Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Danishness, Nordic Amnesia and Immigrant Museums

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Danishness, Nordic Amnesia and Immigrant Museums

Article excerpt


It has hitherto been the nation-state task to maintain the geographic territory as a regulatory element for the maintenance of its imagined community. History has been constructed from the idea of the national as organizing principle, and thus from a fixed location. It is this entrenched Western (read Euro-American) view of the world as organized in nations that territorial mobility is envisioned as abnormal, and the "postcolonial" immigrant as a "threat."

The immigrant subject has from this optic occupied a deviant position--neither completely inside nor completely outside the nation-state, constituting, within the nation state's own views, peripheral postcolonial narrations without historical impact to its memory.

The appearance of a museal culture devoted to symbolically and materially represent the history of immigrant cultures, contributes in many stances, I argue, to the multiple and subtle mechanisms of minimizing the historical importance of the nomadic, the "strange" and the ("ethnic") "other" within the nation-state's history.

The Danish Immigration Museum (DIM) in Denmark is not an exception. What we observe today represented in the museum's web documentation is a narrative of forgetfulness as a political feature of Danish national and public memory.

Despite vigorous institutional argumentation for immigration museums as sites of memory, the praxis shows us that such sites have often yielded paradoxically forgetful results. In this respect, the Danish Immigration Museum discloses a complicated national relationship to immigration and immigration politics: namely the question of colonial memory (Blaagaard 2010). A closer look at the museum's photo archives shows us an absence of any historical record related to the Danish former colonies (1) and their presence in the Danish territory.

Nordic history seems to show us that there is a collective purpose behind the suppression of memory. The intentional banalization of colonialism serves not only as a form of selective forgetting, but also as an ethical issue concerning the political relationship between Denmark and its former colonies.

The negation of intense participation in the European colonial administration has enabled and still enables the Nordic countries to carry on its fictitious humanitarianism. The silenced archives of the DIM contribute to this non-history of colonialism.

Furthermore, as part of a vehicle for integration policies, the museum fails to address historically important immigrant groups whose presence in the country today do not necessarily result from colonial history, but constitutes part of the Danish history, most notably, the Tamil immigrants from Sri Lanka.

A report published by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (2002), reveals that of all the Scandinavian countries, Denmark is the least interested in its minorities at the parliamentary level (Blaagaard 2010:107). Resonating with most European discourses on migrancy, the Danish discourse on immigrants is highly xenophobic and exclusionary in character. Descendents of immigrants are officially called new-Danes; however, the reality is that once an immigrant you'll stay an immigrant forever: "You're a first generation immigrant, a second generation immigrant, a third generation immigrant, a fourth generation immigrant--you're always an immigrant" (Gilroy 2006).

As I will argue throughout the article, the Danish hegemonic discourse on migration materializes itself in the overall structure of its one and only Immigrant Museum. In spite of its function as a memory site, the museum is oddly overdetermined by national blind spots, thus highlighting how colonial legacies and historical "forgetfulness" continue to inform current dynamics of cultural representations in Danish museums in general and in DIM, in particular. Paradoxically, the immigrant museum then becomes part of a master narrative that the Danish nation articulates about what it means to be "Danish" (and modern). …

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