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Resumé af Hanne Bjerre Lassens speciale

Specialetitel: Structures of Silence - A disavowed framework of affective silence, discursive silence, and coloniality of silence in Det Grønlandske Hus in Aarhus.

In August 2019 the president of the United States Donald J. Trump proposed to buy Greenland from Denmark. This suggestion was met with a lot of reactions from the Danish Commonwealth. The prime minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen called it “absurd”, a former US ambassador Rufus Gifford called it “a complete and total catastrophe” and the Greenlandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Naalakkersuisut posted on twitter that, ”We’re open for business, not for sale”.

The conversation about the ownership of Greenland sparked debates in Denmark about the future of the Danish Commonwealth and the sustainability of the construction1. The underlying construct in the public debate was characterised by a general conception of the whole idea of selling a country as ridiculous and outrageous. The fact that there is a precedent for this kind of transaction was widely ignored (in 1917 the United States bought three islands from Denmark (the former Danish West Indies now the US Virgin Islands) for 25 million dollars). The fact that the Danish public, politicians, and media framed the idea of selling Greenland as absurd without addressing this precedent in colonial history points to a continuous narrative of coloniality in Danish society. However, the debates that followed Trump’s proposal opened for a curiosity about the construction and origin of the Danish Commonwealth and generated attention and awareness about the relationship between Greenland and Denmark not only on an international political scale but also about Inuit (in both Greenland and Denmark) and their lives, experiences, and dreams.

This is the starting point of my thesis.

The basis of the thesis is the practical experiences I have had during my internship at Det Grønlandske Hus (DGH) in Aarhus. The puzzlement, questions, and reflections that arose in connection with my immersion into the organisation form the basis of the research on which the thesis is build.

The main question of the thesis is: Why are there no open conversations about coloniality and climate chamge in DGH? In order to answer that question and break down its complexity into smaller pieces I identify the different types of silence I was met by in the house and map out and document how they function and how they are sustained.

My expectation was that the dominant narratives in DGH would be centred around coloniality and climate change. However, I have found that these two areas in particular (and many others which have not been the focus of this thesis) are to a great extent disavowed within the organisation. The disavowal is central in the argumentation of the thesis which suggests that the reason for the structural silence in DGH shall be found in a conscious thought of action which discourage the women of the house from articulating and making visible exactly coloniality and climate change.

Throughout the thesis I demonstrate that disavowal can take different shapes and appear as both ignorance and repression. However, the phenomenon is in the case of DGH an expression of the continuous, hard work of keeping the lid on painful experiences and the conscious unwillingness to verbalise the most obvious issues (Nick Shepherd, personal comment, 19.02.2021)

Though, the conversations with the employees of DGH also show dreams of expanding the structural framework which is upheld by the disavowal of especially coloniality that maintains and supports the imbalances of the colonial relationship between Greenland and Denmark. I conclude that DGH has the potential to play a leading part in the processes of decolonisation by housing and disseminating the stories about the activist, progressive, international Greenland.

The thesis is structured around three main events in the house which are analysed through three different conceptual moved in the three chapters respectively. Each chapter works as a singular examination with separate methodological considerations, theoretical aspects and concepts and interdisciplinary, academic approaches.

Chapter one is situated around a lunch experience one of the first days of my internship in DGH. In the chapter I describe what I name “affective silence” and I examine to what degree the affective silence is connected with the senses and with food culture. I point to ‘taste’ and ‘smell’ as strong markers of cultural belonging (Lowenthal, 1985; Francis, 2019, Højlund, 2015) and introduce the concept of “otherness” (Hall & Gieben, 1999; Hall & Morley, 2019) in order to describe the factors that are at play in the affective meeting (Knudsen & Stage, 2015; Massumi, 1995; Massumi 2007) between “Inuit-ness” and “Danish-ness”. The applied method in this chapter is the observation study. The second chapter focusses on what I call a “coloniality of silence”. This structure is documented through a triple system (Rutazibwa, 2020) and singles out western epistemology (Anzaldúa, 1999; Mignolo 2009; Quijano 2007; Shepherd, 2018) particularly as a primary factor in the culture of disavowal in DGH. Additionally, I introduce historical trauma (Brave Heart et al., 2011; Danieli et al., 2015) and the aspect of sustainability (Barthel-Bouchier, 2013; Gad & Strandsbjerg, 2019; Graugaard, 2019) as causes of the coloniality of silence. The method of this chapter is the semi- structured interview (Cook, 1985; Karen, 2004) and I also reflect further on my positionality as a white, Danish, female academic in a colonial setting.

The focal point of chapter three is the “discursive silence”. I examine the gift shop in DGH and propose an integrated semantic-discourse analysis where I ‘read’ the shop as if it was a ‘text’ and its materials as if they were ‘words’ and ‘morphemes’ (Petersen, 2015). By inscribing the shop in a both semantic and discursive framework I show how the shop communicates an orientalist (Said, 2019) narrative about Greenland as the ‘exotic other’ of Denmark (Andersen, 2013; Bhambra, 2016). The chapter contains conceptual reflections about the meaning of materials, value, intangibility, and authenticity (Fairclough, 2008; Holtorf, 2020; Jones, 2009) and characterises and analyses the discourse of the shop as an ‘authorised heritage discourse’ (Waterton et al., 2006).

I have discovered and documented the structures of silence in DGH that are the pillars that uphold the capability of the organisation to remain silent. The silence is attached to the issues I had expected to be the most prominent and urgent from a Greenlandic perspective. Part of the answer as to why the agenda looks as it does, may be found when looking into the question of funding and the mission statements of the house. What shines through is a strategy that prioritises not stepping on anyone's toes. By presenting very inclusive mission statements the executive board avoids offending agents on both the Danish and the Greenlandic side.

These are the overall lines of the house, and the women align their everyday tasks with the framework they are given by the executive board. However, there has been more signs indicating a wish, a willingness, and a dream to move beyond the framework.

The current political circumstances suggest that it is time to end the disavowal of coloniality and climate change. U.S. foreign minister Antony J. Blinken’s recent visit made it clear that the U.S. is very interested in the arctic strategy of the Danish Commonwealth and that the Danish foreign minister merely acted out the role of the polite host initiating the conversation between the actual agents, namely, Greenland and the U.S. However, Antony Blinken and Múte B. Egede (the chairperson of the Greenlandic Self Rule government) did at no point spend time together without Denmark being present in the room. The purpose of Blinken’s visit was to underline the fact that the U.S. has a clear focus on the Arctic, and if other countries do not respect that, there will be political, commercial, and military responses. Part of Blinken’s dream scenario is a permission to locate more American troops in Greenland. The relationship between Greenland and the U.S. still bears the mark of Trump’s “real estate proposal” in August 2019, and to the question whether the U.S. was still in the market for an Arctic island, Blinken answered,

“I’m focused on looking forward, and the short answer is no.”

This statement was given at the same time as Russia declared that, “the Arctic is our country”. How did DGH engage with these two statements? The short answer is: They did not. I am curious about whether the statements were discussed in the kitchen during lunch because I strongly believe the kitchen in DGH to be the place where change begins. In the house I was continuously reminded that DGH was a safe space, and I experienced how that framework provided the women with an opportunity to speak their minds and set boundaries. These actions can be scaled to a degree that fits the public debate. However, I am also hesitant and reluctant to conclude that it would be only beneficial for DGH to make a progressive jump into the public debate. Firstly, because there is a need for a Greenlandic refuge in Region Midtjylland and secondly, because I cannot and shall not, from my position, draw conclusions about what is better for Inuit.

The relationship between Greenland and Denmark is complex and nuanced and this thesis does not provide a fixed plan of action for DGH to follow. The fact that I am unable to arrive at a fine and finished conclusion suggests that the area I have investigated is not sufficiently scrutinised. The relationship between Denmark and Greenland is a complex one, and the field DGH navigates every day is not easily pinned down. Therefore, the most important conclusion I can present on the foundation of my embedded research experience is centred around academic positionality and western knowledge construction. The structures of silence in the house have everything to do with the way the western world is constructed. DGH and the women in the house are subjects to the strict rules of coloniality and epistemicide. They way in which their stories, affects, ideas, senses, and lived experiences are constructed into narratives about the exotic, Greenlandic “other” is an expression of discursive hegemony and an upholding of a regime of truth that verifies colonial presumptions about Greenland and Denmark. To move away from these repetitions a possible step of action for DGH could go through events and exhibitions hosted by the culture department. In this department there is room for differences and generally a wide acceptance of a large variety of art exhibitions, theatre performances, academic talks, and debates on the future of Greenland. The organisation is set in its ways, and it performs tasks that are defined by its funding. To some degree, the funding does uphold the structural silence, but the women are also key players in the maintenance of the affective, romantic ideals of the past that are prevalent in the house. I believe that the reason for keeping this narrative alive is postcolonial nostalgia and idealised nationalism, and the legitimised narrative of disavowed coloniality is part of the DNA of the house. Inuit need a place where they are not confronted with racism, statistics on suicide and child abuse, drop-out rates etc., and to be that refuge seems to be the most pressing agenda for DGH. However, I firmly believe in the capacity of the house to, on the one hand, be a safe space and, on the other hand, a key player in the borderland where thinking, being, and acting de-colonially is a matter of course.

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Senest opdateret 29. november 2021