Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 8, January 2005

Elisabeth Elmeroth

Public authorities speak about immigrants


In this article the discourse of immigrants at different authorities is studied. I have collected data from different authorities, the police authorities, the employment office, the social welfare service and the social insurance office in a medium-sized municipality in Sweden. Persons, who in their working as professionals meet immigrants, have answered an inquiry about feelings and thoughts about their meetings. With the data from these inquiries as a starting point I have been able to identify and characterise two separate cultures of authorities, or ideal types. These have been labelled open and closed authority.

The officials at the open authority say that they to some extent have sufficient qualifications, but they are aware of that they need much more to be able to meet immigrants in a proper way. The officials all affirm multiplicity and think that society should create possibilities for immigrants to keep their religion, language and culture. They also show awareness of existing discrimination. That everybody should be treated equally means that everybody should be treated with respect and empathy based on individual needs. The authority has developed work methods and has professionals that have a high competence within the field to consult.

The officials at the closed authority think that it is enough with their own culture as a starting point. The view of immigrants is impressed by a monocultural attitude. Exclusion or assimilation of immigrants is demanded. An exotic view of other cultures and depreciation of immigrants is also found here. At the closed authority the respondents think the feeling of discrimination is mistaken and that the immigrants are whining for nothing. The closed authority is impressed by monocultural work methods. Everyone should be treated equally, and as Swedes. The clients are expected to have the same experiences and frames of reference as the Swedish officials.

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