07 SES 12 C, Celebrating and Displaying Diversity
In the proposed paper, we report on a case study of an international school event in a Norwegian primary school. The event is a two-hour festival that gathers the whole school, parents and also other people affiliated with the school. At the event a number of nations and cultures are represented by posters, traditional foods, costumes and folkdances. Moreover, exhibition stands representing different nations are set up, where traditional food is served by parents or others representing the country. In this paper, we focus on the Kurdish stand, exploring how Kurdish minority identity is constructed in the event.
The paper addresses the following research questions:
- To what extent and in what way do minority representations feature dynamic, hybrid, interconnected, and spatial signs?
- What can these representations tell us about multicultural events?
Our study is part of a larger project on multicultural school and community events conducted by a research team from two universities in Norway. The study explores an internationally widespread, yet understudied educational practice of multicultural celebrations in school and communities. Such multicultural events are designed as a response to the call for diverse and inclusive initiatives to facilitate learning, belonging, and cohesion in schools and in local communities. Interestingly, while school and society see these events as helping further inclusion, prior research on the subject has criticized such events for promoting essentialist understandings of cultural identities, and hence functioning counterproductively with regard to the proclaimed aim of inclusion (Øzerk, 2008; Hoffman, 1996). In the project, we argue that this research, which is predominantly theory-driven, brings forward superficial understandings of the events and of multicultural educational practices more in general. In particular, this research has directed scarce attention to the participants’ perspectives and especially to the experiences of the minorities in these events.
Theoretically, we draw on Steven Vertovec’s (2009) concept of “transnationalism”. As processes of globalization and changing patterns of migration create complex multicultural communities throughout Norway and the rest of Europe, cultural, linguistic, and religious identities of young people of migrant heritage in Norway are no longer necessarily tied to the nation-state. Rather, cultural traditions travel and transcend traditional borders, allowing individuals and diasporic groups to retain affiliation to national heritage in multiple ways. Hence, multicultural school events can be characterized as “contact zones,” as places where “cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other” (Pratt, 1991, p. 34), and where the participants’ cultural, linguistic, and religious backgrounds interact in new and unexpected ways (Meissner & Vertovec, 2015; Welsch, 1999). The concept of transnationalism thus refers to the increasing changes in “cross-border relationships, patterns of exchange, affiliations and social formations” (Vertovec, 2009, p. 2) that characterises multicultural communities throughout Norway as well as in the rest of Europe. Applying this trans-lens, helps us see the dynamic, hybrid, interconnected, and spatial features of the representations present in the multicultural school event, thus adding another layer of complexity, which previous research has not addressed.
To document representations in the multicultural festival, we have drawn on the study of Linguistic Landscape (LL). Traditionally, LL studies have focused on linguistic signs such as posters, sales texts in shop windows, and signposts. Over the last three decades, a broader perspective with roots in interdisciplinary work in semiotics (e.g. Barthes, 1985) has emerged, now also including other semiotic modes such as images, artefacts, poems, maps, and signage (Shohamy & Waksman, 2009), which are also typically present in multicultural events. As such, this method enables us to collect and describe the wide range of representations at the Kurdish stand, as well as to identify systematic patterns of presence and absence of signs, and thus gain insight into “the motives, pressures, ideologies, reactions and decision making of people regarding the creation of signage” in this event (Shohamy, 2012, p. 538). For instance, the presence or lack of signs in languages other than Norwegian gives an indication of power dynamics between different languages in this event. Our approach to data collection has been fieldwork, interviews, pictures and video recordings. More specifically we have collected representations by taking still pictures of semiotic expressions such as posters, cultural artefacts, signage, food, and their surroundings. We have also video-recorded performances (traditional dances, singing games, presentation of national costumes) and cultural-specific activities at the festival, as well as taken field notes of the collection process. After the international festival, we conducted two individual interviews with central people at the Kurdish stand, one with a Kurdish mother at the school (one hour) and with the leader of the Kurdish union at his home (one hour), respectively. The interviews were semi-structured.
The paper will provide timely and new knowledge about international school events from the perspective of minorities, in this case the Kurdish community. Applying a trans-lens to identity sheds light on how participants may be able to use their cultural repertoires for powerful identity-affirming purposes. Moreover, this allows us to understand how schools can develop such events to respond more appropriately to the potential devaluation of identity experienced by many students and communities. The paper also sheds light on people’s navigation of identities in multicultural events, aiming to understand the events’ role in bridging differences, reducing conflicts, and promoting peaceful coexistence, as aimed for by the initiators.
Barthes, R. (1985). Rhetoric of the image. In R. Barthes (Ed.), The responsibility of forms (pp. 32–51). London, England: Fontana Press Meissner, F., & Vertovec, S. (2015). Comparing super-diversity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 38(4), 541–555. Pratt, M. L. (1991). Arts of the contact zone. Profession, 91, 33–40. Shohamy, E. (2012). Linguistic landscapes and multilingualism. In M. Martin-Jones, A. Blackledge, & A. Creese (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of multilingualism (pp. 538–551). Oxon, England: Routledge. Shohamy, E., & Waksman, S. (2009). Linguistic landscape as an ecological arena: Modalities, meanings, negotiations, education. In E. Shohamy & D. Gorter (Eds.), Linguistic landscape: Expanding the scenery (pp. 313–331). London, England: Routledge. Vertovec, S. (2009). Transnationalism. London, England: Routledge Welsch, W. (1999). Transculturality: The puzzling form of cultures today. In M. Featherstone & S. Lash(Eds.), Spaces of culture. City, nation, world (pp. 194–213). London, England: Sage Publications. Øzerk, K. (2008). Interkulturell danning i en flerkulturell skole: Dens vilkår, forutsetninger og funksjoner [Intercultural Bildung in a multicultural school: Its conditions, requirements and functions]. In P. Arneberg & L. G. Briseid (Eds.), Fag og danning: Mellom individ og fellesskap (pp. 209–228). Bergen, Norway: Fagbokforlaget.
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