Sweden presents an interesting case to examine given its dark history of racial biology and current status as a leader in humanitarian migration. In 1912, the Swedish State Institute for Race Biology (SIRB) was founded (Ericsson 2021
). Under the direction of Herman Lundborg, a known right-wing activist, until 1935, the institute focused on racial science and eugenics. His successor, the anti-fascist Gunnar Dahlberg, helped shift the focus of the organization towards medical genetics. However, racial science still remained as active area of inquiry at SIRB until at least 1960. SIRB conducted studies which served a scientific interest in the endorsement of a racial order based on the intrinsic, immutable differences between human populations (ibid.). The preservation of the idea of Sweden as a white nation, and one that has always been white (Hubinette and Lundström 2014
), is in part situated in the history of racial biology and the fear of miscegenation. A number of different policies during the first half of the 1900s aimed to help maintain the purity of the Nordic or Swedish race. This included the forced sterilizations of over 60,000 individuals from 1934 to 1975, most of whom were considered to be ‘lower stock’ such as the Roma or Travellers (Ericsson 2021
; Hubinette and Lundström 2014
). Practices such as these mirrored the desire for a homogenization of the population (ibid.).
In what feels like a contrast to this, Sweden’s migrant population has grown significantly since the second World War, with the highest rates of migration occurring within the last decade. After the dissolution of SIRB, Sweden began gaining traction as an active voice against racism (Hubinette and Lundström 2014
). Other social movements in Sweden at this time, such as the women’s movement, helped diffuse the historical focus on race (ibid.). Building off the need for more tailored policies regarding the labor migrants from previous decades, newer integration policies were pushed forward. In 1975, integration policies were formulated under a specific assumption; that those persons coming to Sweden would stay permanently. These policies underscored three main objectives; equality, partnership, and freedom of choice. Equality gave migrants rights to housing, schooling, and other basic rights as well as access to the welfare state, positioning them as similar to Swedes as possible. Partnership implied the expectation of active participation in politics and a mutual workmanship between immigrant groups and natives. Finally, freedom of choice allowed for migrants to determine whether or not they wanted to culturally integrate into Swedish society or retain their own ethnic identity (Emilsson 2016
; Westin 2003
). Of considerable interest for this work is the freedom of choice tenet. While the policy was overarchingly multicultural, it placed the burden of cultural integration on migrants (Westin 2003
). Migrants were presumed to develop into new national minorities (Soininen 1999
). However, labor migration from outside Scandinavia had all but stopped when the policy came into effect. Instead, a new type of migrant was arriving in Sweden; refugees.
Multicultural immigration policies were broken from in 1986. Groups known to have been residing in Sweden for a long time, such as the indigenous Sami and certain groups of Finns, were deemed as minorities rather than immigrant groups (Emilsson 2016
). Although the social and political guarantees of previous integration bills remained largely the same, the freedom of choice tenet became more challenged. Mainly, immigrant groups should assimilate to basic norms. This policy was later criticized for placing a cultural chasm between Swedes and immigrants, which in turn reinforced social stratification and boundaries between groups. In 1998, a new policy was introduced stating that both Swedes and ‘others’ should adapt to each other, de-emphasizing differences between these populations. The policy formally demanded equal rights, opportunities, and responsibilities between all persons in Sweden, despite ethnic or cultural background (Emilsson 2016
Although Sweden has been found to be generally more accepting of newcomers than other EU nations, since 1991 anti-migrant attitudes have increased in Sweden, coloring the lives of migrants and their descendants (Rydgren and Tyrberg 2020
). In tandem with the rise of migrants, right-wing political parties have also increased (Hellström and Bevelander 2018
). In 2010, the Swedish Democrats party (SD), who espouse anti-migrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric, were able to secure enough votes to qualify for parliament participation. Attitudinal research within Sweden has shown an increase in anti-migrant attitudes allowing for the election of a party such as SD (ibid.). The white majority is often seen through media representations as being the victims of violent incidents involving ‘immigrants’ or ‘foreigners’ (Hubinette and Lundström 2011
), portraying migrants and their children as aggressive ‘others’.
According to the Central Statistics Bureau of Sweden (SCB), 17.6% of the population under the age of 35 is foreign born (SCB 2020
). As of 2020, for individuals under the age of 35, 11.4% had two foreign-born parents and 10.3% had one parent that was foreign born (ibid.). Considering the changing demographics and history of Sweden, it is important to study how individuals of non-Swedish backgrounds feel about their society. What shapes an individual’s feeling of belongingness? Prior research suggests that this may be affected by ascribed identity from others, feelings of national identity, and the importance of continued ethnic identification with ancestral country identities, especially for so-called ‘second generation’ individuals (Verkuyten et al. 2019
This article will begin by presenting a framework for understanding identity and belongingness, as well as previous research conducted in Sweden. Then, the data will be introduced. The data used come from the Governing Citizenship in Scandinavia (GovCit) project, which examined attitudes, political opinions, and citizenship queries in different Scandinavian countries. Results and data reported in this article will focus exclusively on Sweden and specifically persons who are officially registered as having parents born in the following nations: Poland, Somalia, Vietnam, and Turkey. The article will conclude with a discussion of the results and implications for further research.
2.1. Belongingness and Identity
Belongingness is one of our most basic needs (Maslow 1954
)—it legitimizes our place in society. Personal familiarity with a system or environment, and believing oneself to be an integral part of those systems, is to feel a sense of belonging (Hagerty et al. 1992
). This can feel like security or acceptance and can increase someone’s ability to ‘function well’. The question of who feels that they belong is not only for immigrants but for society as a whole, as these questions are community bound (Ali et al. 2006
). As humans are social creatures who wish to engage in group life (Fiske 2018
), an individual’s feeling of belongingness to others, and others’ perceptions of the individual, have been the focus of social psychology for a long time. This is unsurprising given the real benefits that connectedness to others holds. In order to reap these benefits fully, individuals both consciously and unconsciously adhere and adapt themselves social norms and roles within group structures. The molding of one’s identity in relation to groups and within groups facilitates connectivity and, hopefully, belongingness (ibid.). How an individual belongs in a society is a negotiation between the identity they present, what they are ascribed, and what is allowed by that society (Schlenker 1985
Identity is polysemic. Used so broadly and in so many different contexts, e.g., sociology, psychology, attitudinal studies, and ethnic relations, identity has become an academic ‘buzzword’ (Verkuyten et al. 2019
). Following the work of Verkuyten et al.
), this paper acknowledges two separate types of identity that are relevant to the overall work; group membership as a form of social identity (Tajfel and Turner 1979
) and the internalized, inner structure of cultural identity. Social identity theory (SIT) describes the ‘me with we’, or how the external process of being part of a group involves the individual (Tajfel and Turner 1979
; Verkuyten et al. 2019
). SIT refers to an individual’s assertation of group belongingness based on their self-concept (Tajfel and Turner 1979
). Additionally, SIT proposes that individuals understand groups via comparison with relevant out-group members and therefore, is a social process (ibid.). In contrast, an individual’s cultural identity is the ‘we in me’; internalized processes and reflections of cultural membership as a part of an individual’s sense of self (Verkuyten et al. 2019
). Despite holding the title of being part of a certain group, it is still possible for individuals to lack a sense of inclusion or belongingness to that group. A salient example of this would be identification to the nation state in Sweden, where true membership and inclusion is subject to unattainable criteria, such as race and ancestry (Simonsen 2016
National identity as a social identity accounts for not only the self-ascribed label of a nation but to a greater, more all encompassing feeling of belongingness and acceptance within broader society (Phinney and Devich-Navarro 1997
). Further, the idea of a national identity is entrenched in images of who does and does not belong to that body politic (Anderson 1991
; Simonsen 2016
). Therefore, the nation becomes ‘a stable and coherent object’ through which individuals conceptualize relationships to the feeling of belonging or, conversely, exclusion (Simonsen 2019
). The nation state is present in our daily lives; evident in the news we watch, the language we speak, the values and history we are taught, and in the sports and athletes we support (ibid.). Previous research has lacked an exploration of what Simonsen
) has called the ‘affective dimension of integration’, meaning the degree to which migrants and their descendants feel belongingness to and identity with the nation state.
Conversely, the retention of ethnic identity within a host society has been studied a considerable amount. There have been many definitions of ethnicity and ethnic identity (see Ashmore et al. 2004
for review). Identifying and belonging to ethnic groups is an important and central way that humans have chosen to define themselves (Tsai et al. 2002
). Ethnicity can be essentialist, or linked to ‘ancestral heritage’ (Phinney 2005, p. 188
). Ethnic identity can be defined as one’s self-label (Rumbaut 1994
). However, a more complex definition stems from ‘common ancestry and the sharing of one or more of the following elements: culture, religion, language, kinship, and place of origin’ (Phinney et al. 2001, p. 496
). Ethnicity and race are related concepts (Verkuyten 2018
) and in the Swedish context ethnicity is often used as a proxy term for race (Osanami Törngren 2015
). Theorists, such as Berry
), for example, have emphasized that ethnic self-identification needs a minimum of two ethnic reference groups: an in-group and an out-group. Commonly, the ethnic reference groups utilized are that of the majority ethnic group in society and the ancestral ethnic group of the individual (Noels et al. 2010
). Ethnic identity is not only formulated via in-group and out-group; rather, co-ethnics are often prominent in the shaping of these identities (Verkuyten 2018
). An individual within this perspective can identify anywhere along the spectrum between both reference groups, but also with neither or both (Noels et al. 2010
Ethnic identity is not the same as one’s ascribed identity or reflected appraisal. Reflected appraisal is a psychological term meaning one’s perception of how others see them (Mead 1934
; Cooley 1902
). This is distinct from how the individual perceives themselves, called self-appraisals, which also differ from actual appraisals, or how others actually perceive them (Fiske 2018
). Instead, reflected appraisal is how individuals perceive and experience how they are seen. Ascribed identity is the application of this same process; it is the reporting of the identity one believes others see them as (Brubaker and Cooper 2000
; Jenkins 2014
). Reflected appraisals endorse and restrict identity, because there might be a gap between what you claim and what you are ascribed. Indeed, ethnic identity is the interaction between reflected appraisals and chosen identity (Verkuyten 2018
). An individual can experience a discrepancy between their chosen identification and the one ascribed to them, especially if there are limited ethnic options for them to claim (Waters 1990
In this paper, I conceptualize the reflection of whether or not individuals perceive that they are seen as belonging to an ethnic group as the reflected appraisal of ascription
. This process could be represented in the question, do you feel that people look at you as Swedish?
Research on ethnic identification has often been concerned with the ‘situated variable experience’ (Noels et al. 2010
) or the ascription of identity and the social context this occurs in. This nesting of identification within the broader milieu presents different social categories for the individual to inhabit, which in turn also affect an individual’s self-identification. Reflected appraisals and ascription need not be the greater influencer of ethnic identification, or feelings of inclusion or exclusion. Certainly, individuals orient themselves within the situations they are in, as they see fit or as they are able. This is because identifications can be situation driven, meaning that an individual might find it needed to embody a specific identification in different situations or feel pressure from others to do so.
The language of identity is an expression of social representations (Hall 1997
). Identity labels are applications of the social identities we feel exist in the world around us. As individuals, we have mental representations of things, people, and even places which are conceptualized via their relationship to other things. Language helps us as individuals articulate these meanings based our own interpretations of how different social representations relate to one another and ourselves. We use the language of social representations to confirm our membership to the groups in which we inhabit and those we do not. Additionally, we confirm and deny others’ identity by assigning identity labels to them (ibid.). In this article, participants were able to indicate the importance of ethnic and national identities to themselves, which is a reflection of how they feel that they socially represent these identities. In contrast, data within this work also explore how these individuals feel that others assign the label of ‘Swedishness’ to them. In other words, the reflected appraisal of ascription is an operationalization of the social representation of what it means to be perceived as ‘Swedish’.
2.2. Studies of Identity in Sweden
The dichotomy of being considered Swedish or not can be partially conceptualized in two considerations; the idea of Swedish nativity and the administrative practice of categorization carried out by the Central Statistics Bureau (SCB). Neither racial or ethnic identity is recorded in Sweden, therefore nativity becomes the categorical mechanism (SCB 2020
). This can become problematic for individuals when a gap between ethnic and national identification emerges. Within official population statistics, individuals born in Sweden whose parents were born abroad are statistically classified as ‘having a foreign background’ (SCB 2020
). However, the administrative distinction of ‘having a foreign background’ disappears with those whom have two parents born in Sweden, such as third generation individuals (ibid.). This can create further concept blurriness; individuals might not necessarily be considered to be Swedish in their daily lives, but are administratively seen as Swedish.
Countries such as the United States, Australia, and Canada allow for the presence of hyphenated identities (i.e., Indian-American). This type of labeling allows for an individual to express relations to the nation state as well as their ethnic group (Simonsen 2016
). In Western Europe, hyphenated identities can be seen as a contrast to national belonging, rather than inclusion to both groups (Verkuyten and Martinovic 2012
). Identifications such as these become more tricky and less common in the Swedish context (Behtoui 2019
), other than a few notable exceptions, such as the Afro Swedes. Often in Sweden, it has been found that hyphenated identities are not validated by wider society. Instead, individuals could be categorized as ‘invandrare
’ or ‘immigrant’ which extends into migrants’ descendants, creating an either/or belongingness dichotomy. Previous research has claimed that persons identified as ‘invandrare
’ can be seen as not assimilated enough, or portraying the antithesis of ‘Swedishness’ (ibid.). Other researchers have shown that the word ‘immigrant’ connotes ‘a representation of social problems’ (Trondman 2006, p. 433
). Therefore, being an ‘invandrare’
becomes a social category of its own. Despite these studies, there is a lack of research done on how ascription interacts with the claiming of Swedish identity, and whether or not feelings of belongingness are affected by this.
) conducted qualitative research on individuals with foreign backgrounds between the ages of 12 and 16 in Sweden, in regard to how they self-identify. Here, it was found that most participants expressed a fluidity that was context dependent. Behtoui
) also studied adolescents with migrant backgrounds in Sweden and found that individuals’ identities are fluid yet contextualized in different societal spheres, such as with family, friends, or at school. However, studies have also shown that individuals feel that they are ascribed an identification which felt non-negotiable (e.g., Moinian 2009
). Perhaps as a consequence of such ascription, other studies have found that descendants of migrants choose the identification of invandrare
and use this as a monolith (e.g., Runfors 2016
). This categorization allows for an individual to bypass ethnic or racial labeling, or even hyphenated identity, and arises from being seen as othered (ibid.). This can partially be explained by Sweden’s multiculturalist approach which allowed immigrants to retain their home languages and culture (Westin 2003
). This strategy, however, has previously been accredited with segregating the population in ‘Swedish’ vs. ‘non-Swedish’ as migrant groups and their descendants are never seen as fully integrated (Scuzzarello 2015
2.3. Somalians, Turks, Vietnamese, and Poles in Sweden
For this study, individuals whose parents were born in Somalia, Poland, Turkey, and Vietnam will be comparatively examined. In order to glean a better understanding and context for this, each group will be briefly presented below. However, it is important to clarify that the migration patterns mentioned below may not be applicable to all the participants included in this study. Rather, this is meant to serve as a framework for the most notable migration patterns for each group.
Somalian migration to Sweden began in the late 1980s and still continues today. Previous studies have shown that Somalian is spoken in home environments, which aids in creating stronger ethnic identity (Palm et al. 2019
). First-generation Somalian youth in Sweden have been found to report feelings of social exclusion and difficulties in inclusion. Many of these issues were linked to the direct experience of migration; however, similar issues were found in other studies comparing Somalis in the UK and Sweden (Scuzzarello and Carlson 2019
). Several studies have reinforced previous findings that hyphenated identities are less actualized in Sweden. For example, in Osman et al.
), participants corrected an earlier version of the article draft where they were referred to as ‘Somali-Swedish adolescents’, affirming that they would rather be referred to as ‘Somali’ despite living in Sweden. Other previous research has highlighted that for individuals with Somali backgrounds in Sweden, identification becomes binary; one is a Somali in Sweden and a Swede in Somalia (Scuzzarello and Carlson 2019
). This is common finding within studies of ethnic identity (see Verkuyten 2018
for a review).
Many Poles within Sweden came after the EU expansion in 2004 (Scuzzarello 2015
) or as guest laborers in the 1990s. Within Swedish discourse, Poles are often seen as more integrated into society than other groups due to participation in the workforce and low levels of criminality. As previous research has pointed out, perceptions of integration about different migrant groups do not always map to how migrants or their descendants’ actually feel within society (Scuzzarello 2015
). Investigations into the feeling of belongingness within the Polish community in Sweden has shown that Poles mirror other groups’ feelings of exclusion from Swedish society (Scuzzarello 2015
; Shmulyar Gréen et al. 2021
). Ethnic identity in Poles tends to be centered around religious affiliation, with churches and religious associations taking on a role as social hubs as well as places of worship (Shmulyar Gréen et al. 2021
). This has been found to be particularly true for more newly arrived Polish migrants (ibid.). Sweden is a notoriously secular country and identities which emphasize religion can be seen as an out-group since religiosity is often viewed as regressive or unmodern (Sjöborg 2015
Turks within Sweden today are either descendants of labor migrants from the 1960s, some of whom were Kurds, or Assyrian refugees from the mid 1970s (Vedder and Virta 2005
). Due to nativity and not ethnicity, religion, or language being recorded by the Swedish state, all three of these groups would be identified as Turks in official statistics (Westin 2003
). For clarity in this work, I will also refer to them as Turks. Like many other groups in Sweden, Turks have been othered. Often seen as poor scholastic achievers and prone to behavioral problems within schools, Turkish men are particularly stereotyped. Previous research has indicated that identifying as Swedish negatively predicts positive adjustment for second-generation Turks (ibid.). This means that higher national identification does not necessarily translate into a higher feeling of belongingness in society.
Vietnamese migrants came to Sweden at the end of 1975 as political refugees (Sam and Virta 2001
). Previous studies have found that when comparing self esteem scores between descendants of migrants from Chile, Turkey, and Vietnam and natives in Sweden and Norway, the Vietnamese group scored the lowest in both countries. Researchers have theorized that this is due to ‘their Confucian child upbringing where modesty may be deemed as a virtue’ (ibid., p. 375). However, other studies have shown that Vietnamese students in Stockholm reported higher levels of school adjustment than other migrants and natives (Virta and Westin 1999
). These studies are quite old and to the best of my knowledge, the Vietnamese within Sweden are not studied as frequently as other groups, such as, for example, Somalians.
A uniting finding is that individuals from all four groups report feelings of exclusion in Sweden. In particular, studies on these groups point to how these individuals feel shut out of Swedishness (see Scuzzarello and Carlson 2019
; Odmalm 2005
) and others (see Hubinette and Lundström 2014
) have suggested that this could be due the strong ties between national identification and ethnicity (i.e., whiteness). Further, ‘diversity’ in Sweden has been dichotomized into ‘invandrare’ (immigrants) and natives (Scuzzarello 2015
; Behtoui 2019
). Ethnic homogeneity is still a primary component for national belonging (Scuzzarello 2015
), despite inclusive welfare state institutions and multiculturalist policies. This idea of ethnic versus civic national identity in Sweden could be said to have its roots in the racial biological practices at SIRB, where the idea of a pure, ethnically Swedish ‘race’ was promoted and studied for several decades.
How strongly does the reflected appraisal of ascription play a role in feeling a sense of belongingness? Do individuals from different ethnic groups in Sweden feel that being Swedish is important to their identity? For the descendants of migrants, identity is a complex and multifaceted process. National and ethnic identity may not go hand-in-hand. This article seeks to examine how individuals process their ascribed Swedishness, feelings of belongingness, and their identifications, both national and ethnic. By examining these different variables together, a more contextualized, richer description of different ethnic groups in Sweden can be conceptualized. This article is interested in the combination of these factors together, in order to paint a clearer picture of how much or to what degree they are of importance. Therefore, this article aims to explicate the following hypothesis:
As descendants of migrants are not a monolith, groups with different ethnic backgrounds will significantly differ in all four variables of interest; ascription, importance of ethnic and national identity, and belongingness;
Ascription will make an independent, statistically significant contribution to feelings of belongingness when controlling for the association of ethnic and national identity at the same time.