Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Working towards Diversity with a Postmigrant Perspective: How to Examine Representation of Ethnic Minorities in Cultural Institutions

Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Working towards Diversity with a Postmigrant Perspective: How to Examine Representation of Ethnic Minorities in Cultural Institutions

Article excerpt


Representation of diversity is not yet the norm in Danish cultural institutions. Reports from the Danish Ministry of Culture in recent years describe the cultural landscape of Denmark as being filled with white, male bodies and voices, but also note an interest in changing the current dominant perspectives.1 Responses by the cultural institutions to the actual challenges of representation have been primarily to create seminars focusing on the subject of skewed representation, to issue charters that state their support for diversity, and/or to arrange for workshops for the under-represented.2 Up to now, the institutions have been focusing on diversity through talks and projects rather than through sustainable structural changes within the institutions.

One possible explanation for this is that Denmark has only started to address the subject of diverse representation in the arts in the past decade or so.3 The current initiatives could be considered the first steps in a long process of redressing the imbalance. In order to further the development of balanced representation, cultural studies researchers Anne Ring Petersen and Moritz Schramm conclude that it is essential to create "a language that does not stigmatize certain groups and individuals, and to increase our understanding of the cultural practices that can promote vulnerable groups' social, cultural, political and economic participation in society".4 The aim of this article is to reveal the complexity and importance of the problem of skewed representation, and to create models that can help cultural institutions determine which steps towards achieving diversity should be taken next.

This paper will first outline the current state of Danish cultural policy and provide an example of the current discrepancies regarding diversity in Danish public discourse. Next, the postmigrant perspective is presented as a productive way of working towards diverse representation. Finally, two sets of distinctions are introduced, which allow cultural workers and researchers to be more focused and precise when working towards diverse representation.

A history of unity?

Ever since Denmark lost Slesvig, Holstein and Lauenborgin to Germany in the war of 1864,5 one of the goals of Danish cultural policy has been to unite the nation state through a coherent national identity, but this goal has not only been a focus in Denmark. In the book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, political scientist Benedict Anderson describes it as thus: "the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship".6 Cultural sociologist Peter Duelund writes that, in Denmark, this "comradeship" was bound together by the concept of unity of "one nation, one people, one language".7 Historians still debate whether this unity has ever truly existed,8 but the focus on unity and "sameness" in Danish cultural policy is well documented;9 policies instituted by the Danish Ministry of Culture from 1970 to 2010 have been described as being "assimilationist" by cultural policy researchers Dorte Skot-Hansen10 and Mahama Tawat.11 Duelund also states that the Danish government has actively been using "assimilationist" concepts of unity in its policies "as a safeguard against the European integration process, migration and the multicultural challenge" at least since the 1990s.12

Although immigrants and guest workers have been coming to Denmark for more than a century,13 they were not widely considered to be and discussed as integral members of Danish society until the 1960s and 1970s. It was during that period of time that the idea of "Danish unity" was challenged by the growing percentage of the population that had visibly nonEuropean backgrounds.14 The notion of a multicultural Denmark was challenged from the start by Danish political parties whose aim was to regain the former unity of Denmark, and which were some of the first strong anti-immigration right-wing parties in Europe to receive seats in government. …

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