Narratives of integration and work in Norway: Rethinking integration, transnational belongings and affective labour
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There are legitimate concerns about the barriers against immigrant women’s integration and their relatively low participation in the Norwegian labour market. However, research from Norway has shown that in public discourses immigrant women’s low employment rates are seen as a problem, and national integration policies frame this ‘problem’ as a matter of the ‘backwards’ culture and traditions of immigrant women. In a wider European context research has found that integration policies utilise arguments of ‘gender equality’ to systematically push immigrant women into low-paid and low-status jobs in the reproductive sector. Based on a literature review of a social justice approach to integration, feminist theories of affective labour and Fraser’s theory of the politics of need interpretation, this study aims to question labour market participation as defining the successful integration of immigrant women and challenges how arguments of gender equality and work are used in problematic ways. Interviews were conducted with immigrant women and social workers that work with the integration of immigrants in Norway. Through a narrative analysis of the material, the discursive connections between integration and work are interrogated, and alternative and oppositional narratives about integration and work are identified. The narrative analysis details how social workers interpret the needs of their clients and shows how narratives of integration and work are both reinforced and challenged by the social workers. I find that by working closely with their clients, the social workers are capable of interpreting their clients’ alternative needs, making them administrable needs. Arguments pushing immigrant women into care and reproductive work are not found in the analysed material. By using a transnational lens to analyse the narratives of the immigrant women, I find alternative understandings of integration that challenge dominant narratives of gender equality, affective labour, and the nation-based approach to integration. Based on these findings I argue how we might rethink integration, work and citizenship in terms of transnationality.