Conflict, marginalisation and transformation : African migrants in Sweden

Abstract: Migrants from the Global South, coming to Sweden predominantly since the 1980s, have become a major focus of public discussions about immigration. The fears of and resentments toward the migrant ‘other’ appear to have shifted from European migrants to migrants of the Global South. Numerous studies (and official reports) showing the marginalisation of these migrants confirm their spotlight position. The aim of this thesis is to describe and explain the kind of challenges which African migrants face in their local Swedish context and to find out if they undergo any significant transformations affecting their identities and/or ways of life. This objective was pursued through a field study of African migrants from Cameroon and Somalia living in the city of Malmö. The empirical material consisted of semi-structured interviews with individuals and groups and participant observations at migrant cultural associations. The analysis utilised two main theoretical frameworks: theory of conflict transformation and theories of discrimination (racism). The choice of the former was made to illuminate the agency of migrants by highlighting their capacity to act in their own interests within the host society. A major strength of this approach is that it draws attention to the (re)actions of both ‘natives’ and migrants towards each other. Theories of discrimination address the important issue of unequal power relations working against migrants, which tend to be neglected in conflict theory. The advantage of using these different theoretical approaches is that they complement each other and thus strengthen the theoretical discussion in the thesis. Analysis of the empirical material indicated that established practices in major institutions, as well as individual actions at the micro level of society, contribute to the marginalisation of migrants. A major finding was that both migrants and ‘natives’ are involved in practices that produce experiences of marginalisation and discrimination for the former. Actions that produced conflicts, material deprivation and exclusion were identified with both migrants and ‘natives’. However, actions by ‘natives’ had a more negative impact than those by migrants. This was seen as the result of the fact that ‘natives’ have greater influence in society because of their relative position of power. Finally, the thesis showed that migrants perceive the challenges confronting them in Sweden in different ways, due to the specific experiences they face in Sweden but also by reason of their experiences in their countries of origins and their different migration histories. Some of them saw the practices that produced their marginalisation as infringements on their basic rights and responded by actively fighting back. Others were  less critical of similar practices and did little or nothing about them. Important differences between migrants were also noted in relation to their transformations in Sweden affecting important aspects of their lives: their identities, power relations among them and between them and the host society, gender relations, and their ways of dealing with the challenges with which they were confronted. These differences were seen as a result of the heterogeneity of the migrants under study, who nevertheless are often homogenised as the African ‘other’. This heterogeneity consisted of hierarchical gender relations, varying access to material resources, and membership in exclusive networks of belonging based on particularistic  national and regional identities.