Nina Gren, Associate Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Lund University

About Not Understanding the System – Ignorance as an Obstacle to a Meaningful Life in Sweden

During this seminar I will explore experiences of ignorance among some Swedish-Palestinian interlocutors. They expressed an absence of knowledge when it came to the country they lived in. Often they used the word “the System” then summarizing what they did not know about Swedish society. Such experienced ignorance created confusion and frustration in people’s lives and was only partly related to how long someone had lived in Sweden. Often ignorance was expressed in relation to a complex bureaucracy and how to deal with different authorities, but it could also be in relation to more vague feelings of not knowing how to get around or ahead in society. Several stated that they felt lonely and isolated and that they did not manage to get employed. Ignorance had at least partly created a sense of meaninglessness in life. It seemed as if such ignorance was more than just an outcome of an absence of knowledge or lack of proper information. To the contrary, these informants had followed several programs, projects and courses to inform and teach immigrants about Swedish society.

I will try to answer two questions: first, why do these Swedish-Palestinians feel ignorant despite all the work that are spent on making them and other migrants more knowledgeable, and second, what alternative attempts to gain knowledge do they make? I hereby build on anthropological analyses that underline the cultural and contextual specificities of how ‘knowledge’ and ‘non-knowledge’ are configured and how they are intimately connected to one another as well as to power. I argue that ignorance in this case is the unintended result of Swedish efforts to govern immigrants and that we need to take seriously the work of the “ignorant to teach themselves and others what they might decide they need to know” (Varenne 2009).

Nina Gren received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Gothenburg in 2009. It focused on resilience in relation to violent conflict in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. Gren has also done research about Palestinian diasporic practices during a post-doc at the University of Copenhagen and, more recently, about a Swedish introductory program for refugees. She is employed at the Department of Sociology, Lund University as an associate senior lecturer.

All seminars in the series.