In times of crises, national identity is forced to the fore. Crises challenge the social status quo and raise the question of what will be, implicating an uncertain future. In moments of threat and insecurity, communities tend to turn to themselves in order to evaluate, renegotiate and, finally, set who they are and who they want to be in the future. This codification of shared values, traits, and norms is on the one hand useful for members to realign themselves and make sure they are still part of the team, which builds confidence. On the other hand, this procedure of communal self-interpretation helps to mark oneself off from others and thus to sharpen one’s collective identity.
This twofold function of identity construction becomes particularly visible when societies are faced with mass immigration and feel the urge to define who they are as compared to ‘the others’. Thus, in the context of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in late summer 2015, discussions about Danskhed and Svenskhet also flared up in Denmark and Sweden. However, apart from all similarities, the two countries reacted entirely different when they were faced with thousands of refuge-seeking foreigners.
This paper, which is part of my dissertation project, wants to reconstruct collective notions of Svenskhet and Danskhed and search for their marks on Danish and Swedish integration policies. According to Hall, national communities draw on established and historically condensed elements such as narratives, symbols, a common history and allegedly shared values when constructing their identity. Therefore, in a first step, I analyse Swedish and Danish social studies (Samhällskunskap and Samfundsfag) school books as well as Swedish and Danish classical novels that are considered canonical. Both sources are especially well suited for reconstructing the collective notions of Danskhed and Svenskhet since both are considered to portray relevant knowledge ABOUT as well as FOR the society. In a second step, following the assumptions of interpretive approaches to Policy Analysis, I want to analyse how these reconstructed collectively shared identities are mirrored in integration policies and requirements aimed at immigrants. I argue that some identity-establishing elements are more inclusive than others, making it easier for immigrants to socially participate and become equal citizens. In regard to Sweden and Denmark, I expect to find differently coded constructions of identity, which can help to understand the different requirements immigrants have to fulfil to become part of the respective democratic society.