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Ethnography and Education Vol. 2, No. 1, March 2007, pp. 127!143

‘But they are Norwegians!’ Talking about culture at school Anniken Hagelund* Institute for Social Research, Norway

Although heavily debated and sometimes rejected in the scholarly debates, notions of culture and identity have to a large extent become the framework through which to understand the realities, effects and implications of transnational migration for European societies as well as for migrants themselves. Drawing on ethnographic data from a Norwegian primary school which presents itself as multicultural and on textual data from the wider political debate in Norway, the author aims to explore the understandings of culture that are at play in such a context and the possibilities and restrictions these are providing for practices of inclusion. At the same time as teachers are proud of their efforts to ‘make cultural diversity visible’, there is also a significant frustration with a multiculturalist language that tends to equal identity with primordial spatial belonging. In response, new understandings of culture and identity that are more focused on commonality are emerging.

Introduction When new immigrants from faraway places began to arrive in Norway in the late 1960s, their ‘culture’ and the demands this new heterogeneity placed on the recipient society quickly became a post on the political agenda. Cultural diversity, understood as a multiplicity of life forms and systems of shared meanings, has faced the welfare state with new challenges in order to provide services and opportunities of equal value to people with heterogeneous needs and desires. This is not least the case with respect to the education sector which has encountered student populations with different languages, different religions and highly divergent experiences of schooling, but is still expected to provide an adequate education adapted to each student’s individual needs and capacities. Eager to avoid the pitfalls of assimilation and ethnocentrism and to provide newcomers with equal opportunities, many policymakers and practitioners soon adopted a language of recognizing and treasuring diversity. In recent years however, there seems to have been a Euro-wide reaction against multiculturalism and diversity, partly as a response to concerns about social inequalities, social cohesion and, not least, Islam and politico-religious extremism (Grillo, 2005). *Institute for Social Research, PO Box 3233 Elisenberg, 0208 Oslo, Norway. Email: ahl@ socialresearch.no ISSN 1745-7823 (print)/ISSN 1745-7831 (online)/07/010127-17 # 2007 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17457820601159158


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In this paper, I try to access these kinds of general tensions and debates from one particular angle, namely from the perspective of a street-level welfare state institution, a primary school in Norway which describes itself as multicultural. Drawing on data from an ethnographic fieldwork in the municipality as well as textual data from the wider Norwegian political context, I examine how notions of cultural diversity have been turned into a framework for pedagogical practice and how this is being challenged by new concerns about social cohesion and the need for commonality in diverse societies. Through this discussion I seek to investigate how the concepts of culture and cultural diversity are being used both in guiding institutional practices and in reflecting about them. Although these notions tend to be associated with the very same multiculturalist framework which is now being challenged, they also display a considerable ‘ideological promiscuity’ (Wilson, 2002, p. 215) through which they are able to incorporate a range of ideological positions, including both particularistic and universalistic ones. Debating the concept of culture A number of writers have pointed to this paradox: at the same time as anthropologists were busy critiquing essentialist understandings of culture, some even abandoning it altogether, ‘culture’ emerged as a rhetorical object in the discourse of those they were studying (Cowan et al., 2001, p. 3; Melhuus, 1999; Grillo, 2003). This is not least the case for those interested in the politics of immigration and integration in contemporary Europe. Essentialist understandings of culture, which insist that humans are bearers of a culture which divide them into bounded, stable and distinguishable groups, permeate public discourses in a time when much attention is directed at international migration, religious conflict, terrorism and the changing ethnic composition of European cities. The detection of such essentialist conceptions of culture has been crucial in analyses of ‘cultural anxiety’ (Grillo, 2003), ‘cultural fundamentalism’ (Stolcke, 1995) and ‘new racism’ (Barker, 1981), which in different ways point to how xenophobic political and popular discourses are structured around ideas of unbridgeable and natural boundaries between cultural groups. Similarly one can argue that the political ideology of multiculturalism*which basically holds that the diversity constituted by the presence of multiple cultural groups or communities within a wider society is legitimate and that the particular claims and requirements posed by these groups must be given recognition in policy processes*also relies on notions of culture as both bounded and stable and insist on a form of continued separateness although within a shared space (Hannerz, 1999). Culture, in these accounts, requires respect because it is constitutive of people’s identity; and multiculturalism is sometimes linked to identity politics, where the collective identity formed through shared experiences of injustice and oppression forms the basis for political claims. Culture has, in other words, become a vital basis for political claims-making, as when belonging to some minority culture forms the rationale for claims about /

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exemptions from elements of compulsory schooling (religious studies or physical education for girls, for example). While the basic idea that justice implies some degree of recognition of difference as opposed to simple ‘colour-blind’ individualism has generally been accepted, debates are raging over the extent to which groups can be given particular rights without creating new injustices between and within groups, and about the consequences of officially recognizing sub-groups within the nation state in terms of civic integration and social cohesion (Glazer, 1997; Kymlicka, 1999). More generally, culture, cultural difference and identity have to a large extent become the common sense framework for which to understand the realities, effects and implications of transnational migration for European societies as well as for migrants themselves. Soysal, for example, has noted a change in German textbooks from the 1970s to the present where immigrants’ problems are no longer phrased in terms of economic hardship, but emanate from ‘being between two cultures’ (Soysal et al., 2005, p. 28). At the same time, the very meaningfulness of culture and identity as analytical concepts has been questioned from other parts of academia. Prevalent understandings and uses of ‘culture’ and ‘identity’ are devalued for being static, ahistorical, simplistic and essentialist. To the extent anthropologists still speak about culture, they insist that it must be understood as ‘historically produced, globally interconnected, internally contested, and marked with ambiguous boundaries of identity and practice’ (Merry, 2001, p. 41). With respect to identity, it has in some circles become nearly impossible to talk about it without, in order to avoid charges of essentialism, adding that they are constructed, fluid and multiple. These attempts at loosening the ties between culture and identity and relativizing the boundaries between different cultures and identities, can again been criticized for leaving identity without a core*‘if identity is everywhere, it is nowhere’ (Brubaker, 2004, p. 29)*and without criteria for determining what constitutes an identity with legitimate claims on recognition and not (Cooper, 2004). Similarly, talk about cultural groups and their particular needs and requirements may lead to loosing sight of the dynamics and internal inconsistencies of collective ways of life. On the other hand, without making such generalizations collective claims-making becomes difficult. One solution to these conceptual and political conundrums has been to bracket both ‘culture’s’ and ‘identity’s’ status as analytical concepts and instead focus on their uses as rhetorical devices in contemporary processes of politics and claimsmaking. In this paper I examine the various meanings of culture and identity, and the uses to which they are put in the concrete empirical context of a Norwegian primary school. This is a school which presents itself as ‘multicultural’. My point is that in order to be a multicultural school, culture needs to become something which one can talk about, observe and consider in the course of schooling. These are precisely the processes I explore. However, before we move down to the ‘ground’ it is necessary to outline briefly the political context which such street-level practitioners of multiculturalism work within and the place of ‘culture’ within this kind of discourse. /

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Discourse on ‘culture’ in Norway Norwegian authorities have never officially adopted a programme for multiculturalism, but primarily devised integration policies aimed at giving heterogeneous individuals the same rights and opportunities, including the right and opportunity to maintain a minority ethnic identity. However, while immigrants have not been granted formal group rights, there are also a range of policies and measures that can be understood as de facto multiculturalism, for example when ethnically based organizations and associations receive state funding or when immigrant children receive mother tongue instruction. Groups are in practice given rights for pragmatic reasons so that the aim of ‘inclusion and participation’ (KRD, 2004) can be reached. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the debate about immigration and immigrants in Norway to a large extent has been formulated in terms of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural diversity’. When the influx of labour migrants from poorer countries began to rise in the early 1970s, one of the concerns that soon emerged was what would happen to their culture and how to avoid enforced assimilation*in such a context, teaching children about their own language and culture became an aim (Andresen, 2005). However, as more immigrants arrived and problematic issues became apparent in the shape of poor language skills, low employment rates, high social security dependency, tendencies to residential segregation and so forth, the emphasis changed from protecting language and culture as a ‘value in itself’ (KAD, 1980, p. 28), via participation without assimilation (KAD, 1988, p. 49) to ‘diversity through inclusion and participation’ (KRD, 2004). There has been a clear shift in political attention and ambitions towards finding ways of incorporating diversity into something shared, rather than worrying about how to protect diversity itself. In this sense, cultural identity as an object of protection has nearly disappeared from political discourse. At the same time, the authorities have repeatedly established that Norway is a multicultural country and that cultural diversity is a positive and valuable aspect of Norwegian society (KAD, 1997; KRD, 2004). The notion of culture has become increasingly contested in Norwegian immigration debate, especially since massive negative public attention has been directed at issues such as forced marriages, female genital mutilation and the hijab. When these are interpreted as cultural phenomena*as they often are*the distance is short to classifying immigrants’ cultures as primitive, violent or misogynistic, and not worthy of protection. Instead citizenship policies, in the shape of citizenship ceremonies, compulsory language training and extensive introduction programmes, have taken precedence over measures to celebrate and protect diversity. This is in line with the broader trends that Rogers Brubaker has termed a ‘return to assimilation’, not in the sense of enforced homogenization but as a renewed and strengthened concern with civic integration (2004). /

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Discourses on cultural diversity at the Highrise School At first glance it seems to be a long way from the increasingly, for lack of a better term, ‘assimilationist’ discourse prevalent on the national level to the local discourses that are being played out at the Highrise School (HS). My analysis will explore some of the tensions between diversity and commonality orientated practices that are yet in place at the school. This is a school which actively presents itself as a ‘multicultural school’, and where staff tends to position themselves and their pedagogical practices in opposition to prevailing integration ideologies and policies. Around 70% of its pupils have immigrant background, and there is also a significant minority ethnic contingent among the staff.1 A range of languages are taught*Urdu, Vietnamese, Somali, Tamil, Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, Hindi, Albanian and more. The teachers speak enthusiastically about internationally orientated project work, cultural activities, research-based bilingual language teaching methods and efforts made to include minority ethnic parents in the activities of the school. The building itself is decorated with flags from all over the world, and classroom libraries stock anti-racist literature. As my choice of pseudonym for the school indicates, it is located in a part of the city dominated by high-rise buildings. The high-rise area has a large minority ethnic population. Some are new arrivals; others belong to families that first arrived as labour migrants in the 1970s. Thanks to high rates of social problems, the area’s poor reputation was established long before the first immigrants moved in, and the school quickly became known as a ‘problem school’. However, it has worked actively to reduce behavioural problems and to turn its diverse student population into a resource, and has now managed to create a positive image of itself as a multicultural school, which both teachers and children seem to be proud of. Key elements in this self-presentation are also well-known elements from pedagogical discourses about multicultural education, such as the joy of mastery through differentiated teaching, emphasis on bilingual teaching methods, and the recognition of and active treasuring of diversity (Hauge, 2004). /

Fieldwork My fieldwork at the HS was part of a larger project conducted in the municipality about the governance of cultural diversity at the local level in a Norwegian city. The idea was to combine analysis of the discourses*both at policy level and at the local level of implementation*through which cultural diversity and integration are constituted as political problems, with ethnographic observations in the contexts where policies are turned into practices, namely at the level of ‘street-level bureaucracy’ (Lipsky, 1980). The ethnographic material presented in this paper emanate mainly from the section of the fieldwork that was conducted at the HS primary school in September and October 2004. I introduced myself as someone who was interested in how integration policies were performed at a local and practical level, emphasizing that I /

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was interested in learning how pedagogical (and other) staff worked to be a multicultural school in practice. One teacher team (all the staff teaching same year pupils) and three other teachers volunteered to invite me into their classrooms, where I observed their teaching and occasionally helped out by assisting the children with their individual work. I also interviewed members of the school’s management and pedagogical and social support teams. All in all I interviewed about a dozen teachers and other staff in the sense of formally sitting down with a loosely structured interview guide and a tape recorder and/or note book. In addition I chatted informally with many more in the staff room and in between the classes and meetings I attended. My questions and observations were focused on the teachers’ understandings of culture and cultural diversity, on the implications this had for their work, and how they dealt with the dilemmas and tensions between different values and understandings that I assumed would occur while performing this kind of work in this particular setting. While I tended to focus my questions on what was special about working at a school such as the HS, the informants often wanted to emphasize the normality of it*that they were normal teachers working to provide a good education for a collection of children from varied backgrounds. Thus, some of the more explicit questions about dilemmas and tensions between diversity and equality worked less well in the sense that they provoked protests rather than elaborate accounts of how they were dealt with. Instead I begun to take the school’s own self-presentation as a multicultural school as my starting point, asking what this meant in practice. This lead us into conversations about actual teaching practices, but also about the possibilities and limits they felt that such an approach had to offer. Through these kinds of conversations about what it meant to be a ‘multicultural school’, whether in formal interviews or in spontaneous chats, I learnt both about the actual practices put in place to ‘make diversity visible’, about the pride many felt about this model, but also about doubts which can be summarized in the expression ‘but when will they become Norwegian?’. I rarely asked about abstract understandings of culture, cultural differences or commonalities, but have in my analysis of the material systematically gone through interview transcripts and field notes with an eye to the understandings of such ideas that emerged in the course of conversations and actual teaching practices. The school was not chosen because it is representative of all Norwegian schools*it is not*but because it represents a particular attempt at organizing a welfare state institution with basis in a notion of cultural diversity. As such it appeared as a well suited site for studying the tensions between cultural, national and individual considerations that may occur in such an encounter between an equality orientated welfare state tradition and multiculturalist ideas. In order to understand the meanings of culture and the uses to which these meanings are put in a multicultural education context, I have, in the analysis presented below, pursued the following analytical questions: How is cultural diversity made visible in the school? What understandings of culture do such practices entail, and what kind of work are these understandings able and unable to do? Finally, what /

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kind of shared values and frameworks, if any, are constructed in this environment of celebrating diversity? Making diversity visible When veteran teachers recount the history of the school, they return to the point when they decided to turn diversity into a resource. This was a radical move aimed at redefining ignorance as knowledge. Instead of seeing children coming to school without the language skills and understandings of Norwegian society that their Norwegian contemporaries possessed, the HS decided to ask for the competence they actually had and to look at this as a resource. ‘By focusing on diversity as natural and valuable, we managed to do something about these children’s sense of pride’, the teachers recount proudly. The result, they claim, is a school where children are happy to be and where they can develop a secure identity with a basis in ‘their own or their parents’ culture and in Norwegian culture’ (teacher interview). Another result is a mode of self-presentation where notions like culture, identity and diversity abound and intermingle. So what does it imply, then, in practical terms, to be a multicultural school where diversity is made visible? The most conspicuous element of such practices is the creation of tangible representations of different cultures in the shape of material objects, visual signs and standardized practices and forms of expression. In each classroom a collection of flags is displayed to signify each child’s belonging. National holidays are being celebrated. At festive occasions, parents are encouraged to contribute traditional food dishes. Songs are sung in different languages. There are performances of Vietnamese dance or African music. Such juxtapositions of objectified elements of different cultures are taken to symbolize the multicultural totality constituted by the pupils. But while these displays are the most glaring to the outsider’s eyes, teachers emphasize that it is the other work which takes place behind the colourful displays that really matters. They speak of anti-racist literature and multi-lingual libraries; they talk about taking care to find teaching aids where bilingual children are portrayed as active agents, about using stories from the children’s countries of origin in the classes and encouraging pride in whatever backgrounds they bring with them. The quote below is from a conversation I had with a teacher about the practical implications of being a multicultural school. It is quite illustrative for how teachers presented the school and their work at an early stage of interviews; problematizations and questionings tended to emerge later on. The imperative is that we should not only emphasize similarities, but that it is even more important to emphasize difference. Because when you emphasize difference, you create tolerance. That is the basis for respect. Thus the flags on the wall. Thus the pride of what mummy and daddy are too, and of where granny and granddad come from. . . . We have worked with our local community, then municipalities and provinces, then countries and continents, and then we have concentrated more on the countries in the class. Where children have been able to find information in their homes. It is something about looking for the parents’ competence and this is a real competence.


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A. Hagelund When they have come back and been able to tell about mummy and daddy being from there, they have brought along words from their language that mum and dad have helped them with, they have brought information, pictures and so forth, so that the parents also feel like important informants. And by stressing how different we are, we stop the ridiculing of being different. (Teacher interview)

In accounts like this, the content of difference is constituted in particular ways centred on notions of space. Diversity is not so much about looking different or being endowed with different talents, personalities or likings, as about belonging to different places and, in particular, coming from different countries. Secure identity development, then, is about discovering roots elsewhere, learning about distant origins and finding pride in them. Making diversity visible, in this view, is about bringing in elements from different places that are linked to the identities of the children who are present*their flags, their food, their art and visual images. Multicultural educational practices have been criticized for including and making visible all cultures except the native one (Hewitt, 2005, p. 126). To some extent, this is a criticism the HS has tried to take on board by also celebrating Norwegian culture. In the annual ‘Norwegian Week’, pupils see Norwegian folk dancing, learn Norwegian songs and fairytales, eat Norwegian food and play traditional Norwegian games. In other words, Norwegian ‘culture’ is represented along parallel lines as Turkish, Pakistani or Albanian culture*through flags and folklore. What remains out of sight is perhaps most of all that which is humdrum, ordinary and related to everyday living. At one festive occasion all the children in the class I observed had brought dishes of food. Most had brought elaborate curries, dumplings and savoury pastries, which were all appropriately presented and praised. But one girl, from an eastern European country, brought ham sandwiches and biscuits, and was quietly overlooked as we stood in a circle around the table trying to explain the recipes and their spatio-cultural origins. Culture in this sense is more about symbolism and art than about everyday forms of lifestyles, and when starting from such conceptions the practice of making diversity visible is easily operationalized into various forms of cultural displays. These are displays where cultures are objectified and presented as stable, bounded, relatively unchanging entities*precisely the kind of models that make cultural researchers cry essentialism. Teachers at the HS are, like most non-scholars, unconcerned about essentialism and freely apply notions of culture and identity that might be such labeled, but what I want to underline is the extent to which they also encounter situations which this terminology leaves them inept to make sense of. These are situations that make them ponder the question of what identity really is, or, more specifically, of what the true identities of particular children really are. A typical family history for a child at the HS may be one where a grandfather came as a labour migrant in the 1970s, one parent grew up in the Highrise area and went to the HS, another came on family reunification from rural Turkey to an arranged marriage in Norway. So where do these children really come from? Who are they? What are they to be called? These are ongoing discussions, where both teachers and children may play around with alternatives*Norwegian, Turkish, /

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Norwegian-Turkish, Turkish-Norwegian or simply children? Third generation immigrant, minority in Norway or Norwegian? These are questions about the proper categorizations of identities, but also about transitions from one state, or category, to another. What are the requirements for being from somewhere? When do children stop being from somewhere else and start being from ‘here’? The teachers may be detached from the scholarly debates over cultural essentialism, but in a sense they are experiencing and struggling with some of the very same issues. When these questions emerge teachers propose knowledge, experience and mastery as alternatives to space and belonging. Some claim that the children called, for example, Turkish, do not necessarily speak the Turkish language very well, they have merely visited Turkey in their summer holidays, and their knowledge of Turkish society is shallow. These are factors that make them question the accuracy of labeling the children as Turkish. Similarly, it is through talking about people’s mastery of life ‘here’ that their Norwegian-ness is established. In short, there may be a mismatch between the children’s actual experiences and knowledge and the spatial location of their identity that should, in these teachers’ view, have consequences for the language in which they are being talked about and addressed. Before when we had visitors to the class I would let the children introduce themselves by saying their names and where they came from. I would never do that anymore. In the beginning when I was newly educated I thought it was so exciting and exotic with everything multicultural here, now I may look a little differently upon it, it is more a focus on living here now, being Norwegians. (Conversation with teacher)

If current labeling practices are inadequate, alternatives are needed, and in these quotes several are being suggested: being Norwegian, being kids, or simply being individuals with names and preferences. I am thinking more and more that kids are kids. It has been so much focus on the multicultural on this school, we have celebrated so many national days and so forth, but when shall these children be allowed to be Norwegian? It is important that they are not being reduced to a part of a multicultural showcase, a showcase for something they do no know so much about or have many experiences from. (Conversation with teacher)

This is the paradox of multiculturalist practices as it appears in staffroom discourse: Normality is what we take for granted, what we know without talking about it. If diversity is to be constituted as the normal condition, there must be a point when one stops talking about it and start to take it for granted. ‘I don’t think so much about the multicultural, it is kind of obvious that the kids are what they are and we have to relate to that’, says one teacher. The multicultural school may fail in providing an adapted education to all if it does not recognize the wide variation of experiences and family histories that children bring with them to school, but is it any more successful if it fails to treat them as ordinary kids? If we consider the inclusionary ambitions of the Norwegian unitary school and welfare state, these are ideals which have transformation away from difference (between classes or genders), not protection, at their heart. In this context, the aim of making diversity visible can


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ultimately be no more than a means to an end. The question which remains and thus continues to disturb, is when/where diversity ends and equality starts. The interplay of making diversity visible and creating new commonalities is perhaps most poignantly symbolized in the school’s ritualized annual celebration of the UN-day on October 24. This is a highlight of the school year. It is preceded by lessons and project work about the UN and human rights, but the day itself is primarily a festive occasion. Everyone gathers in the school yard, which is decorated with big flying flags representing every nationality at the school. Most of the teachers and some children wear traditional festive costumes from their countries of origin, and everyone carries small flags from their ‘country of origin’, although some minority ethnic children choose to carry a Norwegian flag or a UN-flag. There are speeches and songs, and then all the children parade with their flags around the Highrise area before they return to eat the more or less exotic dishes their parents have prepared. With the UN-day the school manages to symbolize commonality and diversity in one grand movement*all the different cultures, represented by flags and food, gathered under the unifying symbolism of the United Nation’s flag and the universalistic language of human rights. It repeats the theme of making diversity visible by juxtaposing the symbols of diverse origins through flags and foods. This is an orderly form of diversity, where identities can be categorized according to national borders and simple relations of belonging.2 At the same time, it is striking that the symbolic language used depends so heavily on the symbolic forms of the nation-state. Firstly, because differences are being expressed as national distinctions through the use of flags. Secondly, because the ritual forms*the children’s parade, the flags, the costumes*closely mimics the celebration of the Norwegian national day on May 17 with the exception that the latter sports Norwegian flags only and songs about the nation have replaced those of the world. Yet, verbally the diversity presented is encompassed by the universalist language of human rights, peace and a shared humanity represented by children. For the detached analyst it is both easy and tempting to polemicize against such straightforward, even cliche´d, multicultural celebrationism: The internal divisions within cultures or nations are being ignored or underestimated; it essentializes the notion of culture by construing it as neat packages of objects and conventionalized practices, renders it harmless by suppressing potential conflicts and antagonisms between and within different cultures (or religions, which remain curiously invisible in the HS’s annual cycle of festivities), and too easily subsumes the identity of individual children under the heading of the flag. The result is a display of a diversity devoid of any real divisions, which ultimately, then, may be as much about creating new commonalities as about protecting differences. /

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New commonalities At the same time as culture is celebrated, diversity emphasized and identities cherished, schooling is*also at the HS*about encouraging certain types of behaviours, capabilities and, indeed, identities, which are deemed more suitable and desirable for success in future life than others. The school is, to use Foucault’s term (1977), engaged in processes of normalization. In this sense, schooling and what is normally talked about as the integration of immigrants hinge on much of the same way of thinking*there are individuals who, due to age, inexperience or alienness, are not yet ready for full social participation, and who accordingly need to go through processes of learning and adapting to be able to take up positions as functional members of society. Being both children and members of immigrant households, the pupils at the HS are objects of two sets of normalizing discourses. At school level this means that the emphasis of diversity is accompanied by a discourse of integration, of producing citizens capable of participating and succeeding both in the future as adults in the wider society, but also more immediately in the school community. Involved in such processes is another kind of ‘culturespeak’ (Hannerz, 1999) which is about everyday ways of living that causes problems for children, and ultimately about the legitimacy of restricting and transforming these. This is a type of discourse where teachers try to explain and make sense of the variation in how pupils and parents behave in relation to the school and the wider community. In these ways they unwittingly give content to cultural diversity in ways that go beyond symbols and ritual forms of expression. These are accounts of how children are raised, about the limits and norms, or lack of such, which are established in the families, and about the behavioural problems that may occur when families get it wrong with respect to life in Norway. /

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One can often see that the style of upbringing is opposite in an us-culture compared to an I-culture, and the result can be that they do not get any manners at all. Because they are at home and there perhaps they think that there shouldn’t be any limitations when they are children, because they are to be allowed to be children and then we’ll give them more limits later. But in an I-culture such as Norway we have many limits from early on and then we let them loose when we see that the children have learnt the rules. . . . And when we combine these, you get an individual who has had no limits at all, if one’s unlucky. And then they won’t belong neither in relation to Norwegian culture nor in relation to the culture of their country of origin, because they do not act correctly in relation to any of them. And it is very important that we work with the parents on this, and that the children understand that here we do have clear boundaries, here we are explicit. You can’t do as you please in this country, even if you are only five there are rules. (Teacher interview)

In accounts like this another understanding of diversity comes into sight, a diversity where cultures clash, which is constituted by practices that disturb the established order of the school and cause minorities to fail. The problem, in this perspective, is that some cultures engender success in specific contexts, while others do not. When this is the case, the school’s responsibility changes from creating structures that cater to a variety of different identities and normalities, to creating


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individuals and families that can function within the pre-established order of the school. This is done through an insistence on clear rules and limits at school, as well as by approaching parents with offers of guidance programmes and informal advice aimed at changing styles of child rearing and establishing routines for helping children with school work. It is the school itself, then, and the requirements schooling presents that may trump the principle of making diversity visible. Of course you can be considerate with respect to the culture, but when it comes to school you just have to adapt. (Teacher interview)

This is also a story of change and learning, of having gone from one model to another and then, finally, ending up in some golden middle way. . . . it can also be wrong if you, in a way, national costumes and special food and flags, there comes no integration out of that, only that. After a while one has walked those steps and made some experiences and one feels that it is becoming more nuanced in a way. One protects some things, and one says that ‘no, we do it like this because this is a Norwegian school. Because HS is a Norwegian school and this is how we do it here, this is tradition here and that tradition we will maintain. (Teacher interview)

The point where diversity seems to meet the wall of school authority is the point where different viewpoints can no longer be accommodated without, in the school’s view, endangering learning. This is when tolerance comes to an end. Examples that are frequently recounted concerns participation in camp-schools, swimming lessons and instructing parents to get involved with homework. Then teachers proudly speak about applying pressure and setting up meetings with the headmaster, in short, being willing to take a fight when learning is at stake. Cultural diversity is thus also something that needs to be tamed, to be channeled in ways that do not disturb pupils’ immersion into new commonalities that, apparently, goes before and beyond the culturally specific. Some teachers speak about a ‘children’s culture’, about: . . . finding the things that makes children happy . . . such things that create community for children, not because they are Turkish or Albanian or anything like that, but to find out what children’s culture is and to put that first. (Teacher interview)

New commonalities are also emerging through the language of human rights, peace and international collaboration. But most of all it is the school itself, with its rules, time tables, values of learning and aspirations for future success in education and work, which constitute the primary commonality into which some sort of unilateral incorporation is both acceptable and desirable. Culture and commonality in education discourse Initially I looked at two different types of reactions against ‘culture’. First, the academic debate where culture has become a problematic concept due to its essentialist uses. Second, the political debate on immigration and integration in Norway where culture*particularly in the sense of minorities’ cultures*has become /

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problematic as tendencies to discredit multiculturalism and instead turn towards citizenship and civic virtues have gained ground. In the face of such developments, the cultural celebrationism at the Highrise School may appear old-fashioned, but it could also be argued to be politically oppositional in a time of diversity backlash (Grillo, 2005). On the other hand, there are signs of something else and more than uncritical celebration of diversity going on at the school: Also at the multicultural school there is a commitment to find and construct commonalities across difference. These attempts may perhaps be better understood if we try to position such local discourses and practices into the wider welfare state context into which it is situated. Few areas of the public sector have felt the impact of immigration and the concomitant sense of growing cultural diversity as intensely as the education sector. Historically and ideologically, the ‘unitary school’ (enhetsskolen) has had an extremely important position in Norway. This entails the idea that all children should go to publicly funded schools which should all be of the same kind and status, and this has been a crucial institutional component in a nation building process motivated by ideals of social equality, equal opportunities and social interaction across class divisions (Telhaug & Media˚s, 2003). Taking a broader historical perspective, one can argue that the inclusive welfare state and unitary school have been at the heart of processes where antagonisms between groups and classes*rural and urban, workers and bourgeoisie, men and women*have been mitigated and ever new groups included into the nation state as full citizens. Following this line of thinking, immigrants and ethnic minorities are now the next in line; and it is the welfare state and its unitary school system that must take up the challenge. This vision of inclusion and equality faces schools with a many-faceted task. Language is one major concern. Children may arrive at school with little or no knowledge of Norwegian language, and teaching Norwegian as a second language does in any case require particular adaptations. Another complicating factor is that the challenge is not evenly distributed. In the capital, the share of minority language speakers at individual schools range between 95 and 2% (Oslo Kommune, 2003). Schools both carry a large part of the responsibility for accommodating and cherishing cultural diversity and ‘international perspectives’ (KUF, 1996), but also for creating community across differences. They are responsible for producing citizens capable of democratic participation as well as productive work, but also to ensure that everyone*irrespective of origins*receives the same opportunities for learning and development through ‘adapted education’ [tilpasset opplæring] geared towards each pupil’s individual needs and talents. The tensions at the HS between diversity vs. commonality orientated practices are thus no less pertinent in the policy discourse on education. This is also well reflected in the heated public debates that have taken place over issues such as mother tongue instruction, religious education and the hijab, which were all located in the context of schooling. Changes in language education for immigrant- and ethnic minority children aptly illustrates the turn both towards civic integration and towards a more individualistic formulation of ethnic minorities’ rights in the education system. This can be described as a transition from a ‘preservation model’ that aimed at functional /

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bilingualism and considered this as a condition for enabling pupils to ‘feel at home in two cultures’ (KUD, 1987, p. 38), to a ‘transition model’ that considered mother tongue instruction and bilingual teaching as tools to facilitate learning in Norwegian language and other subjects (Kulbrandstad, 2002). Teachers at the HS tend to mourn the loss of mother tongue education as a value in itself, but are still able to offer it with reference to the pupils’ individual needs. At a policy level, however, this change means that protection of minority culture as such has disappeared as a relevant factor in devising policies for language instruction for immigrant and minority ethnic children, who are now primarily conceived as individuals with or without particular linguistic needs. This does not mean that notions of culture have disappeared, neither in schools nor among educationalists. A second development in education policy in the 1990s was namely a heightened concern with the school as a nation-building institution. In a time of growing pluralism, education politicians stressed the school’s responsibility for nurturing unity and communication across differences. The primary means to ensure this went through the development of a shared knowledge of history, culture and language. The national curriculum (læreplan) that was agreed upon in 1996 stated clearly that the relevant common heritage was one grounded in Christian and humanist values, and that secure identity development had to happen through intimate knowledge of this tradition. It briefly acknowledged the existence of linguistic and cultural minorities, who would not necessarily share this heritage, and stated that knowledge of their cultures also has to be included in the teaching. The main impression though is one of a text where it is the majority’s identity development that is at stake and which must be nurtured in an appropriate way for a rapidly changing world (KUF, 1996). Concepts of culture has thus become less relevant as the basis for special rights for minorities, but at the same time grown increasingly important as a basis for developing unity, primarily among the majority, but also across group boundaries. This is perhaps the point where the HS is most genuinely in opposition to the dominant policy discourse: Not in its insistence on making cultural diversity visible, but in its attempts to create a basis for commonality that is less attached to ideas of national culture and instead based in human rights, children’s culture or indeed school culture. Concluding remarks This analysis has shown that while the debates over multiculturalism are often principled and structured around apparently unbridgeable oppositions such as individualism versus collectivism or universalism versus relativism, the actual practices of multiculturalism can be much more pragmatic incorporating a range of different understandings of culture and identities. In practice, the multiculturalist rhetoric of making difference visible seems able to coexist pretty happily with the creation of new commonalities.


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Ideas of mastery seems to be crucial both in the multicultural pedagogic and in attempts at formulating a commonality beyond the multicultural. In pedagogical discourse they provide a rationale for why schools should adapt to the knowledge and experiences of its diverse clientele*bilingual teaching so that they can achieve a sense of linguistic mastery, international perspectives so that they can recognize own experiences in school curricula. This stress on correspondence between the cultural (and linguistic) identities of the pupils and the versions of normality they should encounter at school may seem at odds with the national curricula’s focus on one shared cultural heritage. However, another key principle, individually adapted education, works to solve this potential tension. This means that each pupil, irrespective of background, should have the same right to be met on his/her own terms and have an education adapted to his or her particular needs. One example is to let pupils use the language they feel most comfortable with when learning maths or to write geography projects about their country of origin. In this way, the multiculturalist focus on groups and group identities are combined with ideas of individual adaptation in a way which enables such pedagogy to fit into current policy trends that seem to point away from maintaining minority identities. However, in my analysis of local discourses at the HS, notions of mastery also emerge as that which allows the diversity perspective to come to an end: It is when people master ‘here’ better than ‘there’ that they become more Norwegian than anything else, and it is when their mastery of ‘there’ gets shaky that one may legitimately ask whether it still makes sense to use the labels ‘Turkish’ or ‘multicultural’. In a sense, the connection between cultural identity and spatial belonging is replaced with one between cultural identity and mastery. Mastery is also the crucial legitimization of moves to include children in new commonalities instead of, or in addition to, celebrating diversity. In this type of accounts, the school is not only responsible for each child’s sense of immediate mastery, but also for enabling mastery of life beyond and after school. It is this kind of considerations of children’s perceived need to master the system that seem to trump particularistic cultural considerations. Thus, it is the school itself, and by implication the wider welfare society, which is held up as the commonality into which children of diverse backgrounds can be legitimately incorporated. /

Notes 1. 2.

Many of whom, however, are bilingual teaching assistants rather than regular teachers. In practice, of course, identities are less orderly. It takes considerable knowledge about world politics to equip each child with an appropriate flag. One teacher recounted how embarrassed she was when some Tamil girls quietly had told her that the Sri Lankan flags they had been given were not really their flags. When I asked another teacher if it was difficult sometimes to find the right flag for a child, for example in cases of persecuted minorities, she said ‘then you get a Norwegian flag . . . or a UN-flag. We always have some such UN-solutions, we think they are nice’ (teacher interview).


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