Gå til indhold

Resumé af Casper Wulff, Mikkel Schiott og Nina Skak Rasmussens speciale

Specialetitel: A Challenged Commonwealth - An Investigation of the Relationship between Denmark and Greenland.

The Danish Commonwealth, consisting of Denmark and two partly autonomous territories: the Faroe Islands and Greenland, is presently under pressure from a multitude of factors. Greenland has long been under Danish administration, but lately a growing Greenlandic desire for independence has surfaced. Despite a majority in favour of Greenlandic independence and the Self Rule Act of 2009, the Danish Government is seemingly taking steps towards strengthening the ties between Denmark and Greenland. The question in Greenland is no longer whether the country should leave the Danish Commonwealth, but instead when it should do so. This became evident when a member of the Greenlandic Inatsisartut (Parliament of Greenland) questioned if the Commonwealth of Denmark could survive long-term. She found the present Commonwealth to be insulatory and a straitjacket for the development of Greenland (Olsen, 2020).

What is considered the modern relation between Greenland and Denmark began in 1721 when the Dano-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede (1686-1758) took his first steps on Greenlandic territory. Since then, the legal constellation between the two countries has changed its form several times – from missionary field, to colony, to Danish county, to home rule government, and to the self-government we know today. Even so, the repression and dissatisfaction of the Greenlandic people still exist.

Two different visions for the future of the Danish Commonwealth seem apparent – both excluding the other. While a majority of the Greenlandic people wants independence either now or in the future, representatives of the Danish Government wish to protect and defend (in Danish ‘værne om’) the Danish Commonwealth and to maintain their position as an Arctic authority. Despite unmatched visions, the Danish official rhetoric seems to be consistent in its description of the Danish Commonwealth as a historical and cultural truism both now and in the future.

The thesis investigated what we consider to be a hidden challenge of a positive development of Danish- Greenlandic relation – something unconsciously hindering the relationship in its path towards common goals. The development seems to be stagnated or maybe even regressive as Danish officials are cherishing a relationship which only one part aspires for.

Our aim was to problematize the Danish Commonwealth as a social practice led by Danish authorities for the past 300 years. The analysis was conducted on the following research question:

How do the Danish government and its representatives communicate about Greenland’s historic, present, and future role as a member of the Danish Commonwealth and how is power at stake as a consequence?


Strategy of the analysis

Three sub-questions were constructed which each served the purpose of covering parts of the overall research question above. Simultaneously, the three questions guided the structure of the analysis. Employing primarily theoretical tools of M. Foucault (1926-1984) and N. Luhmann (1927-1998), the analysis was divided into the following analyses; a) a discourse analysis of the 300 year-long relation between Denmark and Greenland forming the current Danish Commonwealth, b) an analysis of the power and potential of steering through contemporary Danish communication forming future aspiration of the Danish Commonwealth, and c) a temporal analysis challenging how a colonial past leaves traces in the present and haunts present-day communication about the future of the relationship between the involved countries.

The object for the analysis was communication. We investigated the communication forming the Danish- Greenlandic relation within the Commonwealth by viewing it as observations – more precisely the Danish observation of its relation to Greenland. By doing so, we are complying with an anti-essentialistic tradition where nothing exists beyond observation (Andersen, 1999). We perceived communication as operations using distinctions: “Observing can be defined as an operation using a distinction for indicating one side of the distinction and not the other.” (Luhmann, 1993, p. 485). By looking into historical texts and sources as well as present-day parliamentary debates and statements of governmental representatives, we reviewed and studied 300 years of communication on the subject.

Analysing the Danish-Greenlandic relationship

 Activating Luhmann’s communication theory based on the idea of distinctions along with Foucault’s genealogy, we composed a discourse analysis of the historical period. The relationship between Denmark and Greenland is hyper complex. We wished to investigate the heritage of the current Danish sovereignty over Greenland’s foreign affairs and security policies conditioned by historic experiences.

By unravelling the historic relationship between the two, we found how Danish representatives created a clear distinction between Denmark and Greenland. The investigation identified two discontinuities dividing the discourse into three distinct time periods. Communication from the early years of the 300-year period is dominated by a Danish desire to convert Greenlanders to the Christian faith removing them from their pagan lifestyle and by doing so, making the Greenlandic people subject to change towards a Danish and therefore “better” way of living from a Danish perspective. Later, during the Danish trade monopoly, Danish authorities changed their agenda. Instead of trying to lead Greenland and its people towards becoming more ‘Danish’, governmental representatives wanted to maintain the Greenlandic culture as doing so generated economic profits for the Commonwealth. This practice was later replaced by a new agenda. The Danish government put itself in the role of the educator of Greenland trying to introduce Greenland to a Western lifestyle in relation to the danger observed connected to the traditional and ‘primitive’ lifestyle, which Danes perceived the Greenlandic as. This discourse is still existing today.

Further, we wished to define the degree of power at stake in the Danish-Greenlandic relation. By employing Foucault's theory of governmentality, we wanted to map the potential of steering existing in the relationship in the Danish Commonwealth of today by identifying power and self-technologies conditioned by Danish authorities: “To govern, in this sense, is to structure the possible field of action of others.” (Foucault, 1982, p. 790).

The Danish Commonwealth is considered a regime of social practice constructed by communication of Danish governmental representatives. This creates limited room for Greenland to manoeuvre in and both conditions and limits Greenland’s possible actions. Denmark repeats its acknowledgement of the Greenlandic aspirations for independence, while at the same time repeating how much it values the community between the two countries within the Commonwealth and their ambitions of its continuity. Is it possible to defend the Danish Commonwealth while simultaneously recognizing and – observed by the governmental representatives – obliging to a desire for independence?

We ended our investigation with a temporal analysis combining a postcolonial perspective with theories of the ghostly by J. Pors (1980-). Doing so enabled us to comprehend both results from the diachronic analysis of genealogy and the synchronic analysis of governmentality. Both analyses showed signs of cultural heritage in the present perceptions and vision of the future descending from a colonial past.

The idea of something ghostly and the postcolonial perspective showed a clear resemblance between present-day and historic narratives and conceptions. We found that colonial narratives haunt the present-day discourse affecting visions for the future of the Danish commonwealth. On one hand, today’s Danish authorities distance themselves from early times’ maltreatment of the Greenlandic people articulating a positive development of the Commonwealth. On the other hand, colonial notions thrive in today’s governmental discourse regarding the future of the Danish Commonwealth, in representatives’ Eurocentric observation of the lacking capabilities of Greenland.


Research has found that the relation between Denmark and Greenland is characterized by a Danish desire for a pedagogical upbringing of the Greenlandic people in relation to the danger associated with what is considered their traditional primitive way of life. Additionally, Greenland is constructed as a subject depending on Danish authorities and support which makes the colonial ties emerge – a past which the Danish Government considers themselves distant from. With this contrast, the Danish-Greenlandic relationship is characterized by an articulation of opposing demands and contradictions which creates the uncertain and complex future the Danish Commonwealth faces.

Reflecting on the duality of power and immune mechanisms

 Through the analysis, we found that the Danish communication about Greenland seems to be interested in maintaining a close relationship with Greenland in order to preserve the Commonwealth in its current form. However, the Greenlandic people have been given the opportunity of self-determination with the Self-Government Act, which allows Greenland to withdraw from the Commonwealth and exercise their right of independence (Self- Government Act of 2009). This duality in Danish communication about Greenland points towards the challenges facing the Danish national authorities, where on the one hand they want to make Greenland dependent on Danish care and expertise, while at the same time allowing Greenland to seek independence. The relationship between Denmark and Greenland can thus be said to be complex in that it consists of two opposing factors: commonality and independence. With this in mind, we chose to highlight the problem from a new perspective to explore the possibilities for the Commonwealth in the future. A key aspect of the current relationship between Denmark and Greenland is the degree of influence Denmark has on geopolitical and foreign policy affairs that Denmark has through its relationship with Greenland. Here, Denmark becomes an important party of NATO and sees itself as a key member of the Arctic Council. This position is obviously attractive to Denmark, which explains why the Danish side wants to maintain close ties to Greenland. Denmark plays a role as the power-superior in relation to the power-inferior Greenland in the internal relation in the Danish Commonwealth.

Luhmann’s concept of power can further elaborate on this, where Denmark’s powerful position is created through an expansion of Greenland’s autonomy framework. Luhmann sees power as a social system. However, power is described as powerless in that it intends to control what it cannot control – other systems in its surroundings (Luhmann, 1995b). In order to overcome its own powerlessness, power has to be delegated. In this sense, the surrender of sovereignty and the presence of freedom becomes a prerequisite of power.

These conditions seem to be present in the relationship between Denmark and Greenland. Denmark takes the superior role, which grants freedom and self-determination to the power-inferior Greenland. The more freely, autonomous and powerful Greenland is constructed, the more powerful Denmark is as the governing party for a free Greenland. This relationship is closely linked to the fact that the independence of the inferior is constituted by dependence on the superior. This consideration is particularly interesting in Greenland’s case where the increasing desire for secession from Denmark paradoxically makes them dependent on Denmark from a Luhmannian power perspective. A possible withdrawal will only be achieved through dependence on the Commonwealth and Denmark. This can explain why it makes sense from a Danish perspective to give Greenland more self-determination through the possibility of independence.

Another aspect of the Danish construction of meaning in regards to its presence in Greenland is an interest in the development and upbringing of Greenland. One might say that this is an act of Danish guidance here and now so that Greenland can guide itself in the future. However, Danish communication's interest in the development of Greenland may in the long term end up threatening the continuation of the Commonwealth if a full development of Greenland takes place, in which a Greenlandic dependence on Denmark no longer seems conditional. What threatens the continuation of the Danish Commonwealth is full Greenlandic sovereignty and independence from Denmark.

In order to investigate this dynamic further, we chose to include Luhmann's theory of systems' capability of immune mechanisms. Here, immune mechanisms are referred to as the opportunities that social systems can implement when the continuation of communication is threatened, where immune mechanisms enable the continuation of the system under different conditions (Andersen & Pors 2018). The Self Rule Act of 2009 establishes expectations for Greenlandic independence, but Danish communication about Greenland's disadvantages devalues this expectation. Here, communication recruits a contradiction to the system's structures, where Greenland is constructed as still dependent on Denmark. This enables Denmark to immunize itself against Greenlandic secession.

The Danish immune mechanism makes itself known, by what Luhmann describes as a re-entry: "A distinction re-enters itself if it is copied into itself. It then reappears as part of its own space, as part of what it distinguishes. It is the same, and not the same distinction" (Luhmann, 1993b, p. 485). The relationship between independence and commonality is copied into itself. Greenland is granted Self-government and the right to dispose of a wide range of areas, but the Commonwealth is still maintained. Greenland is therefore independent but independent within the framework of the Danish Commonwealth. This creates a paradox where Greenland's right to independence is communicated through higher dependence on Denmark. And it is seemingly the indictment of these contradictions that seems to be making the Danish Commonwealth continue in its current complex form.

Handlinger tilknyttet webside

Senest opdateret 31. januar 2024