Layal Wiltgren, PhD, Tema Barn, Linköping University

Young people creating ethnicities

Based on a yearlong fieldwork in a junior high school on the outskirts of Stockholm, this study examines how young people interact and express ethnicity, nationality and multilingualism in everyday interactions. The study focuses on young people with the experience of migration, either themselves or within their families, and how they creatively express, and thereby create, ethnicity in their everyday lives. The focus is on the students’ own actions and their discussions surrounding ethnicities and how ethnic categories are filled with meanings. The analyses are based on participant observations and field notes, as well as more than 300 hours of audio recordings and transcriptions. The analyses highlight how young people use multilingualism and ethnical categories as resources and how they use laughter, humor, teasing interaction and self-irony to both challenge and strengthen each other as well as to establish and manifest communities. Local categorizations such as "Svenne" and "Import" are used to define both their peers and the Other. Swedishness is a prevalent norm, but it is open to positioning and negotiation. One of the social rules among the students concerns being proud of your background – pride that can be expressed both verbally and visually – for example, by wearing ethnic and national symbols to highlight belonging. Ethnic categories in the students’ social interactions are not rigid. Rather they are fluid and changeable, something that Stuart Hall refers to as new ethnicities, which are locally created and related to diversity. The analyses show that ethnicity, like other categories of identity, is not a thing that people are born with, but rather something that is staged and used as a resource in everyday social interaction. This study highlights how these categories are accomplished in action.

Layal Wiltgren successfully defended her thesis "STOLT: Om ungdomar, etniciteter och gemenskaper" (PROUD: On Youth, Ethnicities and Communities) in 2014. Wiltgren's scientific background lies in psychology and social anthropology and she defended her thesis at the cross-disciplinary Institution for Tema at Linköping University. Her thesis received the Faculty of Arts and Sciences prize for outstanding thesis. Wiltgren's primary research interests concern the processes of identity creation amongst youths, the creation and reproduction of norms and deviations, and interactions in everyday contexts.

  • Wiltgren, Layal Kasselias. 2014. STOLT!: Om ungdomar, etniciteter och gemenskaper. Linköping Studies in Arts and Science; 622 (Diss)
  • Wiltgren, Layal Kasselias. 2014. Youth using national symbols in constructing identities. Journal of Youth Studies 17, (3): 308-323.
  • Wiltgren, Layal Kasselias. 2014. Import: Ungdomar skapar etniska kategoriseringar. Barn: Forskning om barn och barndom i Norden (4): 31-46
  • Wiltgren, Layal Kasselias. 2013. Flerspråkighet som tillgång. I Maren Bak, Kerstin von Brömssen (red.) Barndom & migration. Umeå: Boréa.
  • Wiltgren, Layal Kasselias. 2012. STOLT!: Regeln om att försvara sin bakgrund. Locus 24, (4): 76-88.

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