others. The participant observation also enabled the necessity to compare the situational social identity behaviour of the African refugee group with that of non-African groups. This will provide useful analytical strategies in the data presentations sections of this work.

Findings in Brief

Intra-Group Social Identity Management
It was noted that there are identity switches within the African refugee group. Intra-group identity management notes that there are identity managements towards each other amongst the Africans themselves. Depending on different variables it was noted that aspects like language, religion, culture, food, clothing and the African region were one comes from affected the extend to which a refugee can be closer to a fellow African refugee. For instance it was noted that a Somali Muslim refugee will be closer to a Muslim from Ivory Cost than to a non-Muslim from east Africa. At the same time other cases showed that an east African from Burundi can be closer to a southern African from Angola even if they have different religions. Hence there are interesting and vital complexities in analyzing the intra-group social identity behaviours within the African group itself. The data presentation section of the thesis will dwell more on these and related aspects.

Inter-Group Social Identity Management
Inter-group social identity management was noticeable when the African refugee group interacted with non-African groups like the Norwegians and fellow non-African refugees like refugees from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Some instances showed integrative co-existence in which identities were adjusted to suit these other cultures at play. In relation to interacting with Norwegians as the host, the refugee identities were stretched as far as possible to be acceptable to Norwegians. As Rex John (1997) pointed out, ethnic groups change their social identities depending with the multiple situations they encounter in their living experiences in order to achieve some social and political projects.
In a nutshell the social identities were found to be constantly being managed to suit different situations depending on whom and in which place and for what purpose the identity should be exhibited as such. More detailed analysis of the situations will be elaborated in the data presentation section of the thesis paper.

Social identity management amongst the African refugees in Kvæfjord Commune is a critical area which governs the well being of the day to day lives of these refugees. The identities are constantly switched, in other words managed to suit different situations. The social identities are managed in both intra and inter group situations which this thesis will deliberate on during the course of the writing process. In general the fieldwork experiences provided a cherished qualitative research experience to guide future works. The data collection tools and methods were very useful in understanding the fundamentals behind the research objectives of the thesis work.

Read the thesis online – Munin

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