A stranger in my homeland. The politics of belonging among young people with Kurdish backgrounds in Sweden

Barzoo Eliassi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This dissertation examines how young people with Kurdish backgrounds form their identity in Sweden with regards to processes of inclusion and exclusion. It also sheds light on the ways these young people deal with ethnic discrimination and racism. Further, the study outlines the importance of these social processes for the discipline of social work and the ways social workers can work with disadvantaged and marginalized groups and endorse their struggle for social justice and full equal citizenship beyond racist and discriminatory practices. The empirical analysis is built on interviews with 28 young men and women with Kurdish backgrounds in Sweden. Postcolonial theory, belonging and identity formation constitute the central conceptual framework of this study.

The young people referred to different sites in which they experienced ethnic discrimination and stigmatization. These experiences involved the labor market, mass media, housing segregation, legal system and school system. The interviewees also referred to the roles of ‘ordinary’ Swedes in obstructing their participation in the Swedish society through exclusionary discourses relating to Swedish identity. The interviewees’ life situation in Sweden, sense of ethnic discrimination as well as disputes over identity making with other young people with Middle-Eastern background are among the most important reasons for fostering strong Kurdish nationalist sentiments, issues that are related to the ways they can exercise their citizenship rights in Sweden and how they deal with exclusionary practices in their everyday life. The study shows that the interviewees respond to and resist ethnic discrimination in a variety of ways including interpersonal debates and discussions, changing their names to Swedish names, strengthening differences between the self and the other, violence, silence and deliberately ignoring racism. They also challenged and spoke out against the gendered racism that they were subjected to in their daily lives due to the paternalist discourse of ”honor-killing”.

The research participants had been denied an equal place within the boundary of Swedishness partly due to a racist postcolonial discourse that valued whiteness highly. Paradoxically, some interviewees reproduced the same discourse through choosing to use it against black people, Africans, newly-arrived Kurdish immigrants (”imports”), ”Gypsies” and Islam in order to claim a modern Kurdish identity as near to whiteness as possible. This indicates the multiple dimensions of racism. Those who are subjected to racism and ethnic discrimination can be discriminatory and reproduce the racist discourse. Despite unequal power relations, both dominant and minoritized subjects are all marked by the postcolonial condition in structuring subjectivities, belonging and identification.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)
  • Kamali, Masoud, Supervisor, External person
Award date2010 Sept 10
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2010-09-10
Time: 10:00
Place: Mid Sweden University

External reviewer(s)

Name: de los Reyes, Paulina
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Stockholm University


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Social Sciences


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