Multi-professional Panics in the Aftermath of Refugee Arrivals

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaper/skriftligt oplægForskningpeer review


In the Summer of 2015, in all European welfare nation-states professionals, policy makers, administrators, and civil society organisations were in highest alert over the major refugee arrivals from Afghanistan, Syria, and the African continent. In Denmark, in particular, the government responded with stricter border controls and containment of refugees in temporary tent camps. Local administrative and professional bodies created panics about the lack of resources and lack of professional knowledge for managing the new refugee groups. The professional panics are particularly interesting in a historical perspective of earlier administrative and professional responses to the arrival of new refugee groups: The Afghans in the 2000s, the Bosnians in the 1990s, the Iranians in the early 1980s, the Vietnamese in the 1970s, the Jewish Poles in the late 1960s, the Hungarians in the 1950s, and not least, the Germans in 1945-46. This paper suggests we understand the professional panics as a multi-professional state-of-alert. The state-of-alert points to professional confusion, disruption, and anxiety about not being able to manage a presumably new target group with the professional repertoires already available. This state-of-alert crystallises welfare professional problematisations of the new target groups and becomes an occasion for the mobilisation of joint forces to manage and solve the imagined problems, thereby generating new professional tasks and needs for professionalization.This paper examines what professional actors and organisations contribute to the state-of-alert, with what agendas directed against whom? How were the newly arrived refugee groups described and problematized, and what solutions and interventions were suggested and set into action? The paper examines similarities and differences across four major welfare professions; teacher, social educators, nurses, and social workers. The refugee family as a shared object of problematisation and intervention is what binds these professional groups together in the historical educational practices under investigation. For example, professionals express concerns regarding single male refugees (without family), polygamous refugee families, unaccompanied refugee children (broken families), dysfunctional (traumatised) families etc.Analytical questions that reflect a theoretically informed understanding the object of study based on readings of Jacques Donzelot, Edward Said and Frantz Fanon, will be put to use in the analysis. Donzelot’s genealogical study of public intervention in family life and how professions partake in molding the social body through the family since the 18th century is setting the scene for focusing analytically on the refugee family in our study (1997). Said’s analysis of Orientalism as willed human work (2003: 15) inspires us to analyse professional work addressing refugee families as willed human work in its historical complexity of politics and culture. It furthermore emphasizes representation of the Other as representations (Ibid.: 21), i.e., problematisations made up of everyday knowledge constructs and myths about the exotic stranger, and also scientific interests in managing the truth about the stranger. Thus, we analyse what professional energies went into the making of a state-of-alert in response to the arrival of new refugees, and focus on changes, modulations and refinements within multi-professional thought about the refugee family. Finally, we also look to Fanon to be able to uncover the complexity and ambiguity of how race and racialization work in professional imaginations and problematisations. Fanon’s analyses points to how racism (and colonialism) is embedded in European civilizational culture in both tangible social and refined symbolic forms, and not least how racism as culture transforms and renews itself (1967, 2009). Therefore, racism must continually be carved out analytically in all aspects of social life (Fanon 1967: 81). Such notions encourage us to analyse the refinement of professional work tangled up with the refinement of racism, e.g., in terms of racialization practices (Larsen and Øland 2011; Øland 2012).Empirically, the analysis is based on a range of source material. Four professional journals are included representing four major welfare professions (teachers, social educators, nurses and social workers: Folkeskolen [The Public Community School], Børn & Unge [Children & Adolescents], Sygeplejersken [The Nurse], Socialrådgiveren [The Social Worker]. Included are also two journals published by Kommunernes Landsforening [National Association of Municipalities]: Danske kommuner [Danish Municipalities] and Momentum, and, finally, documents such as annual reports and leaflets from civil society organisations managing refugees, such as Dansk Flygtningehjælp [Danish Refugee Council], Dansk Røde Kors [Danish Red Cross] og Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke [ActionAid]. This kind of historical source material is particularly apt for identifying professional concerns and professional mobilisations over time (Padovan-Özdemir 2016).Recent dated material has been retrieved from the organisations’ websites. Older material has been retrieved from the library collection of education and educational research at Aarhus University, Emdrup, Copenhagen, and from The Collection of Pamphlets and Corporate Publications at the Royal Library, Copenhagen.Articles, announcements, job adds, etc. referring to professional work with refugees have been photographed and stored electronically, and then processed analytically.The selected source material is delimited to three significant periods of refugee arrivals in Denmark: the 2010s (2015-2016 – Syrians and others), the 1990s (1992-1996 - Bosnians) and the 1970s (1978-1980 – Vietnamese and others). Focusing on these three periods offers the opportunity to identify continuity and change in the professional state-of-alert created in response to the arrival of new refugee groups. Moreover, it stresses the importance of a context-sensitive analysis that places welfare professional panics in a broader administrative, political and cultural reform context. This paper offers insights into the social and cultural reasoning of welfare professional work with the refugee family. Conceptualising this work as a state-of-alert paves the way for carving out the social and symbolic representations of the refugee family in terms of the welfare professional work of problematizing and finding solutions to the arrival of new refugee groups. Accordingly, the multi-professional state-of-alert works as a mirror of the fears and panics about a potential degeneration of the welfare-national social body faced with major refugee arrivals. As such, the paper provides nuances to the racial logics as an inherent dimension of the modern welfare project and the role welfare professionals and administration play in handling the welfare of the newly arrived ‘other’. The paper also offers new perspectives on how racial logics and practices of racialisation are iterated, transformed, and refined in relation to the development of professional welfare work in a Scandinavian post-colonial welfare nation-state since the 1970s.In this way, the paper delivers an alternative to the policy-oriented and macro-political perspectives on the current refugee panics haunting European welfare nation-states. The paper does so by carving out more subtle logics of race in the mundane practices of professional mobilisation in response to the arrival of new refugee groups at three strategically selected moments in Danish immigration history.
StatusUdgivet - 2017
BegivenhedECER 2017: Reforming Education and the Imperative of Constant Change: Ambivalent roles of policy and educational research - København, Danmark
Varighed: 22 aug. 201725 aug. 2017


KonferenceECER 2017


  • Læring, pædagogik og undervisning


Padovan-Özdemir, M., & Øland, T. (2017). Multi-professional Panics in the Aftermath of Refugee Arrivals. Afhandling præsenteret på ECER 2017, København, Danmark.