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Photo of Nina Gren

Nina Gren


Photo of Nina Gren

About Not Understanding the System : Ignorance as an Obstacle to a Meaningful Life in Sweden


  • Nina Gren

Summary, in English

This presentation builds on several ethnographic fieldworks (2011-2015) in southern Sweden on people who have Palestinian background as well as my on-going informal involvement with Palestinian networks. The field material includes about 35 qualitative interviews, numerous informal discussions and participant observations of political events (mostly demonstrations and lectures) and people’s daily lives in Sweden and during visits in the West Bank. Many of the Swedish Palestinians I have been in contact with during research were rather well-established in Swedish society both economically and socially. For instance, many had full-time jobs. Some of them had been able to buy themselves houses or apartments. Socially, they were often part of both transnational networks and locally based social networks, where they live.

In this presentation, I will however, focus on these of my interlocutors who expressed an absence of knowledge when it came to the country they lived in. Such absence of knowledge, or lived experiences of ignorance (cf. Dilley & Kirsch 2015), created confusion and frustration in people’s lives and was only partly related to how long someone had lived in Sweden. In contrast to the interlocutors I mentioned above, the later ones were often unemployed and/or in difficult economic situations. Often ignorance was expressed in relation to a complex bureaucracy and how to deal with different authorities but it could also be in relation to more vague feelings of not knowing how to get around or ahead in society. Ignorance had at least partly created a sense of meaninglessness in life. It seems as if such ignorance was more than just an outcome of absence of knowledge or lack of proper information. Rather, I attempt to discuss it as the result of cultural, political and bureaucratic struggles in relation to forced migration. I hereby build on anthropological analyses that underline the cultural and contextual specificities of how ‘knowledge’ and ‘non-knowledge’ are configured and how they are intimately connected to one another as well as to power (Proctor & Schiebinger 2008; cf. Foucault 1977).

Dilley, Roy & Thomas G. Kirsch eds. (2015) Regimes of Ignorance. Anthropological Perspectives on the Production and Reproduction of Non-Knowledge, New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Foucault, Michel (1977) Discipline and Punish, New York: Pantheon Books.
Proctor, Robert N. & Londa Schiebinger eds. (2008) Agnotology. The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance, Stanford: Stanford University Press.


  • Social Anthropology
  • Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)

Publishing year




Document type

Conference paper: abstract


  • Social Anthropology


  • refugees, Middle East, integration, Swedne
  • refugees
  • Palestinians
  • Sweden

Conference name

World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies 2018

Conference date

2018-07-16 - 2018-07-22

Conference place

Seville, Spain




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