Swedish 'Immigrant Literature' and the Constuction of Ethnicity

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Swedish 'Immigrant Literature' and the Constuction of Ethnicity

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Publication Article, peer reviewed scientific
Title Swedish 'Immigrant Literature' and the Constuction of Ethnicity
Author(s) Nilsson, Magnus
Date 2010
English abstract
The understanding of Swedish ‘immigrant literature’ as an expression or illustration of ethnicity is, for several reasons, deeply problematic. For the representation of ethnic experiences and identities in ‘immigrant literature’ is a product of the discursive construction of this kind of literature, rather than by the authors’ ethnic cultures. And this construction generates extremely narrow, and often othering and exoticizing, representations of non-Swedish ethnicities, since it is conditioned by the emerging self-image of Sweden as a multicultural society – a self-image underpinned by a rigid opposition between Swedish and immigrant culture. Futhermore, the view of ‘immigrant literature’ as a literature expressing ethnic experiences runs counter to an understanding of ethnicity as a cultural construct, since it presupposes that ethnicities exist outside of, and prior to, cultural representations. Thereby this view is indicative of (or, even, contributing to) the dominating Swedish discourse about ethnicity – a discourse which racializes non-Swedish ethnicities. In addition to this, the view of ‘immigrant literature’ as a literature expressing ethnicity is at odds with the representation of the relationship between cultural texts and ethnicity put forward in at least some ‘immigrant novels’. Works such as Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s Ett öga rött and Marjaneh Bakhtiari’s Kalla det vad fan du vill, for example, criticize both the construction of ‘immigrant literature’ as a source of information about non-Swedish ethnicities and the understanding of ethnicity as a pre-cultural category underpinning this view. By deconstructing the idea that literature and other cultural practices can express ethnic experiences, and by arguing that these practices should rather be viewed as constitutive of such experiences, Bakhtiari and Khemiri not only criticize the dominant view of ‘immigrant literature’. They also point out how the study of this literature – as well as literary criticism in general – could contribute to the understanding of ethnicity, namely by critically investigating how this phenomenon is constructed in literary texts.
Link http://dpc.uba.uva.nl/tvs/vol31/nr01/art09 (external link to publication)
Publisher TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek
Host/Issue TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek;1
Volume 31
ISSN 1875-9505
Pages 199-218
Language eng (iso)
Subject(s) Khemiri
immigrant literature
Swedish literature
Humanities/Social Sciences
Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION::Aesthetic subjects::Literature
Research Subject Categories::INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH AREAS::Ethnicity
Handle http://hdl.handle.net/2043/10294 (link to this page)

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