Broadening Social Work’s Framework on Place and Belonging: An Investigation into Identity Processes Intersected by Experiences of Migration

Broadening Social Work’s Framework on Place and Belonging: An Investigation into Identity... Abstract Social work is yet to develop a domain-specific vantage point on the ideologically charged topic of migration. To date, social work’s focus has centred on cultural competency. This paper uses information obtained from migrant narratives to understand the dynamics of belonging in the context of place and identity. Belonging is not confined to the ethnic perimeter. Visual narrative analysis was applied to make sense of the experiences of belonging. Individual and social freedoms were highlighted in the narratives. The findings challenge methodological nationalism and the multicultural framework that understands culture as a fixed entity. In addition, the findings highlight a need to build more supportive relationships with migrant clients by acknowledging that the clients are active shapers of societal practices. Anti-oppressive practice, qualitative methods, narrative Introduction This article investigates how migrants in Finland claim a sense of place and belonging through spatially organised logic of identity, and it discusses how integration services can utilise clients’ own strategies of belonging. Social work is yet to shift the focus from intercultural encounters to a multileveled approach to the migration phenomenon. Pat Cox and Thomas Geisen (2014) call for the development of a domain-specific vantage point to migration. As a profession, social work is heavily dependent on state policies and perhaps this has hindered the willingness to address migration as a complicated and ideologically charged topic (Ioakimidis, 2015). Social work’s focus on ethnicity has raised concerns over the years. First, it can lead to the use of clash-of-civilisations narrative as a way of explaining away complex situations in an individual’s life (Anis, 2008; Keskinen, 2011). Second, the focus on ethnicity over-culturalises migrants and, as a consequence, the focus is removed from seeing migrants as rights-bearing (Park, 2005; Williams and Graham, 2014). Current research has illuminated on the above concerns further. To begin with, some clients simply may not wish to be ethnically matched, for a variety of reasons (Barn and Das, 2016). Thus, the danger is that the cultural competence approach locks staff into culturalised and ethnified positions, and thereby the approach encourages an ambition to handle difference in opposition to encouraging genuine partnership with clients (Gruber, 2016). In other words, ethnic pluralism requires social engineering which makes the cultural competency approach vulnerable to misuses of power (Yngvesson, 2015). In addition, favouring practices of surveillance over practices of participation prevents social workers from forming an emotional connection to clients’ lived experience (Robinson and Masocha, 2016). To heighten awareness of the issues outlined above, social workers need new analytical frameworks that help them to resist practices of surveillance (Robinson and Masocha, 2016) and that can help them to identify the complex nuances and ambivalences in clients’ lives (Maiter and Joseph, 2016). This paper argues that such a framework requires building an understanding about the nexus between place, belonging and identity. Developing a domain-specific theoretical framework on this topic is an important ethical obligation due to the profession’s unique outlook on the everyday experiences of migrant individuals (see Clarke, 2011). The main purpose of this paper is to bring forth an alternative intellectual framework that broadens the concept of belonging beyond ethnicity. Importantly, the research provides access to identity processes that would remain hidden if the focus were primarily on cultural background. Emphases on cultural background often oversimplifies the links between identity, place and belonging. It is important to acknowledge that experiences of similarity and difference exist simultaneously and paradoxically in individuals’ lives (see Maiter and Joseph, 2016). To revise new strategies, connecting to lived experience is the first step. This research is situated in the emerging social work research that is moving away from the emphasis on ethnicity. The new approach draws attention to the importance of understanding the world visions of migrants through insights into individuals’ personal histories (Hernández and Garcıa-Moreno, 2014) and acknowledging migrants as shapers of societal practices (Cox and Geisen, 2014). Within social work, there is a need to move past racialised identity and carve a space where identity, place and belonging can unfold in new and surprising ways (Crath, 2012). The official integration policies in Finland have embraced the multicultural rhetoric which puts the emphasis on authentic ethnic identity in regard to belonging (Ministry of Employment and the Economy of Finland, Keskeiset käsitteet [Essential Concepts], https://kotouttaminen.fi/keskeiset-kasitteet (accessed 24 September 2017)). This research distances itself from the ethnic paradigm and creates a space for alternative and additional representations. According to cultural theorist Stuart Hall (2003), it is misleading to simply think of identity as based upon some authentic ethnic origin when individual identity choices are inherently political. To access the multidimensional experiences, an art-based method (picture collage) was applied. The participants were asked to make picture stories that addressed tensions between belonging and not belonging. In the conversations that followed, the participants talked about the collages. The research provides an exciting opportunity to advance the understanding of how migrants who come to Finland negotiate important attachments and how these attachments are integrated into identity. This knowledge is needed in social work practise, since loss of place where one belongs can lead to a diminished sense of self-cohesion (Vandemark, 2007). bell hooks describes this sense of disorientation in the autobiographical account of her journey from place to place: ‘In a world where I did not belong, I struggled to find strategies for survival’ (hooks, 2009, p. 218). This study has relevance also outside social work. As Mikko Lehtonen (2013) points out, social science researchers need to use their imagination to identify ways in which they can grasp the dynamics of an increasingly borderless world. Moving away from strict categories Those who emigrate have no choice but to renegotiate important attachments (Hall, 2003) but, at the same time, immigrants have the least space for these negotiations due to stereotypes around ethnicity and culture (Parekh, 2008). Emphasis on authentic ethnic identity undermines personal choices and the mixing and matching of influences that individuals actively engage in. This study highlights an alternative to the postmodern understanding of identity which, when missing a critical stance, is happy to sidestep issues of socialisation, context and history (Taylor, 2010; Maiter and Joseph, 2016). The nihilist tendencies in the postmodern framework emphasise fragmentation in regard to identity, instead of continuity. Individuals who change geographical location actively engage in identity work through the act of remembering. The research explores the ways in which past experiences of place are reproduced and new associations and meanings created and how these processes shape identity. To approach the migration phenomenon requires imagination and the stepping-aside from traditional notions on nation states, regions, places, identities and belonging. The key concepts are place, belonging and identity. Individuals project portions of themselves onto a place. Spatial perception reflects our inner psychological world—how we experience the world and ourselves in it (Vandemark, 2007). Belonging is looked at through the dynamics of the desire of ‘wanting to belong, wanting to become’ (Probyn, 1996, p. 19). Socio-spatial relations are experienced locally but they are not confined to locality, since the relations spread globally (Nelson and Hiemstra, 2008). These relations are charged with tensions. Exclusion from potentially shared places are accomplished and naturalised through the local organisation of space (Nelson and Hiemstra, 2008). Understanding these power plays is crucial because ethnic pluralism is socially engineered (Yngvesson, 2015) also within the profession of social work. On identity, the analysis draws on the work of Bikhu Parekh (2008). He perceives personal identity as a moral and intellectual compass that helps a person to navigate through life. Parekh’s definition is fruitful because it allows investigation into how individuals navigate through life using resources from their personal identity and to what degree they can use their compasses to navigate from place to place. A creative narrative enquiry as a methodological approach This study was a small-scale narrative enquiry conducted in Finland. The data were gathered in winter 2015/16. The research offers an alternative way for social work to approach belonging and migrant identities. Changing geographical location is a significant event in an individual’s life, and the study perceives the individual migrant as the experiential expert of this life event. It investigates how research participants make sense out of place and belonging in everyday situations and how these elements translate into identity. The collage method, which uses images, gives the researcher an opportunity to see and feel the world as the subject defines it (Riessman, 2008). In social work projects, using pictures has proven to be a powerful way to gain knowledge on individual experiences (see e.g. Warwick et al., 2006). The visual exercise can help the research participant to find words for the spoken narrative because images provide links between memories and experiences (Butler-Kisber, 2010). The participants were recruited through a third-sector organisation, which organises voluntary activities in support of integration, such as fishing trips. This setting was chosen for two reasons. First, grass-roots-level organisations have an officially recognised role in the Finnish integration service. Migrants often find unofficial low-threshold services more supportive than official services (Anis, 2008). Second, participants’ trust in the service provider was an important factor in this study. The official services have been criticised for their top-down approach (Anis, 2008; Clarke, 2011; Vuori, 2013). The art-based method required a setting where the participants would feel safe to share their memories. A great deal of care was taken to make sure that the participation was entirely voluntary. This is reflected in the small number of participants. Not everybody wants to, or even should, share their stories (Lenette et al., 2015). Race, occupation or other well-established variables played no role in the selection of candidates or in the research process. People who participate in the third-sector activities come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Regarding the research process, the ethnic background of the participants was not recorded, since the research goal was to address belonging without pre-determined categories such as ethnicity. Prior to commencing the study, ethical clearance was given to the research by the regional ethical committee on human research. All participants gave informed written consent. The voluntary nature of the participation was highlighted at every stage of the process. The organisation had no influence over whether the individuals participated or not. Ethically sound narrative research requires that the researcher puts in place safeguards to make sure that one voice does not dominate over other voices in the data analysis. This concern was taken into account throughout the research process, starting with the research question and the research design. The research question was broad enough to give space for each narrative. On the other hand, comparing and contrasting the narratives was a feasible task because the research concepts, place, belonging and identity provided a clear focus. The ethical study aim was to provide a space where migrants could choose the themes they wish to discuss with regard to belonging, rather than the researcher defining the themes beforehand. The eligibility criteria required that individuals be adult clients in the third-sector integration services and to have lived in Finland for a minimum of two years to secure a sufficient range of experiences. The data collection process consisted of four distinct stages: In August 2015, the rationale of the research was explained to the organisation’s workers. The workers informed clients about the up-coming research in the organisation’s two informal meeting places. Six individuals participated in info sessions in which the researcher explained the aim of the research and the data collection process. In the info session, it was emphasised that participating was voluntary and that the participant can withdraw at any time without consequences. The six participants made picture collages in two separate workshops: one for men and one for women. The participants cut out images from magazines and arranged them on A3 paper. As a guideline, the participants were asked to think about significant events, places and people in relation to belonging and not belonging. This remembering was done in regard to the past, present and the future. The participants could also write and draw next to the images or on the images. The finished collages were colourful and voluminous. The motifs varied significantly. Two participants took the opportunity to use photographs in addition to images from magazines. The participants themselves did the picture analysis. After collage work, one-to-one sessions were arranged with each participant. In the session, the participant shared with the researcher a spoken narrative account about his or her collage work. Individual sessions lasted approximately two hours each. An hour was spent talking freely before every recorded session. The participants took the opportunity to ask the researcher questions about her own personal history. The participant could choose whether the interviews were conducted in Finnish or English. The command of the preferred language ranged from good to very good. Participants had the opportunity to return to the transcribed narrative text and make changes to it. This was important because the collages were made in situ and subconscious decisions might have been guiding the collage work. The opportunity to return to the narrative ensured that participants were in control over what they wished to reveal. One participant took the opportunity to make changes to the transcribed narrative. All the participants, four men and two women, completed the whole process. The initial reason for leaving the country of origin was not revealed in every narrative, since the participant could choose what to bring forth with regard to personal history. In most cases, societal turbulence or an armed conflict had contributed to the decision to leave the country of origin. The participants had been living in Finland for a minimum of two years and a maximum of twenty years. The majority had been living in Finland for ten years or less. Any identifying information about the participants is omitted in order to protect their anonymity. Each interview was recorded and transcribed. In the analysis, the places were categorised in light of the values, feelings and actions that the participants attached to significant places. In visual narrative analysis, which is rooted in the postmodern turn in research, the goal is to capture something about the individual experience that initially escapes words (Riessman, 2008). The analysis was influenced by the suggested approach by David Silverman (2005) which understands identity as constructed in situ. The research question—how foreign-born individuals construct a sense of place and belonging using resources from their personal identity—guided the analysis. The following three questions were focused on: (i) What is the connection between place and a sense of belonging or not belonging? (ii) What kind of experiences produce a sense of belonging? (iii) What kind of experiences challenge a sense of belonging? Based on these questions, the material was organised thematically. Sense of freedom was isolated as an overall denominator to the experiences of belonging. This analytical decision enabled a multileveled organisation of the data that gave space for each narrative. In the narratives, an individual’s understanding of belonging to a place appears as an interplay between freedoms and restrictions. The different aspects of freedom overlap in the data but a rough division was made by the researcher between desires and actions. Desires and aspirations were categorised under individual freedom. Actions and impact making, on the other hand, were categorised under social freedoms. Findings In relation to belonging, places appear as arenas for a delicate interplay between a sense of being free and a sense of being restricted. This article discusses the following six freedoms: freedom to reach one’s individual potential; freedom to choose; freedom to form significant relationships; freedom to talkback; freedom to define oneself; freedom to act and make an impact. The six aspects of freedom were divided into two main subgroups: (i) individual liberties that relate to desires and aspirations; and (ii) social liberties that manifest themselves in social interaction and agency. These findings are presented under three subheadings: (i) place as a context for individual desires; (ii) place and social liberties; and (iii) agency in a culture of place. Different aspects of freedom were emphasised by each participant. The differences reflect participants’ current outlook on life and the values imbedded in personal identity. Sense of belonging crucially entailed challenging a culture of place, namely creating a culture of place rather than adopting values per se. Place as a context for individual desires Freedom to reach one’s individual potential has a strong connection to place and belonging. For the speaker, theatre has been a place of self-exploration and it has given his life direction from an early age. His collage depicts a spiritual metamorphosis that occurred as he migrated from place to place. His understanding of belonging has a strong philosophical and universal aspect; it is connected to realising one’s purpose in life. Once you know how to achieve your purpose, you can be happy anywhere. This inner journey began whilst he was still living in his country of origin: M3: I was 18 or 19 and I don’t think anybody at that age understand everything, so I was looking for light all the time in the big dark room … . At the same time I had some dream for my life. When I was a child I was doing acting in the theatre for 9 years and I was always interested in the cinema.Looking back, following this path of self-realisation had dramatic ups and downs. In the narrative, the pressure to find meaning appears as a matter of life and death: M3: I fell down again, and I know why; it was because of the pressure I was bringing into my life. I was forcing myself to bring my dream true but it was impossible somehow in the situation … I was hopeless about everything, and I tried suicide a couple of times.Balance was actualised through persistence and realising that every step taken brings the dream closer: M3: Every day I’m achieving some of my dream, and every day I’m growing in my life. Every year is a new year for learning new things in my life. I’m living in this moment … I like everything in this moment now and feel free and quite happy.Sense of belonging is achieved through a sense of purpose. Following one’s dreams and aspirations entails making life choices, as the above extracts illustrate. This is important from the standpoint of personal identity. According to Parekh (2008), personal identity acts as a compass in life. The speaker in the extract below sees the official Finnish integration education system as a place where he was told by teachers which aspirations and dreams are achievable, or even desirable: M4: In reality they were preparing us for menial work. The emphasis was on talks about whether you do this course on cleaning or care work. I’m very much opposed to that. Even on the secondary course one of the teachers said that cleaning is a good career. People [the other students] were enthusiastic at the start, and now they are not.The collage depicts a frustrating process of going from one course to the next without a sense of purpose. The integration education system is supposed to strengthen a migrant’s sense of belonging. Ironically, from the speaker’s standpoint, integration education is a place where his self-understanding and his knowledge of Finnish society were dramatically undermined: ‘M4: The teacher said that cleaning is a good career. She walked out of the class because everybody just burst out laughing.’ The speaker describes in the above extract the feeling of disbelief that is shared with other students in the class when cleaning is presented as a good career opportunity. The speaker goes on to explain that he has accepted that being a professional in his own field is not enough to secure a job he desires: M4: I think a lot of companies just want a Finnish person, they don’t want to upset the other workers. M4: I’ve noticed that I don’t get a reply that any of my applications have been received. That to me is a sign of not keeping records of who is applying.Because of the lack of feedback from companies and the way career opportunities are framed in the integration education system, it is easy to feel that real choices are limited only to the natives. Not knowing who to turn to with grievances can create a feeling of isolation. There is no place that can offer legal assistance: M4: There is not enough support for people with grievances. There is a view that Finland is not enforcing the laws. In UK and Ireland there are government bodies that if you have something [a grievance] they will prosecute for you whereas here you have to find a solicitor and pay for it.In his collage is a logo of the local men’s meeting place, which for him signifies belonging. The third-sector meeting place has offered him a place where he can discuss important issues with other men: M4: It’s somewhere that I can go and talk with people and hang out with friends and discuss things. You meet people in the same position as yourself and you are sympathetic to them. It’s like you support each other.Talking to other men gives a chance to discuss shared experiences. The men share a common ground and are able to vent their feelings. Place and social liberties Particularly for the young, different places appear as crucial venues to mix in and make contact, to form meaningful relationships. A young man’s collage depicts an inner world where experiences of beauty provide a sense of belonging. For him, it is important to give something of himself to others. At the same time, he fears becoming misinterpreted when he approaches other people: M1: I say emotional things to people, women or men. I say something is beautiful such as, ‘I like your voice’. It does not mean anything. Even at work I might say ‘you have a nice voice’. I’m opening up and sometimes it’s not good to say it. Then I say sorry I didn’t mean anything. In two or three days she or he will understand that I did not mean anything bad, and they will come to speak with me. Going out and reaching out to others can be dangerous in public places. The narrative describes the speaker’s response to a situation where the threat of violence is present: ‘M1: When I say to a Finnish man we’ll go to the police then he is like “Olen pahoillani” [Finnish for “I’m sorry”]. When I speak in Finnish I know now I can save myself in these situations.’ What puts the individual at ease in the situation is the feeling that he is a member of a law state where he belongs. The police are there to protect him, not the attacker. He knows that he has every right to move freely and not to be intimidated. He relies on his pre-thought strategy on how to handle the situation. Similarly, talking back is a crucial strategy to maintaining dignity in difficult or threatening situations. The feeling of being hurt is removed with words: F1: If someone says something to me I answer straight away. My husband says they [the words] don’t come immediately. They come afterwards. I’m good at that. I say it, in my own language or in Finnish, and I become empty.For the speaker, social skills are important, and her collage has mainly images of people. Close social networks are central to her understanding of belonging. The freedom to define oneself is important to one’s sense of belonging. The speaker in the extract below describes how people lose interest in him as person once it turns out he is from a Muslim region: M1: They want to know if I’m from Greece, Spain or Portugal, but when they know I come from this country, and that yes, I’m a Muslim, ok … . This is the point I mean. Interviewer: So people really just ask you and then walk away. M1: Yes, they say oh you are from [a country].In the extract, the speaker is not given the opportunity to define himself. Instead, he is framed as an outsider by others. In another narrative, the capacity to deal with situations in public places is described as a personal trait: F1: My husband is very sensitive. He says he won’t take the bus. I have taken the bus to work for 8 years, and I’m thinking it’s wonderful how they look at me [other passengers on the bus]. I am proud. They look at me and think ‘what a beautiful woman’!The speaker makes a conscious decision not to give a negative meaning to the way people on public transport look at her. Agency in a culture of place This section discusses how the narratives depict the individuals as agents of action. Belonging does not appear as an acceptance of the ways things are done. The freedom to act and make an impact is important. On a woman’s collage is an image of women protesting. For her, belonging means making things happen. Her actions are clearly guided by values learned as a child, such as speaking one’s mind: F2: Even though I was a girl, especially my father and brothers did not consider me weak. They considered me strong, and this has given me courage along the way. You’ve got to defend yourself and be brave, really. F2: I have kept my freedom in Finland, in a way that I try [to make an impact] when I see something is not right. Even though at work I think I’m an immigrant worker, I don’t let this stop me. If something is wrong, I talk about it. I say it out loud if something is inappropriate or wrong. I know my own limits and through which people I can make an impact. I never like it when someone is trying to change something behind your back. That’s why I speak directly. I know what’s going on, and I show I know this. It makes me proud of myself that I don’t allow myself or anyone else to restrict another person or to bully them.The actions are guided by values that the speaker holds important in life. Another speaker also emphasises the importance of having the confidence to make clear who you are and what you need from others to make the workplace yours. There can be some room for negotiations about the culture of place: F1: When I was working in the office for immigrant affairs, I told straight up that we always greet others. We have a greeting and you also have a greeting and in a meeting I said it bothers me [when someone does not respond to a greeting]. They said it’s good that you said it straight up and that perhaps the person [who does not greet] has a bad day. I said I too have bad days but my bad day doesn’t have to affect another person. Interviewer: Did the atmosphere change? F1: Not completely straight away but people were wondering ‘why had I not said good morning to her when she says good morning to me in such a nice way’.Not being a native resident can leave the individual also in an invisible position in the workplace. The speaker remembers a situation from years back when her friendly request to get glue and scissors was met with a response that made her feel anxious: F1: I went to the teachers’ lounge and I asked for glue and scissors. We were celebrating New Year, and I wanted to do something with the children. The teacher asked, ‘What would you do with scissors and glue?’ I said, we have a celebration. He said ‘you won’t be getting a thing from us, go to the Department of Education. We don’t give you these things.’ I returned to the classroom and I felt extremely anxious.In the above extract, a colleague’s intervention limits the speaker’s freedom to act. The need to change things can go beyond existing structures. The speaker in the extract below describes a desire to actively carve out new places, to make an impact: M2: How many hours should we sit in front of the TV or the tablet? It’s boring! We should talk to each other, laugh and enjoy each other … . Now I’m retired and I cannot work in the office. But I get energy if I make something for my brothers and my sisters. All of humans are [my brothers and sisters]. If I make good things for another human I become happy.In his picture collage, he addresses the split between peace time and war time. For him, being in Finland represents a chance to continue community life interrupted by war. This continuity gives him a sense of purpose and strong connection to place. He wishes to strengthen the local community through a project: M2: I am a good cook. I like cooking and I found (in the third sector meeting place) another person and we make food and we want to start a programme for needy people, for old people who do not want to make food for themselves. They need warm food.He sees volunteering in the local community as an essential part of his personal identity. The project has not proceeded because the speaker has found it difficult to commence without any help from people who have knowledge of starting such projects. He feels frustration because there is no place to go, no concrete door to knock on: M2: In my home country I would know what to do. If I call someone I want to meet I have to ring and ask if they have time. In my country inside the ministry you can open the door and explain the problem. Here it’s not like that. They are busy.Building the community is important also for another speaker. She is organising a place where women can meet: F2: I am a doer and I want to do many things. I demand a lot, and I have succeeded in making things happen. Last year two friends of mine and myself tried to bring all the women together [from the same country of origin]. Now we’re trying to establish our own community. I’m active on the behalf of our community. We try to prevent women who arrive here from becoming socially excluded. They don’t know what to do, and they get depressed. We try to help these women.In this case, the project proceeded but without any funding. Eventually, the women decided to fund the meetings themselves and hold them in public places such as coffee shops. Discussion This study set out with the aim of assessing how migrants in Finland claim a sense of place and belonging through the spatially organised logic of identity. The art-based method enabled a creative means to capture individuals’ perceptions on belonging and place in the context of everyday identity negotiations. Due to the small sample size, the findings cannot be generalised, but the method did give access to detailed knowledge about individual experiences. The study provides a touchstone for further research and encourages researchers to step outside the conventional framework. The results highlight the need to broaden the interest in place and belonging beyond the ethnic perimeter. Returning to the question posed at the beginning of this article, this study found individual and social freedom as defining factors in belonging. Results are in agreement with Crath’s (2012) findings, which showed that belonging derives from the right to be heard and the right to representation. The results highlight that outside focus on ethnicity hinders individual processes to claim belonging (Crath, 2012). Emphasis on ethnicity in a sense denies the possibility that a meaningful connection between place and identity is possible, even after a relatively short period of residence. In other words, a focus on ethnicity insists on a permanent distinction between those people who authentically belong and those who do not (see Taylor, 2005). These types of distinctions may be supported by the state. Clarke (2011) argues that, in Finland, individual integration plans are drawn from the state’s perspective rather than from the client’s perspective in order to create and maintain ethnic divisions in the labour market. Clarke’s claim was reflected in the findings. The individuals in this study saw themselves as cultural subjects who actively produce culture of place (see Hall, 2003). If focus is kept on ethnicity, this crucial aspect of belonging fails to be acknowledged by the profession of social work. Indeed, everyone who lives in a society is always a part of it, and migrants make no exception (Geisen, 2010). Hence, if social workers automatically tie together belonging and ethnic culture, this inevitably leads to otherisation of clients (see Jönsson, 2013). Paradoxically, the findings show that restrictions to individual and social freedoms do not necessarily diminish a sense of belonging. The individuals in this study had developed carefully revised, and often successful, strategies aimed at those who challenge their sense of belonging. Strategies included, for instance, identifying the right channels to make an impact. The results also illustrate that structural racism, such as an ethnically divided labour market, is impossible to challenge without strategic allies. Social workers need to become such allies to make sure that hurtful experiences are not masked or denigrated (see Allan, 2015). Importantly, belonging in the findings is centred on the individual worldview, and it follows the flexible contour of the individual’s sense of purpose rather than the confined borders of an ethnic perimeter. Belonging can be found in mundane locations, for instance in places that invoke experiences of beauty or in places that allow self-expression. These modes of belonging have a unifying purpose from the standpoint of place and identity, since they enable an important connection with the wider society via place. The findings show that freedoms that enforce belonging essentially entail giving something of oneself to others. For example, belonging can be found in working for a common goal, in the workplace or in the local community, or in the need to share a vision. Hence, belonging in the findings is about making meaningful things happen. From social work’s perspective, reaffirming self-worth by confirming the current identity narrative on belonging and reflecting on what has benefitted the client in claiming belonging is crucial (see Matsuoka, 2015). The present results are significant to social work practice in the following three respects: A need to broaden the framework. First, social workers need to be careful not to assume where and how belonging is located. The concept of ethnicity is a powerful tool in asserting power over identity and social workers need to make a conscious effort not to write off personal experiences as ethnic qualities. Professional knowledge also defines the way public discourses are framed (Proctor et al., 2011). A need to support the individual. Second, belonging is not about looking back; it is about looking forward. In the official Finnish integration programme, migrants are under strict guidance. Social workers are in a unique position from which they can assist clients in finding answers to questions that concern their aspirations and life choices. The collage method can be applied in social work practice with those clients who wish to share their story. The telling, listening and documenting of experiences can have a strong therapeutic element, since acknowledging the ordinary in individuals’ lives enables seeing the different layers in the clients’ experiences, ranging from the spiritual to the political, and this lends the opportunity for genuine partnership (Lenette et al., 2015). Strengthening civil society. Third, the third sector is flexible and can enable social workers and their clients to create learning organisations that can try out new approaches and different kinds of service models. Citizenship is not static, and social workers should participate in the shaping of citizenship (Hugman et al., 2010).To crystallise the situation, the question of what individual social workers can do to assist the processes of belonging may be asked. They can: get to know the dreams and aspirations of clients, if they wish to discuss them; discuss what values are important to the client and what kind of choices would embrace these values; help to deal with racism (e.g. organising peer support groups); become an advocate and help to solve client’s grievances with the system; and assist clients if they wish to contribute to civil society (provide information on how to start projects and collaborate on these projects). Broadening the concept of belonging has significant practical and theoretical consequences. Ethnic background may be important to an individual, but social work as a discipline needs to build a framework that acknowledges diverse modes of belonging. Acknowledgements I would like to thank my supervisor Professor Kirsi Juhila and everyone who participated in the research. This research is partially supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s Pirkanmaa Regional Fund. The author has received a personal grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s Pirkanmaa Regional Fund for scholarly work. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. References Allan J. ( 2015) ‘ Reconciling the “psycho-social/ structural” in social work counselling with refugees’, British Journal of Social Work , 45( 6), pp. 1699– 716. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Anis M. ( 2008) ‘Sosiaalityö ja maahanmuuttajat: Lastensuojelun ammattilaisten ja asiakkaiden vuorovaikutus ja tulkinnat’ [‘Social work and immigrants: Interaction and interpretations of child protection professionals and clients’], Väestötutkimuslaitoksen julkaisusarja, D 47, Helsinki, Väestöliitto. Barn R., Das C. ( 2016) ‘ Family group conferences and cultural competence in social work’, British Journal of Social Work , 46( 4), pp. 942– 59. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Butler-Kisber L. ( 2010) Qualitative Inquiry: Thematic, Narrative and Arts-Informed Perspectives , London, Sage. Clarke K. ( 2011) ‘ Negotiating migrant community needs through social work research: A Finnish example’, Qualitative Social Work , 10( 1), pp. 8– 27. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cox P., Geisen T. ( 2014) ‘ Migration perspectives in social work research: Local, national and international contexts’, British Journal of Social Work , 44(Supplement 1), pp. i157– 73. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Crath R. ( 2012) ‘ Belonging as a mode of interpretive in-between: Image, place and space in the video works of racialised and homeless youth’, British Journal of Social Work , 42( 1), pp. 42– 57. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Geisen T. ( 2010) ‘Vergesellschaftung statt integration: Zur kritik des integrations-paradigmas’ [‘Socialisation not integration: A critique of the integration paradigm’], in Mecheril, P., Dirim, M., Gomolla, S., Hornberg, X. and Stojanov, K. (eds), Spanungsverhaltnisse: Assimilations diskurse und interkulturell-padagogische Forschung [Stress Ratios: Assimilation Discourses and Inter-Cultural-Educational Research], Munster, Waxmann, pp. 13–34. Gruber S. ( 2016) ‘ Cultural competence in institutional care for youths: Experts with ambivalent positions’, Nordic Social Work Research , 6( 2), pp. 89– 101. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Hall S. ( 2003) ‘Monikulttuurisuus’ [‘Multiculturalism’], in Lehtonen M., ja Löytty O. (eds), Erilaisuus [Diversity] , Tampere, Vastapaino, pp. 233– 81. Hernández C. M. A., García-Moreno C. ( 2014) ‘Migration, resilience and social work: Latin Americans in Tarragona’, British Journal of Social Work , 44(Supplement 1), pp. i88– 104. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   hooks b. ( 2009) Belonging: A Culture of Place , New York, Routledge. Hugman R., MoosaMitha M., Moyo O. ( 2010) ‘ Towards a borderless social work: Reconsidering notions of international social work’, International Social Work , 53( 5), pp. 629– 43. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Ioakimidis V. ( 2015) ‘The two faces of Janus: Rethinking social work in the context of conflict’, Social Dialogue , 3( 10), pp. 6– 11. Jönsson J. H. ( 2013) ‘ Social work beyond cultural otherization’, Nordic Social Work Research , 3( 2), pp. 159– 67. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Keskinen S. ( 2011) ‘ Troublesome differences: Dealing with gendered violence, ethnicity and race in the Finnish welfare state’, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention , 12( 2), pp. 153– 72. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Lehtonen M. ( 2013) ‘Miten tutkia liikkuvaa maailmaa’ [‘How should we study a fluid world?’], in Lehtonen M. (ed.), Liikkuva maailma: Liike, raja, tieto [Fluid World: Movement, Boundary, Knowledge] , Tampere, Vastapaino, pp. 7– 29. Lenette C., Cox L., Brough M. ( 2015) ‘ Digital storytelling as a social work tool: Learning from ethnographic research with women from refugee backgrounds’, British Journal of Social Work , 45( 3), pp. 988– 1005. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Maiter S., Joseph A. J. ( 2016) ‘Researching racism: The colour of face value, challenges and opportunities’, British Journal of Social Work  Advance Access published May 17, 2016, 10.1093/bjsw/bcw052. Matsuoka A. K. ( 2015) ‘ Ethnic/racial minority older adults and recovery: Integrating stories of resilience and hope in social work’, British Journal of Social Work , 45(Supplement 1), pp. i135– 52. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Nelson L., Hiemstra N. ( 2008) ‘ Latino immigrants and the renegotiation of place and belonging in small town America’, Social and Cultural Geography , 9( 3), pp. 319– 42. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Parekh B. ( 2008) A New Politics of Identity: Political Principles for an Interdependent World , New York, Palgrave Macmillan. Park Y. ( 2005) ‘Culture as deficit: A critical discourse analysis of the concept of culture in contemporary social work discourse’, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare , 32( 3), pp. 11– 33. Probyn E. ( 1996) Outside Belongings , New York, Routledge. Proctor A., Krumeich A., Meershoek A. ( 2011) ‘Making a difference: The construction of ethnicity in HIV and STI epidemiological research by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)’, Social Science & Medicine , 72( 11), pp. 1838– 45. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Riessman C. K. ( 2008) Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences , Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications. Robinson K., Masocha S. ( 2016) ‘Divergent practices in statutory and voluntary-sector settings? Social work with asylum seekers’, British Journal of Social Work  Advance Access published August 27, 2016, 10.1093/bjsw/bcw105. Silverman D. ( 2005) Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook , 2nd edn, Thousand Oaks, Sage. Taylor S. ( 2005) ‘ Identity trouble and opportunity in women’s narratives of residence’, Auto/Biography , 13( 3), pp. 249– 65. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Taylor S. ( 2010) Narratives of Identity and Place , London, Routledge. Vandemark L. M. ( 2007) ‘ Promoting the sense of self, place, and belonging in displaced persons: The example of homelessness’, Archives of Psychiatric Nursing , 21( 5), pp. 241– 8. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Vuori J. ( 2013) ‘Yksisuuntaisen tiedon houkutus, prosessimaisen tiedon mahdollisuus’ [‘A temptation for one-way information, a possibility for process-like knowledge]’, in Lehtonen M. (ed.), Liikkuva maailma: Liike, raja, tieto [Fluid World: Movement, Boundary, Knowledge] , Tampere, Vastapaino, pp. 176– 95. Warwick I., Neville R., Smith K. ( 2006) ‘ My life in Huddersfield: Supporting young asylum seekers and refugees to record their experiences of living in Huddersfield’, Social Work Education , 25( 2), pp. 129– 37. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Williams C., Graham M. ( 2014) ‘ A world on the move: Migration, mobilities and social work’, British Journal of Social Work , 44(Supplement 1), pp. i1– 17. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Yngvesson B. ( 2015) ‘ Migrant bodies and the materialization of belonging in Sweden’, Social & Cultural Geography , 16( 5), pp. 536– 51. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Social Work Oxford University Press

Broadening Social Work’s Framework on Place and Belonging: An Investigation into Identity Processes Intersected by Experiences of Migration

Loading next page...
 
/lp/ou_press/broadening-social-work-s-framework-on-place-and-belonging-an-AfcIT4pwyW
Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
ISSN
0045-3102
eISSN
1468-263X
D.O.I.
10.1093/bjsw/bcx112
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Abstract Social work is yet to develop a domain-specific vantage point on the ideologically charged topic of migration. To date, social work’s focus has centred on cultural competency. This paper uses information obtained from migrant narratives to understand the dynamics of belonging in the context of place and identity. Belonging is not confined to the ethnic perimeter. Visual narrative analysis was applied to make sense of the experiences of belonging. Individual and social freedoms were highlighted in the narratives. The findings challenge methodological nationalism and the multicultural framework that understands culture as a fixed entity. In addition, the findings highlight a need to build more supportive relationships with migrant clients by acknowledging that the clients are active shapers of societal practices. Anti-oppressive practice, qualitative methods, narrative Introduction This article investigates how migrants in Finland claim a sense of place and belonging through spatially organised logic of identity, and it discusses how integration services can utilise clients’ own strategies of belonging. Social work is yet to shift the focus from intercultural encounters to a multileveled approach to the migration phenomenon. Pat Cox and Thomas Geisen (2014) call for the development of a domain-specific vantage point to migration. As a profession, social work is heavily dependent on state policies and perhaps this has hindered the willingness to address migration as a complicated and ideologically charged topic (Ioakimidis, 2015). Social work’s focus on ethnicity has raised concerns over the years. First, it can lead to the use of clash-of-civilisations narrative as a way of explaining away complex situations in an individual’s life (Anis, 2008; Keskinen, 2011). Second, the focus on ethnicity over-culturalises migrants and, as a consequence, the focus is removed from seeing migrants as rights-bearing (Park, 2005; Williams and Graham, 2014). Current research has illuminated on the above concerns further. To begin with, some clients simply may not wish to be ethnically matched, for a variety of reasons (Barn and Das, 2016). Thus, the danger is that the cultural competence approach locks staff into culturalised and ethnified positions, and thereby the approach encourages an ambition to handle difference in opposition to encouraging genuine partnership with clients (Gruber, 2016). In other words, ethnic pluralism requires social engineering which makes the cultural competency approach vulnerable to misuses of power (Yngvesson, 2015). In addition, favouring practices of surveillance over practices of participation prevents social workers from forming an emotional connection to clients’ lived experience (Robinson and Masocha, 2016). To heighten awareness of the issues outlined above, social workers need new analytical frameworks that help them to resist practices of surveillance (Robinson and Masocha, 2016) and that can help them to identify the complex nuances and ambivalences in clients’ lives (Maiter and Joseph, 2016). This paper argues that such a framework requires building an understanding about the nexus between place, belonging and identity. Developing a domain-specific theoretical framework on this topic is an important ethical obligation due to the profession’s unique outlook on the everyday experiences of migrant individuals (see Clarke, 2011). The main purpose of this paper is to bring forth an alternative intellectual framework that broadens the concept of belonging beyond ethnicity. Importantly, the research provides access to identity processes that would remain hidden if the focus were primarily on cultural background. Emphases on cultural background often oversimplifies the links between identity, place and belonging. It is important to acknowledge that experiences of similarity and difference exist simultaneously and paradoxically in individuals’ lives (see Maiter and Joseph, 2016). To revise new strategies, connecting to lived experience is the first step. This research is situated in the emerging social work research that is moving away from the emphasis on ethnicity. The new approach draws attention to the importance of understanding the world visions of migrants through insights into individuals’ personal histories (Hernández and Garcıa-Moreno, 2014) and acknowledging migrants as shapers of societal practices (Cox and Geisen, 2014). Within social work, there is a need to move past racialised identity and carve a space where identity, place and belonging can unfold in new and surprising ways (Crath, 2012). The official integration policies in Finland have embraced the multicultural rhetoric which puts the emphasis on authentic ethnic identity in regard to belonging (Ministry of Employment and the Economy of Finland, Keskeiset käsitteet [Essential Concepts], https://kotouttaminen.fi/keskeiset-kasitteet (accessed 24 September 2017)). This research distances itself from the ethnic paradigm and creates a space for alternative and additional representations. According to cultural theorist Stuart Hall (2003), it is misleading to simply think of identity as based upon some authentic ethnic origin when individual identity choices are inherently political. To access the multidimensional experiences, an art-based method (picture collage) was applied. The participants were asked to make picture stories that addressed tensions between belonging and not belonging. In the conversations that followed, the participants talked about the collages. The research provides an exciting opportunity to advance the understanding of how migrants who come to Finland negotiate important attachments and how these attachments are integrated into identity. This knowledge is needed in social work practise, since loss of place where one belongs can lead to a diminished sense of self-cohesion (Vandemark, 2007). bell hooks describes this sense of disorientation in the autobiographical account of her journey from place to place: ‘In a world where I did not belong, I struggled to find strategies for survival’ (hooks, 2009, p. 218). This study has relevance also outside social work. As Mikko Lehtonen (2013) points out, social science researchers need to use their imagination to identify ways in which they can grasp the dynamics of an increasingly borderless world. Moving away from strict categories Those who emigrate have no choice but to renegotiate important attachments (Hall, 2003) but, at the same time, immigrants have the least space for these negotiations due to stereotypes around ethnicity and culture (Parekh, 2008). Emphasis on authentic ethnic identity undermines personal choices and the mixing and matching of influences that individuals actively engage in. This study highlights an alternative to the postmodern understanding of identity which, when missing a critical stance, is happy to sidestep issues of socialisation, context and history (Taylor, 2010; Maiter and Joseph, 2016). The nihilist tendencies in the postmodern framework emphasise fragmentation in regard to identity, instead of continuity. Individuals who change geographical location actively engage in identity work through the act of remembering. The research explores the ways in which past experiences of place are reproduced and new associations and meanings created and how these processes shape identity. To approach the migration phenomenon requires imagination and the stepping-aside from traditional notions on nation states, regions, places, identities and belonging. The key concepts are place, belonging and identity. Individuals project portions of themselves onto a place. Spatial perception reflects our inner psychological world—how we experience the world and ourselves in it (Vandemark, 2007). Belonging is looked at through the dynamics of the desire of ‘wanting to belong, wanting to become’ (Probyn, 1996, p. 19). Socio-spatial relations are experienced locally but they are not confined to locality, since the relations spread globally (Nelson and Hiemstra, 2008). These relations are charged with tensions. Exclusion from potentially shared places are accomplished and naturalised through the local organisation of space (Nelson and Hiemstra, 2008). Understanding these power plays is crucial because ethnic pluralism is socially engineered (Yngvesson, 2015) also within the profession of social work. On identity, the analysis draws on the work of Bikhu Parekh (2008). He perceives personal identity as a moral and intellectual compass that helps a person to navigate through life. Parekh’s definition is fruitful because it allows investigation into how individuals navigate through life using resources from their personal identity and to what degree they can use their compasses to navigate from place to place. A creative narrative enquiry as a methodological approach This study was a small-scale narrative enquiry conducted in Finland. The data were gathered in winter 2015/16. The research offers an alternative way for social work to approach belonging and migrant identities. Changing geographical location is a significant event in an individual’s life, and the study perceives the individual migrant as the experiential expert of this life event. It investigates how research participants make sense out of place and belonging in everyday situations and how these elements translate into identity. The collage method, which uses images, gives the researcher an opportunity to see and feel the world as the subject defines it (Riessman, 2008). In social work projects, using pictures has proven to be a powerful way to gain knowledge on individual experiences (see e.g. Warwick et al., 2006). The visual exercise can help the research participant to find words for the spoken narrative because images provide links between memories and experiences (Butler-Kisber, 2010). The participants were recruited through a third-sector organisation, which organises voluntary activities in support of integration, such as fishing trips. This setting was chosen for two reasons. First, grass-roots-level organisations have an officially recognised role in the Finnish integration service. Migrants often find unofficial low-threshold services more supportive than official services (Anis, 2008). Second, participants’ trust in the service provider was an important factor in this study. The official services have been criticised for their top-down approach (Anis, 2008; Clarke, 2011; Vuori, 2013). The art-based method required a setting where the participants would feel safe to share their memories. A great deal of care was taken to make sure that the participation was entirely voluntary. This is reflected in the small number of participants. Not everybody wants to, or even should, share their stories (Lenette et al., 2015). Race, occupation or other well-established variables played no role in the selection of candidates or in the research process. People who participate in the third-sector activities come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Regarding the research process, the ethnic background of the participants was not recorded, since the research goal was to address belonging without pre-determined categories such as ethnicity. Prior to commencing the study, ethical clearance was given to the research by the regional ethical committee on human research. All participants gave informed written consent. The voluntary nature of the participation was highlighted at every stage of the process. The organisation had no influence over whether the individuals participated or not. Ethically sound narrative research requires that the researcher puts in place safeguards to make sure that one voice does not dominate over other voices in the data analysis. This concern was taken into account throughout the research process, starting with the research question and the research design. The research question was broad enough to give space for each narrative. On the other hand, comparing and contrasting the narratives was a feasible task because the research concepts, place, belonging and identity provided a clear focus. The ethical study aim was to provide a space where migrants could choose the themes they wish to discuss with regard to belonging, rather than the researcher defining the themes beforehand. The eligibility criteria required that individuals be adult clients in the third-sector integration services and to have lived in Finland for a minimum of two years to secure a sufficient range of experiences. The data collection process consisted of four distinct stages: In August 2015, the rationale of the research was explained to the organisation’s workers. The workers informed clients about the up-coming research in the organisation’s two informal meeting places. Six individuals participated in info sessions in which the researcher explained the aim of the research and the data collection process. In the info session, it was emphasised that participating was voluntary and that the participant can withdraw at any time without consequences. The six participants made picture collages in two separate workshops: one for men and one for women. The participants cut out images from magazines and arranged them on A3 paper. As a guideline, the participants were asked to think about significant events, places and people in relation to belonging and not belonging. This remembering was done in regard to the past, present and the future. The participants could also write and draw next to the images or on the images. The finished collages were colourful and voluminous. The motifs varied significantly. Two participants took the opportunity to use photographs in addition to images from magazines. The participants themselves did the picture analysis. After collage work, one-to-one sessions were arranged with each participant. In the session, the participant shared with the researcher a spoken narrative account about his or her collage work. Individual sessions lasted approximately two hours each. An hour was spent talking freely before every recorded session. The participants took the opportunity to ask the researcher questions about her own personal history. The participant could choose whether the interviews were conducted in Finnish or English. The command of the preferred language ranged from good to very good. Participants had the opportunity to return to the transcribed narrative text and make changes to it. This was important because the collages were made in situ and subconscious decisions might have been guiding the collage work. The opportunity to return to the narrative ensured that participants were in control over what they wished to reveal. One participant took the opportunity to make changes to the transcribed narrative. All the participants, four men and two women, completed the whole process. The initial reason for leaving the country of origin was not revealed in every narrative, since the participant could choose what to bring forth with regard to personal history. In most cases, societal turbulence or an armed conflict had contributed to the decision to leave the country of origin. The participants had been living in Finland for a minimum of two years and a maximum of twenty years. The majority had been living in Finland for ten years or less. Any identifying information about the participants is omitted in order to protect their anonymity. Each interview was recorded and transcribed. In the analysis, the places were categorised in light of the values, feelings and actions that the participants attached to significant places. In visual narrative analysis, which is rooted in the postmodern turn in research, the goal is to capture something about the individual experience that initially escapes words (Riessman, 2008). The analysis was influenced by the suggested approach by David Silverman (2005) which understands identity as constructed in situ. The research question—how foreign-born individuals construct a sense of place and belonging using resources from their personal identity—guided the analysis. The following three questions were focused on: (i) What is the connection between place and a sense of belonging or not belonging? (ii) What kind of experiences produce a sense of belonging? (iii) What kind of experiences challenge a sense of belonging? Based on these questions, the material was organised thematically. Sense of freedom was isolated as an overall denominator to the experiences of belonging. This analytical decision enabled a multileveled organisation of the data that gave space for each narrative. In the narratives, an individual’s understanding of belonging to a place appears as an interplay between freedoms and restrictions. The different aspects of freedom overlap in the data but a rough division was made by the researcher between desires and actions. Desires and aspirations were categorised under individual freedom. Actions and impact making, on the other hand, were categorised under social freedoms. Findings In relation to belonging, places appear as arenas for a delicate interplay between a sense of being free and a sense of being restricted. This article discusses the following six freedoms: freedom to reach one’s individual potential; freedom to choose; freedom to form significant relationships; freedom to talkback; freedom to define oneself; freedom to act and make an impact. The six aspects of freedom were divided into two main subgroups: (i) individual liberties that relate to desires and aspirations; and (ii) social liberties that manifest themselves in social interaction and agency. These findings are presented under three subheadings: (i) place as a context for individual desires; (ii) place and social liberties; and (iii) agency in a culture of place. Different aspects of freedom were emphasised by each participant. The differences reflect participants’ current outlook on life and the values imbedded in personal identity. Sense of belonging crucially entailed challenging a culture of place, namely creating a culture of place rather than adopting values per se. Place as a context for individual desires Freedom to reach one’s individual potential has a strong connection to place and belonging. For the speaker, theatre has been a place of self-exploration and it has given his life direction from an early age. His collage depicts a spiritual metamorphosis that occurred as he migrated from place to place. His understanding of belonging has a strong philosophical and universal aspect; it is connected to realising one’s purpose in life. Once you know how to achieve your purpose, you can be happy anywhere. This inner journey began whilst he was still living in his country of origin: M3: I was 18 or 19 and I don’t think anybody at that age understand everything, so I was looking for light all the time in the big dark room … . At the same time I had some dream for my life. When I was a child I was doing acting in the theatre for 9 years and I was always interested in the cinema.Looking back, following this path of self-realisation had dramatic ups and downs. In the narrative, the pressure to find meaning appears as a matter of life and death: M3: I fell down again, and I know why; it was because of the pressure I was bringing into my life. I was forcing myself to bring my dream true but it was impossible somehow in the situation … I was hopeless about everything, and I tried suicide a couple of times.Balance was actualised through persistence and realising that every step taken brings the dream closer: M3: Every day I’m achieving some of my dream, and every day I’m growing in my life. Every year is a new year for learning new things in my life. I’m living in this moment … I like everything in this moment now and feel free and quite happy.Sense of belonging is achieved through a sense of purpose. Following one’s dreams and aspirations entails making life choices, as the above extracts illustrate. This is important from the standpoint of personal identity. According to Parekh (2008), personal identity acts as a compass in life. The speaker in the extract below sees the official Finnish integration education system as a place where he was told by teachers which aspirations and dreams are achievable, or even desirable: M4: In reality they were preparing us for menial work. The emphasis was on talks about whether you do this course on cleaning or care work. I’m very much opposed to that. Even on the secondary course one of the teachers said that cleaning is a good career. People [the other students] were enthusiastic at the start, and now they are not.The collage depicts a frustrating process of going from one course to the next without a sense of purpose. The integration education system is supposed to strengthen a migrant’s sense of belonging. Ironically, from the speaker’s standpoint, integration education is a place where his self-understanding and his knowledge of Finnish society were dramatically undermined: ‘M4: The teacher said that cleaning is a good career. She walked out of the class because everybody just burst out laughing.’ The speaker describes in the above extract the feeling of disbelief that is shared with other students in the class when cleaning is presented as a good career opportunity. The speaker goes on to explain that he has accepted that being a professional in his own field is not enough to secure a job he desires: M4: I think a lot of companies just want a Finnish person, they don’t want to upset the other workers. M4: I’ve noticed that I don’t get a reply that any of my applications have been received. That to me is a sign of not keeping records of who is applying.Because of the lack of feedback from companies and the way career opportunities are framed in the integration education system, it is easy to feel that real choices are limited only to the natives. Not knowing who to turn to with grievances can create a feeling of isolation. There is no place that can offer legal assistance: M4: There is not enough support for people with grievances. There is a view that Finland is not enforcing the laws. In UK and Ireland there are government bodies that if you have something [a grievance] they will prosecute for you whereas here you have to find a solicitor and pay for it.In his collage is a logo of the local men’s meeting place, which for him signifies belonging. The third-sector meeting place has offered him a place where he can discuss important issues with other men: M4: It’s somewhere that I can go and talk with people and hang out with friends and discuss things. You meet people in the same position as yourself and you are sympathetic to them. It’s like you support each other.Talking to other men gives a chance to discuss shared experiences. The men share a common ground and are able to vent their feelings. Place and social liberties Particularly for the young, different places appear as crucial venues to mix in and make contact, to form meaningful relationships. A young man’s collage depicts an inner world where experiences of beauty provide a sense of belonging. For him, it is important to give something of himself to others. At the same time, he fears becoming misinterpreted when he approaches other people: M1: I say emotional things to people, women or men. I say something is beautiful such as, ‘I like your voice’. It does not mean anything. Even at work I might say ‘you have a nice voice’. I’m opening up and sometimes it’s not good to say it. Then I say sorry I didn’t mean anything. In two or three days she or he will understand that I did not mean anything bad, and they will come to speak with me. Going out and reaching out to others can be dangerous in public places. The narrative describes the speaker’s response to a situation where the threat of violence is present: ‘M1: When I say to a Finnish man we’ll go to the police then he is like “Olen pahoillani” [Finnish for “I’m sorry”]. When I speak in Finnish I know now I can save myself in these situations.’ What puts the individual at ease in the situation is the feeling that he is a member of a law state where he belongs. The police are there to protect him, not the attacker. He knows that he has every right to move freely and not to be intimidated. He relies on his pre-thought strategy on how to handle the situation. Similarly, talking back is a crucial strategy to maintaining dignity in difficult or threatening situations. The feeling of being hurt is removed with words: F1: If someone says something to me I answer straight away. My husband says they [the words] don’t come immediately. They come afterwards. I’m good at that. I say it, in my own language or in Finnish, and I become empty.For the speaker, social skills are important, and her collage has mainly images of people. Close social networks are central to her understanding of belonging. The freedom to define oneself is important to one’s sense of belonging. The speaker in the extract below describes how people lose interest in him as person once it turns out he is from a Muslim region: M1: They want to know if I’m from Greece, Spain or Portugal, but when they know I come from this country, and that yes, I’m a Muslim, ok … . This is the point I mean. Interviewer: So people really just ask you and then walk away. M1: Yes, they say oh you are from [a country].In the extract, the speaker is not given the opportunity to define himself. Instead, he is framed as an outsider by others. In another narrative, the capacity to deal with situations in public places is described as a personal trait: F1: My husband is very sensitive. He says he won’t take the bus. I have taken the bus to work for 8 years, and I’m thinking it’s wonderful how they look at me [other passengers on the bus]. I am proud. They look at me and think ‘what a beautiful woman’!The speaker makes a conscious decision not to give a negative meaning to the way people on public transport look at her. Agency in a culture of place This section discusses how the narratives depict the individuals as agents of action. Belonging does not appear as an acceptance of the ways things are done. The freedom to act and make an impact is important. On a woman’s collage is an image of women protesting. For her, belonging means making things happen. Her actions are clearly guided by values learned as a child, such as speaking one’s mind: F2: Even though I was a girl, especially my father and brothers did not consider me weak. They considered me strong, and this has given me courage along the way. You’ve got to defend yourself and be brave, really. F2: I have kept my freedom in Finland, in a way that I try [to make an impact] when I see something is not right. Even though at work I think I’m an immigrant worker, I don’t let this stop me. If something is wrong, I talk about it. I say it out loud if something is inappropriate or wrong. I know my own limits and through which people I can make an impact. I never like it when someone is trying to change something behind your back. That’s why I speak directly. I know what’s going on, and I show I know this. It makes me proud of myself that I don’t allow myself or anyone else to restrict another person or to bully them.The actions are guided by values that the speaker holds important in life. Another speaker also emphasises the importance of having the confidence to make clear who you are and what you need from others to make the workplace yours. There can be some room for negotiations about the culture of place: F1: When I was working in the office for immigrant affairs, I told straight up that we always greet others. We have a greeting and you also have a greeting and in a meeting I said it bothers me [when someone does not respond to a greeting]. They said it’s good that you said it straight up and that perhaps the person [who does not greet] has a bad day. I said I too have bad days but my bad day doesn’t have to affect another person. Interviewer: Did the atmosphere change? F1: Not completely straight away but people were wondering ‘why had I not said good morning to her when she says good morning to me in such a nice way’.Not being a native resident can leave the individual also in an invisible position in the workplace. The speaker remembers a situation from years back when her friendly request to get glue and scissors was met with a response that made her feel anxious: F1: I went to the teachers’ lounge and I asked for glue and scissors. We were celebrating New Year, and I wanted to do something with the children. The teacher asked, ‘What would you do with scissors and glue?’ I said, we have a celebration. He said ‘you won’t be getting a thing from us, go to the Department of Education. We don’t give you these things.’ I returned to the classroom and I felt extremely anxious.In the above extract, a colleague’s intervention limits the speaker’s freedom to act. The need to change things can go beyond existing structures. The speaker in the extract below describes a desire to actively carve out new places, to make an impact: M2: How many hours should we sit in front of the TV or the tablet? It’s boring! We should talk to each other, laugh and enjoy each other … . Now I’m retired and I cannot work in the office. But I get energy if I make something for my brothers and my sisters. All of humans are [my brothers and sisters]. If I make good things for another human I become happy.In his picture collage, he addresses the split between peace time and war time. For him, being in Finland represents a chance to continue community life interrupted by war. This continuity gives him a sense of purpose and strong connection to place. He wishes to strengthen the local community through a project: M2: I am a good cook. I like cooking and I found (in the third sector meeting place) another person and we make food and we want to start a programme for needy people, for old people who do not want to make food for themselves. They need warm food.He sees volunteering in the local community as an essential part of his personal identity. The project has not proceeded because the speaker has found it difficult to commence without any help from people who have knowledge of starting such projects. He feels frustration because there is no place to go, no concrete door to knock on: M2: In my home country I would know what to do. If I call someone I want to meet I have to ring and ask if they have time. In my country inside the ministry you can open the door and explain the problem. Here it’s not like that. They are busy.Building the community is important also for another speaker. She is organising a place where women can meet: F2: I am a doer and I want to do many things. I demand a lot, and I have succeeded in making things happen. Last year two friends of mine and myself tried to bring all the women together [from the same country of origin]. Now we’re trying to establish our own community. I’m active on the behalf of our community. We try to prevent women who arrive here from becoming socially excluded. They don’t know what to do, and they get depressed. We try to help these women.In this case, the project proceeded but without any funding. Eventually, the women decided to fund the meetings themselves and hold them in public places such as coffee shops. Discussion This study set out with the aim of assessing how migrants in Finland claim a sense of place and belonging through the spatially organised logic of identity. The art-based method enabled a creative means to capture individuals’ perceptions on belonging and place in the context of everyday identity negotiations. Due to the small sample size, the findings cannot be generalised, but the method did give access to detailed knowledge about individual experiences. The study provides a touchstone for further research and encourages researchers to step outside the conventional framework. The results highlight the need to broaden the interest in place and belonging beyond the ethnic perimeter. Returning to the question posed at the beginning of this article, this study found individual and social freedom as defining factors in belonging. Results are in agreement with Crath’s (2012) findings, which showed that belonging derives from the right to be heard and the right to representation. The results highlight that outside focus on ethnicity hinders individual processes to claim belonging (Crath, 2012). Emphasis on ethnicity in a sense denies the possibility that a meaningful connection between place and identity is possible, even after a relatively short period of residence. In other words, a focus on ethnicity insists on a permanent distinction between those people who authentically belong and those who do not (see Taylor, 2005). These types of distinctions may be supported by the state. Clarke (2011) argues that, in Finland, individual integration plans are drawn from the state’s perspective rather than from the client’s perspective in order to create and maintain ethnic divisions in the labour market. Clarke’s claim was reflected in the findings. The individuals in this study saw themselves as cultural subjects who actively produce culture of place (see Hall, 2003). If focus is kept on ethnicity, this crucial aspect of belonging fails to be acknowledged by the profession of social work. Indeed, everyone who lives in a society is always a part of it, and migrants make no exception (Geisen, 2010). Hence, if social workers automatically tie together belonging and ethnic culture, this inevitably leads to otherisation of clients (see Jönsson, 2013). Paradoxically, the findings show that restrictions to individual and social freedoms do not necessarily diminish a sense of belonging. The individuals in this study had developed carefully revised, and often successful, strategies aimed at those who challenge their sense of belonging. Strategies included, for instance, identifying the right channels to make an impact. The results also illustrate that structural racism, such as an ethnically divided labour market, is impossible to challenge without strategic allies. Social workers need to become such allies to make sure that hurtful experiences are not masked or denigrated (see Allan, 2015). Importantly, belonging in the findings is centred on the individual worldview, and it follows the flexible contour of the individual’s sense of purpose rather than the confined borders of an ethnic perimeter. Belonging can be found in mundane locations, for instance in places that invoke experiences of beauty or in places that allow self-expression. These modes of belonging have a unifying purpose from the standpoint of place and identity, since they enable an important connection with the wider society via place. The findings show that freedoms that enforce belonging essentially entail giving something of oneself to others. For example, belonging can be found in working for a common goal, in the workplace or in the local community, or in the need to share a vision. Hence, belonging in the findings is about making meaningful things happen. From social work’s perspective, reaffirming self-worth by confirming the current identity narrative on belonging and reflecting on what has benefitted the client in claiming belonging is crucial (see Matsuoka, 2015). The present results are significant to social work practice in the following three respects: A need to broaden the framework. First, social workers need to be careful not to assume where and how belonging is located. The concept of ethnicity is a powerful tool in asserting power over identity and social workers need to make a conscious effort not to write off personal experiences as ethnic qualities. Professional knowledge also defines the way public discourses are framed (Proctor et al., 2011). A need to support the individual. Second, belonging is not about looking back; it is about looking forward. In the official Finnish integration programme, migrants are under strict guidance. Social workers are in a unique position from which they can assist clients in finding answers to questions that concern their aspirations and life choices. The collage method can be applied in social work practice with those clients who wish to share their story. The telling, listening and documenting of experiences can have a strong therapeutic element, since acknowledging the ordinary in individuals’ lives enables seeing the different layers in the clients’ experiences, ranging from the spiritual to the political, and this lends the opportunity for genuine partnership (Lenette et al., 2015). Strengthening civil society. Third, the third sector is flexible and can enable social workers and their clients to create learning organisations that can try out new approaches and different kinds of service models. Citizenship is not static, and social workers should participate in the shaping of citizenship (Hugman et al., 2010).To crystallise the situation, the question of what individual social workers can do to assist the processes of belonging may be asked. They can: get to know the dreams and aspirations of clients, if they wish to discuss them; discuss what values are important to the client and what kind of choices would embrace these values; help to deal with racism (e.g. organising peer support groups); become an advocate and help to solve client’s grievances with the system; and assist clients if they wish to contribute to civil society (provide information on how to start projects and collaborate on these projects). Broadening the concept of belonging has significant practical and theoretical consequences. Ethnic background may be important to an individual, but social work as a discipline needs to build a framework that acknowledges diverse modes of belonging. Acknowledgements I would like to thank my supervisor Professor Kirsi Juhila and everyone who participated in the research. This research is partially supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s Pirkanmaa Regional Fund. The author has received a personal grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s Pirkanmaa Regional Fund for scholarly work. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. References Allan J. ( 2015) ‘ Reconciling the “psycho-social/ structural” in social work counselling with refugees’, British Journal of Social Work , 45( 6), pp. 1699– 716. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Anis M. ( 2008) ‘Sosiaalityö ja maahanmuuttajat: Lastensuojelun ammattilaisten ja asiakkaiden vuorovaikutus ja tulkinnat’ [‘Social work and immigrants: Interaction and interpretations of child protection professionals and clients’], Väestötutkimuslaitoksen julkaisusarja, D 47, Helsinki, Väestöliitto. Barn R., Das C. ( 2016) ‘ Family group conferences and cultural competence in social work’, British Journal of Social Work , 46( 4), pp. 942– 59. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Butler-Kisber L. ( 2010) Qualitative Inquiry: Thematic, Narrative and Arts-Informed Perspectives , London, Sage. Clarke K. ( 2011) ‘ Negotiating migrant community needs through social work research: A Finnish example’, Qualitative Social Work , 10( 1), pp. 8– 27. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cox P., Geisen T. ( 2014) ‘ Migration perspectives in social work research: Local, national and international contexts’, British Journal of Social Work , 44(Supplement 1), pp. i157– 73. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Crath R. ( 2012) ‘ Belonging as a mode of interpretive in-between: Image, place and space in the video works of racialised and homeless youth’, British Journal of Social Work , 42( 1), pp. 42– 57. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Geisen T. ( 2010) ‘Vergesellschaftung statt integration: Zur kritik des integrations-paradigmas’ [‘Socialisation not integration: A critique of the integration paradigm’], in Mecheril, P., Dirim, M., Gomolla, S., Hornberg, X. and Stojanov, K. (eds), Spanungsverhaltnisse: Assimilations diskurse und interkulturell-padagogische Forschung [Stress Ratios: Assimilation Discourses and Inter-Cultural-Educational Research], Munster, Waxmann, pp. 13–34. Gruber S. ( 2016) ‘ Cultural competence in institutional care for youths: Experts with ambivalent positions’, Nordic Social Work Research , 6( 2), pp. 89– 101. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Hall S. ( 2003) ‘Monikulttuurisuus’ [‘Multiculturalism’], in Lehtonen M., ja Löytty O. (eds), Erilaisuus [Diversity] , Tampere, Vastapaino, pp. 233– 81. Hernández C. M. A., García-Moreno C. ( 2014) ‘Migration, resilience and social work: Latin Americans in Tarragona’, British Journal of Social Work , 44(Supplement 1), pp. i88– 104. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   hooks b. ( 2009) Belonging: A Culture of Place , New York, Routledge. Hugman R., MoosaMitha M., Moyo O. ( 2010) ‘ Towards a borderless social work: Reconsidering notions of international social work’, International Social Work , 53( 5), pp. 629– 43. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Ioakimidis V. ( 2015) ‘The two faces of Janus: Rethinking social work in the context of conflict’, Social Dialogue , 3( 10), pp. 6– 11. Jönsson J. H. ( 2013) ‘ Social work beyond cultural otherization’, Nordic Social Work Research , 3( 2), pp. 159– 67. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Keskinen S. ( 2011) ‘ Troublesome differences: Dealing with gendered violence, ethnicity and race in the Finnish welfare state’, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention , 12( 2), pp. 153– 72. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Lehtonen M. ( 2013) ‘Miten tutkia liikkuvaa maailmaa’ [‘How should we study a fluid world?’], in Lehtonen M. (ed.), Liikkuva maailma: Liike, raja, tieto [Fluid World: Movement, Boundary, Knowledge] , Tampere, Vastapaino, pp. 7– 29. Lenette C., Cox L., Brough M. ( 2015) ‘ Digital storytelling as a social work tool: Learning from ethnographic research with women from refugee backgrounds’, British Journal of Social Work , 45( 3), pp. 988– 1005. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Maiter S., Joseph A. J. ( 2016) ‘Researching racism: The colour of face value, challenges and opportunities’, British Journal of Social Work  Advance Access published May 17, 2016, 10.1093/bjsw/bcw052. Matsuoka A. K. ( 2015) ‘ Ethnic/racial minority older adults and recovery: Integrating stories of resilience and hope in social work’, British Journal of Social Work , 45(Supplement 1), pp. i135– 52. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Nelson L., Hiemstra N. ( 2008) ‘ Latino immigrants and the renegotiation of place and belonging in small town America’, Social and Cultural Geography , 9( 3), pp. 319– 42. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Parekh B. ( 2008) A New Politics of Identity: Political Principles for an Interdependent World , New York, Palgrave Macmillan. Park Y. ( 2005) ‘Culture as deficit: A critical discourse analysis of the concept of culture in contemporary social work discourse’, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare , 32( 3), pp. 11– 33. Probyn E. ( 1996) Outside Belongings , New York, Routledge. Proctor A., Krumeich A., Meershoek A. ( 2011) ‘Making a difference: The construction of ethnicity in HIV and STI epidemiological research by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)’, Social Science & Medicine , 72( 11), pp. 1838– 45. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Riessman C. K. ( 2008) Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences , Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications. Robinson K., Masocha S. ( 2016) ‘Divergent practices in statutory and voluntary-sector settings? Social work with asylum seekers’, British Journal of Social Work  Advance Access published August 27, 2016, 10.1093/bjsw/bcw105. Silverman D. ( 2005) Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook , 2nd edn, Thousand Oaks, Sage. Taylor S. ( 2005) ‘ Identity trouble and opportunity in women’s narratives of residence’, Auto/Biography , 13( 3), pp. 249– 65. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Taylor S. ( 2010) Narratives of Identity and Place , London, Routledge. Vandemark L. M. ( 2007) ‘ Promoting the sense of self, place, and belonging in displaced persons: The example of homelessness’, Archives of Psychiatric Nursing , 21( 5), pp. 241– 8. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Vuori J. ( 2013) ‘Yksisuuntaisen tiedon houkutus, prosessimaisen tiedon mahdollisuus’ [‘A temptation for one-way information, a possibility for process-like knowledge]’, in Lehtonen M. (ed.), Liikkuva maailma: Liike, raja, tieto [Fluid World: Movement, Boundary, Knowledge] , Tampere, Vastapaino, pp. 176– 95. Warwick I., Neville R., Smith K. ( 2006) ‘ My life in Huddersfield: Supporting young asylum seekers and refugees to record their experiences of living in Huddersfield’, Social Work Education , 25( 2), pp. 129– 37. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Williams C., Graham M. ( 2014) ‘ A world on the move: Migration, mobilities and social work’, British Journal of Social Work , 44(Supplement 1), pp. i1– 17. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Yngvesson B. ( 2015) ‘ Migrant bodies and the materialization of belonging in Sweden’, Social & Cultural Geography , 16( 5), pp. 536– 51. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.

Journal

The British Journal of Social WorkOxford University Press

Published: Oct 16, 2017

There are no references for this article.

You’re reading a free preview. Subscribe to read the entire article.


DeepDyve is your
personal research library

It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.

Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.

All for just $49/month

Explore the DeepDyve Library

Search

Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly

Organize

Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.

Access

Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.

Your journals are on DeepDyve

Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.

All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.

See the journals in your area

DeepDyve

Freelancer

DeepDyve

Pro

Price

FREE

$49/month
$360/year

Save searches from
Google Scholar,
PubMed

Create lists to
organize your research

Export lists, citations

Read DeepDyve articles

Abstract access only

Unlimited access to over
18 million full-text articles

Print

20 pages / month

PDF Discount

20% off