Author: Amber Beckley Dr. Andrea Voyer is a newly appointed associate professor (In Swedish: docent) at the Sociology Department. Her work focuses on processes of social inclusion and exclusion on the basis of immigration, race, and class. I sat down with Andrea to ask her about what brought her to SU and her research agenda.
What research do you intend to pursue in Sweden?
I have a few ongoing lines of research on social norms, social categories, and inequality. Social norms, those informal understandings that guide our behavior in everyday life, are difficult to study scientifically because they are both challenging to define and to measure. Yet, they regulate social action and also help to pattern social inequality. In one project, I look at the way social norms influence inequality between members of community organizations. In another project, I analyze social norms in written texts like etiquette books to uncover the relationships between behaviors discussed in the texts and more measurable dimensions of inequality.
I am also working on race and racial inequality in Sweden. I’m collaborating with Anna Lund, Associate Professor of Sociology at SU on an article, a forthcoming book chapter, and a book for students.
Your work covers topics that can be controversial in Sweden — race and ethnicity especially. Can you describe how your work sheds light on these issues in Sweden?
Using the concept of race in research doesn’t mean you are endorsing biological types of people or denying the freedom of the individual. Instead, “race” highlights the ways people are sometimes categorized on the basis of differences in skin color, language, or religion, and allows us to see when, where, and how these categorization processes lead to social inclusion and exclusion.
In Sweden, I focus on race as a type of social categorization tied to inequality and exclusion. For example, in my article “‘If the students don’t come, or if they don’t finish, we don’t get the money.’ Principals, Immigration, and the Organizational Logic of School Choice in Sweden” I interviewed high school (gymnasium) principals (rectors) in Malmö to understand how school choice was related to school segregation. Even though principals generally said that race, ethnicity, and immigrant background had no place in the schools, they also had to convince students to select their school. The principals knew that their schools with many immigrant background students generally had a bad reputation and were less popular choices. As a result, they worked to align their schools with the preference for predominantly ‘Swedish’ schools. For example, one principal described his decision to exclude students who wear hijab from school advertising because he thought that would be better advertising for the school, even though many successful students at this high-achieving school do wear the hijab. In other words, the work of principals inscribed racial preferences in the schools.
Anna Lund and I argue that the concept of race points to a unique type of social marginality that is distinct from ethnicity and immigrant background. The pejorative Swedish category “blatte” fits with this concept of race. “Blatte” is distinct from other categories people use to describe themselves and other, labels like “Muslims,” “Arabs” that reference groups based on a pre-existing attachment to religion, or ethnic group. Instead, “blatte” is a completely Swedish invention – a classification incorporating dozens of nationalities, ethnicities, and religions. The label only exists in Sweden, where membership is deemed identifiable by its association with segregated neighborhoods, a particular cultural style, and a way of speaking.
People are often excluded when categorized in this way, for example, as a result of stereotypes that “blatte” students are lacking in ambition and motivation for learning, boisterous, and create chaos at school. But we also show that being a “blatte” can be a source of identity and Swedish belonging, for example, when students feel a shared identity with Swedish football star Zlatan Ibrahimovich and take pride in the Swedish cultural contributions such as music and literature produced by other “blattar.”