Between being and longing : Young former refugees’ experiences of place attachment and multiple belongings

Abstract: This thesis focuses on young former refugees’ lived experiences of and reflections on processes of place attachment and negotiation of belonging in Norway. The analysis draws on a postcolonial understanding of migration and belonging, and is inspired by post-structuralism and critical phenomenology. The thesis analyses belonging from two perspectives: as a personal relationship to people and places, and as relationally produced and negotiated through social discourses and boundary-making practices in everyday life. The thesis is based on fieldwork conducted with forty former refugee youths, using multiple methods such as in-depth interviews, participant observation, activity diaries, and auto-photography. In addition, teachers, municipal representatives, peer students, siblings, and parents contributed to the knowledge presented in the thesis. Article I explores how the youths’ translocal networks and practices contributed to the process of attaching to a new place, arguing that it is necessary to understand how ideas of both roots and routes are entangled in the young former refugees’ sense of belonging. Article II discusses the spatial organizing of newly arrived students in school and its social consequences. It is argued that the “foreigner” category is socially constructed through a racialization process in which space, skin colour, and language are key components, and that this process is reinforced in school. Article III explores how generic discourses rendering Muslims “the other” in Norway affect young Muslim girls’ experiences of belonging in different geographical and social spaces. The article highlights how the navigation of belonging that the girls undertook entailed constant work that they could not escape due to their visibility as Muslim girls. Article IV explores place attachment and belonging with a focus on everyday habits and routines, and shows that the youths simultaneously drew on shared knowledge from their social networks and on embodied knowledge gained through the habitual use of place to perform belonging. Overall, the thesis provides a nuanced understanding of young former refugees’ belonging that is both multi-sited and multi-layered.