(Draft – please do not cite.)
How Scandinavian Mainstream Politicians Talk about Immigrants
and National Identity
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
Department of Political Science and Government, Aarhus University, Denmark
Presented at the annual meeting of Dansk Selskab for Statskundskab, Vejle
Fjordhotel, 24-25 October 2013
ABSTRACT. Denmark, Sweden and Norway, so similar in terms of political system,
welfare state, and culture, exhibit striking differences in their requirements for
permanent residence and naturalization. Previous studies propose conceptions of
national identity as a central explanation. However, they do not offer an adequate
account of how the three countries actually differ in this regard. Using a remodeled
version of the ethnic-civic framework, this paper seeks to rectify this shortcoming and
take the first steps towards using national identity properly as an explanation of
integration policies. Inspired by Oliver Zimmer, this new model separates cultural
content and the logic of boundary construction, two parameters conflated in the
ethnic-civic framework. Using parliamentary debates, government publications, and
newspaper articles in selected years since the late 1990’s, it is found that Danish,
Swedish and Norwegian political parties differ significantly on the level of logic of
boundary construction, albeit they often invoke the same cultural content. Hence,
research trying to trace the impact of national identity on immigrant integration policy
What choice?
must focus on how the boundaries of national identity formation are constructed and
not the type of cultural content invoked.
Keywords: national identity; immigrant integration discourse; Scandinavia
Migration to Western Europe has challenged and catalyzed political debate about the criteria for
national membership and belonging. In response, many Western European countries have
introduced or tightened mandatory integration programs and work, language and society knowledge
requirements for permanent residence, citizenship and family reunification (Goodman 2010; Jacobs
and Rea 2007). Still, countries adopt very different versions of these policies. They vary in terms of
how demanding they are, the people they cover, and whether they are placed at entry, permanent
residence or naturalization (Goodman 2012). In a Scandinavian1 context the variation is quite
noticeable. Sweden has not introduced any of these policy instruments; in fact, Sweden has barely
changed their (now) exceptionally permissive policies. Contrarily, Denmark has since the late 1990s
implemented very restrictive versions although coming from a very liberal starting point (Mouritsen
and Olsen 2013, 693–96). Finally, Norway has found a middle ground between the Danish and
Swedish approaches (Brochmann and Hagelund 2010, 341–48, 2011; Goodman 2010, 761–63).
Why do Denmark, Sweden and Norway, so similar in terms of political system, welfare
state, and culture, exhibit such strong differences in integration requirements? Existing studies point
towards two answers: coalitional politics (Brochmann and Hagelund 2010, 353–54; Green-Pedersen
and Odmalm 2008) and dominant conceptions of national identity (Borevi 2010; Brochmann and
Hagelund 2010, 34–35, 359–61; Brochmann and Seland 2010). Without discounting the
significance of coalitional politics, this paper addresses the inadequacy of previous studies to clearly
identify Scandinavian differences in how mainstream political parties conceive of national identity
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
in their argumentation. Failing to do so leaves us ill equipped to further study the impact of national
identity on policy differences.
Typically, Danish politics is said to be dominated by an ethnic conception of the nation,
Swedish politics by a civic, with Norway somewhere in between (references). As an ideal-type,
ethnic national identity intimately links ‘cultural factors’, such as history, language and social
customs, with the idea that we cannot ourselves intentionally manage the sense of national identity
we acquire (deterministic logic). A civic national identity combines ‘political factors’, such as
political values and state institutions, with the idea that national identity is a question of choice
(voluntaristic logic). Still, in all three countries the nation is, most of the time, identified with the
same symbols or factors: egalitarianism, the welfare state and democracy. To find actual differences
we must look at how these symbols are put to use in constructing the boundaries of national
identity. That is, we must analytically break the intimate link between cultural content and logic of
boundary construction in the ethnic-civic framework.
In this paper, I break this link and focus on the logic of boundary construction. That is, the
degree to which national identity formation is thought to be within the reach of human agency or
determined by inalterable factors. This question can be answered both in terms of the degree to
which individuals can control how they identify themselves, and the degree to which the national
collective can democratically choose its identity. How politicians answer these two questions
constitute their basic perspective on national identity formation. Using parliamentary debates,
government publications, and newspaper articles in selected years since the late 1990s, this paper
shows that Danish mainstream political parties tend to use deterministic logic on both the individual
and collective dimension, Swedish mainstream parties tend to use voluntaristic logic on both
dimensions, while Norwegian mainstream parties tend to combine deterministic logic on the
individual dimension with voluntaristic logic on the collective dimension.
What choice?
In the following, I start out by detailing the analytical framework. Hereafter, the
operationalisation of the framework is discussed before moving on to the analysis of selected
political debates on immigrant integration in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. I conclude by
discussing the implications for future research on the relationship between national identity and
immigrant integration policies.
Recomposing the ethnic-civic framework
In the context of immigration and integration politics, most political parties would agree that a
broadly shared national identity is crucial for the social cohesion of society. 2 However, political
parties need not agree on the conception of national identity that should instruct policy. In order to
differentiate between such conceptions, academic studies commonly seek recourse in the distinction
between ethnic and civic national identity3. Inspired by the work of Oliver Zimmer (2003), I
suggest recomposing the ethnic-civic framework to better capture how politicians actually talk
about national identity and immigrants ( see also Jensen forthcoming).
The ethnic-civic framework can be traced back to Friedrich Meineckes 1907-book
Cosmopolitanism and the National State, and especially the work of Hans Kohn and Anthony D.
Smith has contributed to its prevalence in academic work today. At the core of the framework are
two interwoven factors: cultural content and logic of boundary construction. Cultural content are
the symbolic resources political actors use when invoking national identity in their argumentation.
Logic of boundary construction describes the way cultural content is processed or put to use in
constructing the boundaries of national identity. The fundamental question regards the possibility of
influencing national identity formation through the power of human will and action.
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
An ethnic national identity combines cultural content such as language, tradition, and
social customs with deterministic logic of boundary construction. Using deterministic logic,
national identity becomes the result of inalterable factors and, hence, placed outside the reach of
intentional reconstruction. National identity, thus understood, has emergent properties and influence
human actors irrespective of their being aware of it. Conversely, a civic national identity combines
cultural content such as political values and institutions with voluntaristic logic of boundary
construction.4 Contrary to deterministic logic, voluntaristic logic states that we are capable of
intentionally managing the sense of national identity we acquire.
Typically, studies conflate cultural content and logic of boundary construction in order to
analyze along a single continuum between ethnic and civic. That is, ethnic cultural content is seen
as intimately connected to deterministic logic of boundary construction, and civic cultural content to
voluntaristic logic. Furthermore, the two models of national identity are said to be ideal types,
meaning that specific empirical instances will always mix elements from both. However, this
implies that there is no necessary empirical relationship between how cultural content and logic of
boundary construction relates to each other. It seems plausible that most – if not all – cultural
content can be processed through both deterministic and voluntaristic logic. Tradition, customs,
history, political values or political institutions can all be treated as univocal factors determining
current national self-identification, or as interpretively equivocal resources that can be selectively
activated in the reproduction of national identity. Both perspectives are entirely compatible with the
view that (a sense of) commonality is important for the cohesion of society.
Consequently, we risk impairing the analysis of national identity frames in the public
debate, if we only work along a single continuum between ethnic and civic. This, indeed, seems to
be the case in a contemporary West European context, where the cultural content associated with
civic national identity has come to dominate public conceptions of national identity (Joppke 2008;
What choice?
Mouritsen 2012) – even within radical right parties (Betz and Johnson 2004; Halikiopoulou, Mock,
and Vasilopoulou 2013). We cannot assume that such a symbolic convergence is paralleled by a
convergence on the level of logic of boundary construction. Following Oliver Zimmer (2003), we
need to treat cultural content and logic of boundary construction as separate analytical levels, and
focus on the latter.
However, in order to understand variation in the political framing of national identity, we
need to refine the analysis of logic of boundary construction by distinguishing an individual
dimension from a collective dimension. Answering whether an individual have the ability to choose
his or hers national identity, is different from answering whether the national collective can choose
to intentionally reconstruct how it identifies itself. The individual dimension concerns the degree of
socialization needed to acquire the national identity of the country, while the collective dimension
concerns the degree to which the selection and interpretation of cultural content is collectively
negotiable. There is no necessary relationship between how political actors perceive the scope of
agency on these two dimensions. Indeed, it is possible to believe that the national collective is
incapable of significantly changing its identity, while the individual without much effort can choose
to become part of said collective – or the other way around. These two frames, in which the logic
differs on the two dimensions, are not only very different from each other, but also relate differently
to frames using the same logic on the two dimensions. If we only analyze along the ethnic-civic
continuum, we cannot distinguish frames combining the two logics differently.
Together, the individual and collective dimensions constitute a space distinguishing
national identity frames regarding the perceived degree of individual and collective agency (see
figure below). As we move towards the voluntaristic end on both dimensions the scope of agency
increases, and the national identity, thus conceptualized, becomes potentially more inclusive of
immigrants and their descendants.
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
Deterministic logic
Voluntaristic logic
Deterministic logic
Voluntaristic logic
Figure 1: Conceptual space consisting of the individual and collective dimensions of logic of boundary
This framework is used in an analysis of selected years in the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish
political debates on immigrant integration. I expect that national identity is given some priority, and
that the different uses of national identity in the national debates can be contained within a loosely
identifiable sub-space of the above conceptual space. The size of this sub-space will depend on the
degree of disagreement within and between political parties, and the degree of ambivalence and
vagueness within political parties.
Operationalization and data
What choice?
The following offers some basic thoughts on operationalization. That is, the characteristics
statements have at the different ends of the two dimensions of logic of boundary construction.
Statements may be either non-nationalistic or nationalistic. Nationalistic statements can
operate on one or both dimensions, but they may also be too indeterminate to be placed within the
framework. For example, stating that ‘broadly shared political values is important for the social
cohesion of society’ does not say whether these values are seen as difficult to adopt or susceptible
to change. That is, a nationalistic statement may refer to specific cultural content and remain silent
on the logic of boundary construction. Conversely, a nationalistic statement may refer to a specific
logic of boundary construction without referring to specific cultural content. For example, stating
that ‘descendants of immigrants will find it easier to adapt to Danish society as they will probably
have been brought up by Danish norms to a greater extent’ only refers to deterministic logic. That
is, that adapting to society requires a sense of its foundational norms that can only be achieved by
deep socialization.
Starting with the collective dimension of logic of boundary construction, statements will
implicitly or explicitly concern the degree to which the collective self-understanding is changeable
through human will. Statements using deterministic logic will treat cultural content univocally and,
hence, designate an end-point of individual change. This view may be caused by an understanding
of national identity as something with an essential nature of its own or follow from a functionalistic
understanding in which a specific national identity is vital for upholding valued social
arrangements, such as a comprehensive welfare state. It follows that the national identity is not
susceptible to political manipulation and, therefore, conditions political action. In its most simple
form, such statements shortly state what ‘our values are’ as a matter of fact and without
qualification. This is often accompanied by references to the particular historical path of the nation
and/or their crucial role in the (continued) success of the state. Conversely, statements using
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
voluntaristic logic perceive cultural content as equivocal and, hence, do not designate a clear
direction of individual change. The collective self-understanding is seen as a process of becoming
in which political actors can intentionally affect the outcome. These kinds of nationalistic
statements will be oriented towards reinterpreting cultural content in order to foster unity. For
example, the open-ended nature of political values may be stressed or history may be called to be
On the individual dimension, statements will implicitly or explicitly concern the degree to
which an individual’s context of upbringing and lived experiences determines self-identification.
Using deterministic logic, statements will be focused on the difficult socialization of immigrants
and descendants. More hope will be placed on descendants since these will grow up within the
institutional and cultural confines of the nation-state. Participation in important arenas of
socialization, such as work, school, politics and volunteering, will be stressed from the point of
view of socialization instead of empowerment and democratic inclusion. Contrary, statements using
voluntaristic logic regard national identity formation as a question of personal choice. Statements,
then, will focus on encouraging immigrants to make this choice. It is assumed that people can work
creatively with their identities and create hyphenated identities incorporating the national identity.
By this reasoning it makes less sense to focus on descendants and cultural proximity between
immigrants and the nation and more on including everybody in order to facilitate such identity
formation. Mere participation in society is what becomes critical in terms of membership of the
The analysis will limit itself to focus on certain time periods when questions of immigrant
integration were politically salient. For the selected time periods all relevant material in terms of
government reports, party programs, law proposals, parliamentary debates and newspaper articles
What choice?
has been analyzed. The task is approached qualitatively by coding central documents in each
country according to deductively formed theoretical codes.
In Sweden three periods are selected. Firstly, from March 1997, when the Conservative
Party published the controversial manifesto Land for the Hopeful: A Manifest for a New Century,
till December 1997 when the parliament debated the government white paper Sweden, the future
and diversity – from immigrant policy to integration policy, which put forward the tenets to guide
future law-making on immigrant integration. Secondly, from November 2002 till March 2003,
when the parliament took on two debates on integration policy following the 2002-election, where
the centre-right Liberal Peoples Party (Folkparti Liberalerna) chose to utilize immigration and
integration as a profiling tool by proposing a controversial language requirement for citizenship.
Finally, the analysis ends with the 2010-election, where the radical right-wing party, the Sweden
Democrats (Sverigesdemokraterna), won 5.7 percent of the vote
The analysis of Denmark starts with the period from November 1997 to April 1998, which
saw four debates on immigrant integration and the passing of a new integration law. Furthermore,
the period from March 2001 till October 2003 is analyzed. The 2001-election was dominated by
immigration and integration issues and resulted in a new centre-right government. In the following
years a host of restrictive measures was passed in parliament. The analysis ends with the political
debate in 2010-11 about the government proposal for a point system for permanent residence and
family reunification.
The analysis of Norway also starts in 1997 with the debate around the publication of the
white paper About immigration and the multicultural Norway. It moves on to the period from
December 2002, when the new law on the introduction program for newly arrived immigrants was
proposed, until the revision of the citizenship law in May 2005, which refrained from allowing
double citizenship. This period saw six parliamentary debates on immigrant integration and the
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
publication of a first-of-its-kind white paper in 2004, Diversity through inclusion and participation,
devoted to the issue of what the national ‘we’ must consist of in a multicultural society and how it
can be cultivated. The analysis ends with the political debate that took shape from late 2012 with
the publication of the white paper A comprehensive integration policy in October and, in December,
the MP Christian Tybring-Gjedde of the Progress Party prompting an answer from the Minister of
Culture and the Minister of Integration as to what Norwegian culture contains and entails.
For two reasons I exclude far-left and far-right political parties from the analysis and on the
argumentation of centre-left and centre-right parties5. Firstly, the far-rights understanding and use of
national identity has been heavily researched which cannot be said of the more traditional political
parties (references). Secondly, even though a strong far-right party, with its deterministic view of
the nation, has been emphasised as a main driver of strict integration policies (Howard 2009), it is, I
suspect, through pushing the ideational parameters of political competition among the more
mainstream parties that this causal mechanism works. Consequently, it is relevant to investigate
how the more traditional parties compete on the issue of national identity and immigrant
integration. By this choice, I am not implying that the radical right is without merit in shaping
Two events shaped the political debate on immigrant integration in 1997. First, the Conservative
Party (Moderaterna) published the controversial manifesto “Land for the Hopeful: A Manifest for a
New Century” in March, which expressed sympathy for Swedes feeling frustrated and alienated in a
What choice?
context of failing immigrant integration, generous welfare schemes and an economic downturn.
Especially the Social Democrats accused it of mobilizing on prejudice and creating a fertile ground
for racist elements in society. Secondly, in September the Social Democratic minority government
proposed a new immigrant integration policy. Despite claiming it to be a paradigm shift it amounted
to little more that a confirmation of the change in course that had already been made in the 1980s.
That is, emphasizing the importance of national identity, and that immigrant groups should first and
foremost be incorporated into a system of universal policies instead of being assigned special rights
and programs. Both events were subjected to parliamentary debates.
The importance of a shared national identity for the social cohesion of the Swedish society
figures strongly in the debates alongside arguments on equal opportunities (through learning
Swedish, having equal rights and combating anti-discrimination) and human well-being and
empowerment (employment and equal treatment fosters self-respect and hope). But it is not always
easy to separate such arguments from arguments about national identity. For example, the
promotion of equal opportunities - especially through combating anti-discrimination – is also
related to the hindrance of alienation from society as well as the future of the national identity. The
Social Democrat Pierre Schori feared for the consequences for the future ‘we’, if intolerance wasn’t
brought under control:
It is only when we recognize that we all have within us a seed of intolerance which
originate in anxiety, fear of the unknown, that we truly can achieve results …
Therefore, it is how we here and outside this chamber handles this seed of
intolerance we carry within us, that determines what kind of people we become.
(Riksdagens Protocol 1996/97:106).
Then Minister of Interior, Leif Blomberg (Social Democrat), made it clear: “Integration is
ultimately intended to create a “we” of the ethnic and cultural diversity” (Riksdagens Protocol
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
1997/98:38), but within the confines of societies’ basic values (typically democracy, gender
equality and anti-discrimination). The government proposition for a new integration policy spelled
out the dialogical character of this intentional reconstruction of the national identity:
In order to develop society together a new national community must be created.
Mutual respect and tolerance are the cornerstones of such a work, but also
creativity and fearlessness and a desire from all to will and dare meet the different
and the unknown. (Regeringens Proposition 1997/98:16, p. 24)
All parties, except the Conservative Party, more or less agreed with this overall goal of intentionally
reconstructing national identity. In the parliamentary debates, the Conservative Party repeated the
message of their 1996 manifesto, that politicians should recognize the frustration of the Swedish
people and protect Swedish culture.
The Swedish profile, its particularity, is very important and a source of pride and
belonging for native Swedes. Our common cultural heritage and history must not
be relativized. It must provide the foundation as we build our future together in a
new time (Riksdagens Protocol 1997/98:38).
Furthermore, they stressed the importance of the Swedish language to create a deeper relation to the
nation (reference). To this end, they proposed a language test for citizenship to function as a
symbolic marker of this bond between the citizen and the nation-state. While downplaying the
negotiable character of national identity, they simultaneously appreciated that cultural pluralism
was inevitable, and that society at large must open itself up and accept cultural diversity in order to
flourish in a globalized world. They also repeated the message of the government proposition, that
the national identity should be based on cultural diversity (reference).
What choice?
The Christian Democrats (Kristendemokraterna) also talked of a historically deep-rooted
Swedish culture being a stabile foundation for a multicultural society, but in the same breath
emphasized the dangerous aspects of the notion of country, people, language and country
coinciding. Instead, the party recommends a “humble nationalism” by creating a “nuanced picture
of what we call Swedish” that recognizes that Sweden is, and has been for a long time, a country of
immigration (Kristendemokraterna 1996). Together with the Social Democrats they called for a
rewriting of history in order to facilitate the development of a national identity that fully
encompasses the cultural make-up of the Swedish society (Riksdagens 1997/98:38).
All parties also praised the positive effects of cultural diversity, claiming it to invigorate
society by making it dynamic and creative. For all parties (except the Conservative Party) national
identity is not tightly bound to the history of Sweden. Instead it is very much premised on the
multicultural society itself. In their proposal for an immigrant policy, the Center Party expresses it
like this: “The multicultural society is not an end but a process which, while maintaining pluralism,
develops common cultural traits.” (Centerpartiet 1996). The national identity is understood as
dynamic, being in a (constant) process of development in order to include culturally diverse groups.
This also manifests itself in two broadly held beliefs. First, that it is important that immigrants are
included in politics and the public sector in order to supply a multicultural perspective on basic
universal values, and how to realize them in policy and practice. Secondly, that it is indeed possible
too actively (albeit slowly) shape the public opinion. The responsible politician is portrayed as
taking on a special obligation to steer the public opinion towards appreciating the multicultural
society as a precondition for developing a just national identity.
On the collective dimension voluntaristic logic dominates Swedish national identity
discourse, although deterministic logic occasionally finds its way into the argumentation of the
Conservative Party and, to a lesser degree, the Christian Democrats. The national identity is
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
primarily something that must be brought into existence. Instead of looking towards (a static)
history in defining the nation, the political parties look forward into an ever more globalized future,
were a successful society presupposes a national identity encompassing cultural diversity. The
present society must be mobilized to ensure that the national identity develops in this direction.
Intercultural competence must be developed in the public school system, all state institutions and
political decisions must be evaluated from a multicultural perspective and all public organizations
(including political parties) must do their outmost to ensure better representation of immigrants. It
has been argued, that behind this positive view of change is a deeper notion of the Swedish nation
as the native land of modern values and the vanguard of social progress. A nation that embraces
modernity, has distanced itself to nationalism, and established a tradition of self-reflection on the
character of the national. A nation locating its greatness in being on the verge of (moral) modernity;
supplying the world with inspiration (Emilsson 2009; Ruth 1984; Stråth 2000).
On the individual dimension voluntaristic logic also dominates the discourse. In 1997 the
Social Democratic government expressed it so: “On the individual level integration ought to be
regarded as a life project the content and goals of which is up to the individual” (reference). As
noted by Pierre Schori, then Deputy Foreign Minister: “If you are a Swedish citizen, then you are a
Swedish citizen” (reference). The Conservative Party repeated this message by stressing that “if you
participate in society then you are Swedish” (reference) and through analogy to the Swedish
emigration to America in the early 20th century by calling immigrants “the settlers of Modern
Sweden” (reference), albeit they also noted that “Sweden is no Minnesota where you can come and
break new land like Karl-Oskar and Kristina” (reference). At the same time the Social Democrats
and Christian Democrats emphasized the importance of immigrants and Swedes 6 retaining a strong
cultural identity for the initiation of an open, tolerant and constructive dialogue on the development
of an inclusive national identity (reference). Seemingly there is no need for immigrants to pertain in
What choice?
extensive or even moderate socialization processes in order to take part in the national identity,
although the existence of oppressive patriarchal norms in Muslim families is occasionally noted.
The issue of combating discrimination among ethnic Swedes dominates overwhelmingly. All
political parties point to structural discrimination as the single most significant hindrance to the
inclusion of immigrants and their descendants into society, and the development of a more shared,
inclusive national identity. As such it is the majority ethnic group and state institutions that are in
particularly need of adjustment, not minority immigrant groups. Ethnic Swedes must learn to
become more open and tolerant in the sense of accepting cultural diversity as something positive,
and becoming sensitized to the different forms discrimination may take. State institutions must
develop multicultural competence and supply a more culturally flexible service, making it both
easier to for immigrants to identify with and use state institutions and services.
A new integration law was passed in June 1998 as part of a package of law proposals that also
included restrictions on immigration. The law involved extending the introduction programme from
1½ to 3 years and making permanent residence conditional on attendance. Disagreement between
the government and the opposition mainly arose on whether completion of the three-year
introduction programme should lead to permanent residence. The centre-right opposition was in
concert on the issue and suggested that permanent residence should only be granted after seven
years instead of three years of legal residence. Their main argument was that refugees are, by
definition, only supposed to stay temporarily. A reoccurring argument was that refugees should not
become immigrants, and that the state should be able to send them back when conditions are better
in their home country. This argument was linked to the notion of Denmark not being or becoming
an immigration country and the rejection of cultural equality in Danish society. Instead, Danish
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
culture (encompassing Christianity) should be protected and continue to be the basis for legislation
and public values and norms. Birthe Rønn Hornbech of the Liberal Party was candid:
Let me say that the Liberals are not in favour of a multicultural society where all
cultures are treated equally in such a way that everyone should have equal weight
with respect to Danish law and Danish values. We do not think so. Denmark has a
long history with common values, a common faith and a common heart language,
and this should of course still be emphasised in our set of norms and in our law
(Folketinget 1998).
This quote reveals a clear deterministic outlook on the relation between national identity and policy.
It is presented as obvious that state policy must reflect the Danish national character instead of
being an active ingredient in its reshaping. This naturalisation of Danishness was also evident when
Anders Fogh Rasmussen7 of the Liberal Party proclaimed that Danish culture, life style and
perception are better than Muslim culture (quoted in Jacobsen 1997). He further criticised the
cultural relativism that he believed to see on the left wing8 for being afraid to listen to the demand
of the Danish people to prioritise the more valuable Danish culture. He went on to state that Danish
society only has an interest in Danish-speaking immigrants, rejecting any form of public support for
mother-tongue education (Jacobsen 1997). Helge Adam Møller of the Conservative Party
We want the Danish society to remain characterised by the history, culture,
religion, language and traditions that generations of Danes before us have helped
create, shape and pass on. We want people living in Denmark to recognise that they
and their families are part of Danish society (Møller 1997).
What choice?
The concept of ‘parallel societies’ gives further expression to this perspective. Such societies are
little residential pockets of mainly non-Western immigrant residents (and their descendants)
somehow cut off from Danish culture and language. They are portrayed as a threat towards social
cohesion because they create cultural tension. This fear is vivid in the argumentation for restricting
(arranged) marriages between a person brought up in Denmark (immigrant descendant) and a
spouse raised in a non-Western (Muslim) country:
Not only is it difficult for newly arrived spouses to integrate, but the resident
spouse, who is perhaps born in Denmark and well-integrated, is forced by the
newly arrived spouse to live in an unhappy cultural tension field (The Liberal Party
& the Conservatives 2001).
Cultural proximity is presented as a critical parameter for foreseeable successful integration, the
assumption being that cultural distance is the same as physical distance: all things being equal, the
longer the distance the longer the travel. Again, the logic is deterministic. The immigrant or
descendant is on a journey towards comprehending a given national identity. This line of thinking
also forms the argumentation of the Social Democratic Party. Particularly revealing is the quote
below from then Minister of the Interior, Thorkild Simonsen, in which tolerance is interpreted as
patience and understanding for the long road of integration that immigrants confront:
We offer to help them adapt to society with its existing culture, norms and rules.
Conversely, we expect that they work according to ability to become a thriving part
of the Danish society. It is a lengthy process that requires tolerance (Simonsen
Besides refraining from discrimination, the moral duties of the national community in relation to
newcomers are limited to being patient and render the necessary assistance for them to understand –
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if not internalise – the national way of life and act accordingly. Consequently, the Social
Democratic lead government did not include the fair regard for the culture of immigrants into the
purpose clause of the integration law (Holm 2007: 188–9). Conversely, patience is predicated on the
immigrant taking personal responsibility, applying him- or herself and showing genuine will to
At no point did the Social Democrats contest the deterministic view of the national
collective coming from the political right. Instead, they seemingly took it for given that a particular
Danishness exists and that one cannot function properly in Danish society if one is not familiar with
it. This further reveals itself in reverence for ‘the feelings’ or ‘the understanding’ of ‘the people’ as
the foundation of political legitimacy; that is, as something that policy must reflect and not as
something that policy must confront in a reconstructive manner (unless it is blatant discrimination).9
Political parties are solicitors of public opinion, not judges. Animosity from Danes towards
immigrants is presented as an effect of policies not reflecting what the people see as reasonable
demands. The problem lies in the policy design, and the common attitude of the people is never
suggested to be the problem. ‘The people’ as a symbolic resource becomes the bearer of national
Restrictive policy proposals were never opposed from the perspective of a different
conception of national identity. Instead, the Social Democrats opposed them for lacking
compassion. The Social Liberal Party did not express concern for Denmark becoming a multi-ethnic
country, openly questioned demands going beyond what is needed for labour market inclusion and
at one point noted that Danish identity had developed under the influence of many different cultures
and would continue to do so (Folketinget 1998). This was not, however, connected to the state
actively pursuing such a development. It was not viewed as a matter for the state to concern itself
with facilitating a multicultural perspective on society or the creation of a new, more inclusive
What choice?
national self-understanding. Instead, the Social Liberals were much more concerned with upholding
human rights and the rule of law. The Socialistic People’s Party shared these concerns and further
stressed tolerance, global solidarity and a need for a system that offered immigrants real
opportunities for succeeding.
Turning to the individual dimension of boundary construction, the trope of cultural
proximity also rests on an assumption that national attachment and character are not a question of
individual choice but of undergoing some form of learning process. In the parliamentary debate, this
shows as a strong focus on the cultural cross-pressure that children of (non-Western) immigrants
presumably face from their family and Danish society. From the political right, it was demanded
that immigrant parents adapt to Danish cultural patterns (The Liberal Party & the Conservatives
2001), that ‘young people who have grown up and gone to Danish schools [has] become more
Danish than their parents recognise’ (Bertel Haarder in Folketinget 2002) and that it should be
easier for descendants of immigrants ‘to adapt to the Danish society since they have probably been
brought up by Danish norms to a greater extent’ (The Liberal Party & the Conservatives 1997).
The Conservatives and the Liberal Party point to a certain cultural stubbornness exhibited by
(Muslim) immigrants as a lack of will to integrate. The problem is that ‘our foreigners do not have
the openness that Danes have; on the contrary, they are closed and intolerant’ (Birthe Rønn
Hornbech in Folketinget 2001). Or as one MP from the Conservatives expresses it:
We can take being mixed with others, but one of our problems is that a great
number of people arrive in Denmark who do not want to mix with us. They want to
live in our country and live their own lives with their own culture, their own family
patterns, their own view of humanity, which are completely different from ours
(Else Theill Sørensen in Folketinget 2002).
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
Cultural segregation is one of the central worries of the Liberal Party, the Conservatives and the
Social Democrats. It is seen as detrimental to social cohesion because children of immigrants will
grow up in homes where Danish is not spoken and where family norms exist that oppose the
independence of women, especially to seek work and education. In order to create fully integrated
children, immigrant families should leave behind the norms that curtail gender equality and the
development of autonomous individuals and adopt a Danish way of child rearing (Mouritsen and
Olsen 2011, 8–9) and, not least, Danish as the household language. If not, their children will grow
up divided between two cultures and will be denied a happy childhood and opportunities in their
adult life according to these parties. It is therefore of utmost importance that descendants of
immigrants do not find their spouse in non-Western countries, as it will reset the entire integration
process. As Social Democrat Sophie Hæstorp Andersen puts it:
Young people feel Danish but have a different ethnic background, and when they
choose to marry with someone from their home country, a new first-generation
immigrant arrives in Denmark, and then the integration must start all over. It makes
it harder for the children to be well integrated (Folketinget 2003).
Mixing with Danes and participating in public institutions (such as schools) is emphasised.
Preferably, immigrants submerge themselves in activities involving them in Danish daily life,
hereby showing a will to adapt and learn. From the perspective of the political right, and more
implicitly also the Social Democrats, the linkage between the individual and the nation is to large
extent deterministic. The national way of life is not something one simply chooses to adapt; rather,
it has to be ingrained through family norms and extensive participation in the major social
institutions of the welfare state.
Whether the Social Liberal Party or the Socialistic People’s Party agreed with this line of
thinking is rather unclear. However, they opposed the restrictive law changes, such as the
What choice?
controversial 24-year rule10, but they did so mainly from the perspective of human rights instead of
challenging the conception of the nation laid forward.
The parliamentary debates on immigrant integration in Norway, from the passing of the
introduction programme law in June 2003 until the enactment of the citizenship law reform in May
2005, are characterised by both ideational affinity and ambivalence regarding the national selfunderstanding. In fact, national identity never became a contested issue in this period, despite the
government’s white paper from 2004 devoted to the question of national identity. The basic issues
of making permanent residence and citizenship conditional on completion of an introduction
programme never divided the political parties, and only the Socialistic Left Party wanted to allow
double citizenship.
The white paper is relatively straightforward in its discussion of national identity. It clearly
states the aim of guiding the development ‘of a new and more including understanding of what it
means to be Norwegian’ (Norway 2004: 18). Therefore, it plays a key role when trying to close in
on the parameters of national identity construction in the political debate. In the parliamentary
debate on the white paper (Stortinget 2005), the opposition could only muster a critique of the lack
of concrete proposals on how to cultivate this more inclusive national identity. As Signe Øye of the
Social Democrats noted: ‘The problem is not what the white paper says, but what it does not say’
(Stortinget 2005: 2475). It is therefore quite surprising, if not telling, that the parliamentary debate
witnessed all parties mentioning the non-negotiability of the Norwegian societies’ basic values
while nobody reflected on a central point in the white paper: the intentional, dialogical
reconstruction of the national identity along the lines of certain core political values:
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
What belongs to societies’ shared basic values and what can be accepted and
respected as part of the diversity in terms of lifestyle and moral standpoint must be
discussed in relation to specific issues and over time. Everyone must respect the
rules of society in force. At the same time, everybody has the freedom to seek
influence on the content of the basic societal values through political and civil
processes. This content is not static (Norway 2004: 34).
This demonstrates a clear ambivalence regarding how ‘basic values’ are processed on the collective
dimension of boundary construction. In the parliamentary debates, the basic values take on a selfevident non-negotiable character, and considerable emphasis is put on the ‘will of the immigrant’ to
adjust to Norwegian language and society. Conversely, the white paper mainly processes political
values in a voluntaristic manner, emphasizing broad dialogue on their interpretation.11
Regarding the more practical aspect of public institutions, a clearer alignment is present
between the white paper and the parliamentary debates. All parties argue that public institutions
must change and become more flexible in order to accommodate a more culturally diverse
population and ease the identification of minorities with the national community. As the white
paper states: ‘Offering equal services that show consideration for citizens having new and other
needs than the majority is recognizing the new diversity in practice. It shows that society is open to
change’ (Norway 2004: 12).
Public opinion is equally processed through voluntaristic logic, picturing politicians as
having a responsibility to promote a new sense of ‘we’ in contrast to the idea of national identity as
something sacralised conditioning politics. The invigorating qualities of cultural diversity are often
noted and described as something that should be actively incorporated into the national identity.
However, this focus on nation-building shares the stage in the parliamentary debates with an
understanding of integration as a two-way process that expects very little of the majority
What choice?
population. Instead, the two actors in this process are the immigrants and the state. The state offers
opportunities and support, and the immigrant contributes by engaging. Here, the two-way process
leaves us with some form of institutional accommodation, and no effort, beyond antidiscrimination, is being directed at or expected of citizens.
On the whole, the political debate on immigrant integration paints an image of the nation as
mainly voluntaristic on the collective dimension of boundary construction. However, the
ambivalence is obvious, and the voluntaristic logic is more pronounced in the white paper than in
the parliamentary debates.
Regarding the individual dimension of boundary construction, the white paper also lingers
on the ‘mental and emotional depth of the integration process’ (Norway 2004: 33). However, we are
again left with somewhat ambivalent reflections that did not raise any debate among the political
parties, which seemingly accepted their legitimacy and validity. While the white paper states that no
one can be demanded to have a close emotional relationship to Norway, it also states the following:
All people ‘integrate’ in relation to society and the people around them. We
connect with each other through extensive socialisation processes in the family,
circle of friends, school and work. Through these processes, we learn to be people
in specific communities (Norway 2004: 33).
One may try to salvage consistency by claiming a distinction between mental and emotional
belonging; that is, a certain way of thinking (mental) versus the emotional arousal that national
imagery ignites. Either way, we are left with the impression that acquiring or cultivating Norwegian
national identity is a question of lengthy processes aimed at deeply rooted psychological
dispositions. This more deterministic view of the national identity further reveals itself in three
ways. First, the white paper differentiates between immigrants and their descendants when setting
goals for belonging. Adult immigrants are not expected to develop a strong identification with
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
Norway because they ‘have been shaped in other societies than the Norwegian’ (Norway 2004: 35).
Conversely, the ambition is much higher for descendants of immigrants because ‘Norway is their
most important frame of reference and the society that has shaped them’ (Norway 2004: 37). In this
way, the success of descendants becomes the ‘true touchstone’ of integration (Norway 2004: 11).
Second, all parties direct attention towards the importance of descendants being extensively
connected to society through friends, work, school, political participation and/or volunteering,
which largely translates into being raised within the confines of public institutions (especially
kindergarten and schools) and egalitarian and tolerant homes with independent mothers. The worry
seems to be that the descendants risk not being able to function in Norwegian society if their
families do not allow them to be shaped by the welfare state institutions. Hence, children must
participate in all school activities such as excursions, parties and swimming classes (Norway 2004:
57; Local Government Committee 2005a: 2, 4), and mothers, in order to raise their children
properly, must learn the language, become economically independent and free themselves from a
patriarchal culture. Particularly, employment and economic independence are emphasised as drivers
of inclusion in terms of social levelling, social recognition, self-respect and mutual understanding. It
is even linked to democratic participation of women in a statement shared by all political parties:
The development of the welfare state has laid a good basis for women’s entry into
the workplace and made women more economically independent. Participation in a
democratic society presupposes freedom, equality and independence (Local
Government Committee 2005b: 13).
Finally, the cultural environment that descendants are raised in is also discursively linked to
freedom and social equality through the development of social competence. A need for extensive
socialisation shows itself in the simultaneous emphasis on autonomous identity formation, social
competence and social equality. In order to realise social equality, every immigrant descendant
What choice?
must be able to develop their identity as they choose to. This entails the development of social
competence in the sense of being able to fluently shift between different social and cultural
contexts, which is cultivated by socializing and having friends across cultural boundaries (Norway
2004: 30, 37, 63–4, 67). Hence, social equality is not just about equal opportunities through
universal welfare schemes and a tolerant and non-discriminatory environment but also about having
a deep understanding of each others’ differences that can be utilised in one’s own identity
project(s). The white paper talks of ‘harmonic co-existence’ as predicated on a social and cultural
interaction that connotes fear of cultural segregation and becoming too internally different (Norway
2004: 38, 55).
The distinction between immigrants and their descendants is central to understanding how
national identity figures in the debate on immigrant integration. Only the descendants of immigrants
are expected to be able to develop a close belonging to the national community, and therefore only
they are described as direct participants in the intentional dialogical process of constructing a more
inclusive national identity. First-generation immigrants are not perceived as being able to form the
same kind of national belonging. Instead, they are expected to create the best conditions for their
children to develop a deep national belonging. In other words, cultural content is mainly processed
through constructivist logic on the collective dimension, and mainly through deterministic logic on
the individual dimension. Forming national belonging and becoming part of the national dialogue
on national identity presupposes being raised within the confines of the Norwegian welfare state
and egalitarian and tolerant homes.
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
Political actors are notoriously hard pressed when asked for a clear definition of the national
identity they invoke in political debate. The fact that politicians increasingly have to turn to the
symbols of civic nationalism to find broadly legitimate ways of expressing particularity may even
make it harder to come with a clear answer. Joppke (2008) goes so far as interpreting this as a
retreat of nationalism. However, if we leave cultural content to one side and instead focus the
discourse analysis on the underlying logics of boundary construction, we are indeed able to detect
significant national differences despite symbolic convergence – at least in the case of Scandinavian
Most (if not all) Scandinavian centre-left and centre-right parties seem to accept the idea that
a broadly shared national identity is necessary for social cohesion. However, the national identity
frames present in the immigrant integration debate varies significantly. The findings of the analysis
are summarized in the figure below.
FIGURE 2 The conceptual sub-spaces in the debates analyzed
Organic (ind.)
Voluntaristic (ind.)
Voluntaristic (coll.)
Organic (coll.)
What choice?
On the collective dimension Denmark stand out from Sweden and Norway. Danish political
discourse invokes culture, history, universal political values and ‘the people’ as central symbols,
and they are all processed through deterministic logic. It is predominantly the political right that
pushes a national identity frame. The political left, however, never tries to contest the national
identity frame put forth by the right; they never offer an alternative view of the nation. In Norway,
on the other hand, we find a strong political consensus across centre-left and centre-right parties on
a rather ambivalent processing of political values. The voluntaristic logic dominates, but arguments
drawing on deterministic logic are clearly present. In Sweden, history, political values and
globalization are the central symbols. The latter was processed in a voluntaristic manner by all
parties in the sense of success in a globalized world presupposing a culturally flexible national
identity. History was processed through a deterministic lens by the Conservative Party, while the
rest viewed both political values and history through a constructivist lens as something that must be
discussed and perhaps reformulated from a multiculturalist perspective.
On the individual dimension of boundary construction there is a difference between
Denmark and Norway on one side and Sweden on the other. In both Denmark and Norway
deterministic logic prevails. Discourse in both countries focus on national belonging as intricately
connected to the context in which one is raised. However, Danish discourse is preoccupied with
cultural proximity and cultural cross-pressure as obstacles to integration, while Norwegian
discourse focus on creating citizens able to fluently shift between cultural contexts and hereby
create common ground. In Swedish discourse national belonging can be brought about by social and
political participation alone. The individual has a real choice as long as society does not
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
The next step – at least in a Scandinavian context – is to move from ideational differences to
policy differences. How, if at all, do these logics of boundary construction combine to shape
integration policy? Do they shape how political parties compete on issues of integration? Do they
compete with or work in conjunction with other non-nationalistic ideas? Do they sustain, stress or
are they circumvented by existing institutional arrangements? To be able to answer these questions,
we need to trace the path of national identity ideas in specific decision-making processes.
What choice?
In this paper Scandinavia refers to Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Sometimes Iceland, Faroe Islands and Finland are
included. However, such use of the term is considered inaccurate in the area itself. Instead, the term Nordic countries
refer to this broader group.
Adrian Favell has argued that beneath the idea of immigrant integration itself “lies the deeper, social theoretical notion
of nationalist “social integration”— premised on a culturally shared, territorially bounded, and historically rooted notion
of society—that has found its dominant actualized expression in the modern world as the contemporary idea of the
nation-state.” (2006, 50–51).
Studies on national identity focusing on contemporary
Oliver Zimmer contrasts deterministic logic to constructivist logic. That is problematic; however, as constructivist
logic does not involve an assumption about the human ability to control identity formation. Just because meaning
structures are constructed do not mean they change easily or are any less determining of self-identification (Berger &
Luckmann 1966: 79).
In Denmark, these are the Socialistic People’s Party, the Social Democrats, the Social Liberal Party, the Liberal Party
and the Conservatives. In Norway, they are the Socialistic Left Party, the Centre Party, the Labour Party, the Christian
People’s Party and the Conservatives.
It was mainly the Christian Democrats that stressed the latter.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen went on to become party leader in 1998 and prime minister from 2001 to 2008.
Although it is often used rhetorically to accuse the left wing, cultural relativism or multiculturalism as an ideology has
in fact never been an influential idea on the left wing.
According to Anthony D. Smith, when political parties utilise ‘the will of the people’ as a ‘rhetorical court of appeal’
to justify political action and mobilisation, it strongly indicates an ethnic conception of the nation (Smith 1991: 12).
Requiring both the Danish-resident spouse and the new immigrant spouse to be at least 24 years old for family
reunification to be granted.
Ambivalence, however, is also visible in the white paper (Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development
2004: 11, 33, 55).
Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen
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Recomposing the ethnic-civic framework