Special Issue "Intimate Belongings—Kinship and State Relatedness in Migrant Families in Denmark"

A special issue of Genealogy (ISSN 2313-5778). This special issue belongs to the section "Family History".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 15 December 2021.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Mette-Louise Johansen
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
The Danish Center for Social Science Research, 8200 Aarhus N, Denmark
Interests: migrant families; policing; state-margin relations; inequality; welfare state; Denmark
Prof. Dr. Lone Grøn
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
The Danish Center for Social Science Research, 1052 Copenhagen K, Denmark
Interests: kinship studies; chronic diseases; life style changes; aging; obesity; Denmark

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Anthropologists and sociologists have paid increasing attention to how states and families entangle in modern societies. In recent decades, anthropologists have questioned the basic assumption that the state exists as a separate entity seemingly above and beyond society by focusing on the state as a hybrid and relational construct enacted in everyday life and across the private–official divide (Thelen, Vetters and Von Benda-Beckmann 2014). Along the same lines, new kinship studies have critiqued classic understandings of kinship as a unified biological ‘whole’ moving beyond biological determinism and the genealogical model (Bamford and Leach 2009). This research has explored the creative energy of making kinship, highlighting cases of adoption, gay and lesbian kinship, and artificial reproduction (Franklin and McKinnon 2001; Carsten 2004; McKinnon 2017) and shown how kinship and relatedness emerge through genetic and blood connections, but also through the sharing of food, land, or a shared history or nation (Carsten 2004). A predominant debate within these new anthropologies concerns how states, or statehood, and family systems are intimately intertwined as well as mutually transformed (Thelen and Alber 2018). The constitutive relationship between states and families has been investigated extensively in recent research on changing marriage and migration patterns that redefine local state structures, kinship images, and family arrangements (Carsten 2004, 2020, McKinnon and Cannell 2013, Lambek 2013). These studies have taken a relational approach to the state, showing how the state is enacted in and through its relations, and how it connects with, and is tied up into, family networks as one formation among others in a wider set of relatedness.

In this Special Issue, we seek to extend these recent explorations further by examining intimate belongings at the intersection between kinship and state relatedness in Denmark. More specifically, the Special Issue emphasizes research among migrant families in the Danish welfare state. Taking an inspiration in recent research of how phenomena run in families (Grøn and Meinert 2020), we ask: How does kinship ‘run’ in the welfare state, and how does the state ‘run’ in migrant families?

Danish welfare research has primarily been concerned with questions about power, control, and governmentality related to migration and integration issues. A strong body of Danish research has documented the exclusionary, segregated, racialized, and punitive character of integration and identity politics aimed at the migrant Other (Johansen and Jensen 2017, Hervik 2011, Jensen, Weibel and Vitus 2017, Kublitz 2020, Schierup 2012, Rytter 2010). Critical scholarly work has brought insight into how migrants at various levels of the welfare system are subjected to institutionalized forms of ‘civilizing’ and domesticating practices that reinforce experiences of otherness, marginality, race, and inequality (Gilliam and Gulløv 2017, Padovan-Özdemir and Øland 2017). Some of this research has pointed to the intimate character of the welfare state, demonstrating how the state intervenes into the innermost private routines of everyday life through a strong embeddedness of order enforcement in migrant communities (Johansen 2020, Larsen 2011; Linde-Laursen 1993). The literature demonstrates that the state is particularly visible in the lives of migrant families, especially families living in migrant ‘ghettos’, since this is where the state is constantly re-founding its mode of order and lawmaking (Johansen 2019, Rytter 2019).

Building on these well-established and important insights into the darker sides of the social engineering of the Danish welfare state, with this Special Issue, we zoom in on how state and kinship relatedness emerge in both everyday lives and institutional settings, asking how this intertwining animates different forms of intimate belonging. What we call intimate belonging refers to the way in which belonging unfolds through intimacy, not as a sexual affinity, but as a social dynamic of state and kin proximity across social, institutional, and relational fields. This dynamic may be of a particular kind and nature. From previous studies of domestic intimacies, we know that spaces of belonging arise through diverse sets of circumstances, emerging in multiple incarnations and generating a wide range of affects and affinities (Goodfellow and Mulla 2008). From the new kinship studies, we know that relatedness and belonging can be established through avoidance, distance, difference, and exclusion as well as through contact, proximity, sameness, and inclusion (Stasch 2009, Candea et al 2015, Strathern 2020, Grøn 2020)). We also know that relatedness is not necessarily benevolent (or malevolent for that matter) (Das 1995; Geschiere 1997; Peletz 2001; Lambek 2011), and in fact, the same relational act can be equally and simultaneously nourishing and poisonous (Meinert and Grøn 2020). In similar veins, we see that the domestic is not necessarily a space of safety (Das, Ellen and Leonard 2008), nor is the institutional necessarily (or entirely) a space of domestication, unfamiliarity, or unsafety. We invite contributions that move beyond the established geographies of theorization that define state or kinship relatedness in normative terms—as good or bad, benevolent or malevolent, strong or weak—in order to highlight the considerable tensions, clashes, and ambiguities, as well as new possibilities, potentialities, and trajectories that characterize relatedness in between state and kinship ties.

The focus on migrant families provides us with a privileged empirical site through which to explore dynamics of intimacy in the intertwining of state and family relations, especially how this relation unfolds across generations and within the scope of extended family systems. Research has pointed to the extremely high levels of trust in the welfare state in Danish society, showing the state’s role as a central national identity marker (Olwig and Paerregaard 2011), and public imaginaries about the state as “the good neighbor” (Jenkins 2011) and “what we are all about” (Johncke 2011). However, this research also underlines that migrants—across the age-span and generational divide—may have radically different experiences of the state and its welfare institutions than polite society (Olwig, Larsen and Rytter 2012). The perspective of migrant families, whose “outsider” position to the state and majority society articulates acute tensions, as well as emerging potentialities, in negotiations about where to belong, who to belong to, and what belongs to whom and why, accentuates the compelling nature of state and kinship proximity (Goodfellow and Mulla 2008). While relations and sentiments of belonging can be compelling, offering a vehicle for safety and embeddedness as well as innovation and positive change, they may also be compelled in the form of governmental or kinship constraints, which may fixate the family in social or institutional ties of belonging (see Jensen and Hapal 2015). The latter points to the, sometimes, claustrophobic proximity that migrants live in, with a strong co-existence of state and family relatives who do not necessarily agree upon what constitutes a legitimate space of belonging. Currently, this conflict is explicitly at play between welfare institutions and religious institutions, each of which may constitute vital positions in migrants’ lives (Suhr 2019). Fleshing out the family perspective from the point of view of various generations, and employing kinship as a prism to understand issues of belonging, we ask: How does intimate state and kinship forms of belonging intersect in migrant communities and welfare institutions in Denmark?

Studies of migrant families in Denmark revolve around specific key processes in the welfare state, discussing particularly the concepts of care, control, and “cultivation” in institutional settings. We propose to revisit these debates from an angle that addresses the porous boundaries between state and kinship in a wide range of settings: in eldercare settings, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, the police, social and welfare services, refuge asylums, prisons, family policy settings, as well as family homes and neighborhoods. We pay special attention to studies that show how institutions and homes are entangled in new ways and animate novel forms of intimate belonging. What happens, for instance, when family members become professionalized caregivers in nursing homes, or even in their own homes, and in this way bring the Danish health system into the family system or vice versa? Or, what about the enrolment of family members into positions of authority and control, e.g., when some family members engage in the policing of others in the family neighborhood? Additionally, what state-kinship relatedness emerges in ‘vulnerable families’, whose home, children, daily routines, private celebrations, etc. are intimately shared with home nurses, mentors, social workers, and other caregivers? In families struggling with various disabilities, the inclusion of state representatives into spaces of belonging might be just as key to family conviviality as the closest of kinship circles. These are only a few out of innumerous cases where migrants are positioned ‘in between’ and provide tangible empirical starting points for debating notions of belonging, the state, and intimate family life. Fleshing out the complex entanglement of kinship and state relatedness in institutional and home settings, we ask: Are new configurations and forms of state and kinship relatedness emerging, which can help to illuminate novel productions of statehood and social belonging among migrant families in Denmark?

Authors submitting to this special issue will not be charged any Article Processing Charges (APCs).


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Dr. Mette-Louise Johansen
Prof. Dr. Lone Grøn
Guest Editors

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  • migrant families
  • welfare state
  • intimate belonging
  • relatedness
  • Denmark

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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