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Resumé af Johan Ørsted Pedersen og Malthe Jul Garnaks speciale

Specialetitel: Shame, sovereignty and social issues - Comparing discourses on Greenlandic social issues and their effects on the move towards independence.


Since the Self-Government Act of 2009 Greenland has had the juridical possibility of achieving independence from Denmark. This has led to an intense and heated debate about Greenlandic sovereignty. Meanwhile, the Greenlandic society struggles with immense social issues which has prompted a strenuous paradox for Greenland: Should they seek help from Denmark in order to solve the social issues or instead turn towards increased independence, handling the problems themselves?

Exploring this puzzle from a new perspective, we compare the Danish and Greenlandic discourses concerning social issues in Greenland and how they affect the Greenlandic move towards independence after 2009. Through a comprehensive discourse analysis of both Danish and Greenlandic articulations of the most pertinent social issues, we seek to identify the differences and commonalities in perceptions of The Danish Realm.

We consider the historical relation between Denmark and Greenland to be of great importance to the perception of the association between the two countries today. By applying an adaptive postcolonial theoretical framework to our discourse analysis and interviews, we aim to identify biases and preconceptions between Denmark as the coloniser and Greenland as the colonized. The research question of our thesis is:

How has the Danish and Greenlandic discursive articulations of the Greenlandic social issues affected the wish for independence since the Self Government Act of 2009?


The aim of our thesis is to illuminate the articulations of the Greenlandic social issues and how these affect the wish for independence. This means that the domain of our analysis is based on discursive articulations. Within our thesis lies an implicit assumption that the language we use has an influence on the political reality. Therefore, we apply a poststructuralist ontology where meaning and truth are seen as social constructs resulting from language and discursive patterns of power.



Within our poststructuralist ontology we apply a postcolonial perspective (epistemology) as our theoretical frame. Postcolonialism is not one unified theory. It is a multifaceted collection of perspectives that explore different subjects such as identity, culture and power. However, common for them all is their critical view of the western and Eurocentric way of constituting the colonial era and imperialism. We see postcolonialism as a relevant tool for analysing the Danish-Greenlandic relation and to uncover the relations of power that exist in the articulations of the social issues and Greenlandic independence. Through our discourse analysis we uncover tendencies, competing opinions and discursive power relations. These elements are explored through our postcolonial theory.

We apply three postcolonial perspectives that appear central to examining the Danish-Greenlandic relation: National identity, Arcticism and Cultural hybridity. National identity deals with Greenland’s own view of themselves, their identity and culture. A majority of the Greenlandic population wants an independent national state. We consider this as part of their identity. Through our analysis we focus on how words such as nation, independence and The Danish Realm are applied in articulations of social issues. Arcticism refers to the West’s historical articulations of the Arctic people. Through discourse the Arctic people has historically been objectified by the West and articulated as primitive, natural and lacking high culture. We seek to assess whether Danish discourses reflect the colonial past and the unequal power relation between Denmark and Greenland. The third perspective addresses the cultural hybridity that exists between Denmark and Greenland constructed by their common past. We examine how this culturally entwined relationship affects the discourses on social issues.


In exploring the Danish and Greenlandic articulations and perceptions of the social issues in Greenland and their effects on the move towards independence, we conduct a discourse analysis followed up by interviews. In this section we will present our methods.


Discourse Analysis

As our primary method of analysing perceptions and articulations, the discourse analysis is focused on two main social fields: one Danish and one Greenlandic. In each field we aim to identify the dominant hegemonic discourses regarding The Danish Realm by dissecting and linking certain words and phrases in sequences described as chains of equivalence by Laclau and Mouffe (1985). Secondary to the hegemonic discourses we identify a number of subdiscourses concerning diverse aspects of the social issues and the movement for independence in Greenland. Our empirical data points used in the discourse analysis come from public statements made from Danish and Greenlandic politicians in the years 2009-2020. The data points derive from news outlets, social media as well as the Greenlandic Inatsisartut and the Danish Folketing.


In order to explore and validate the identified Danish and Greenlandic discourses, we conduct interviews with social workers working in Greenland. Following the structure in our discourse analysis consisting of two main social fields, we choose respondents with either Danish or Greenlandic background. This contribute to a higher level of detail in the hegemonic discourses as well as the subdiscourses regarding the social issues in Greenland. The interviews are semistructured and focused on the respondents' articulation and perception of the Greenlandic social issues and the move towards independence.

Key Findings

Our discourse analysis shows that the social issues clearly affect the possibility of Greenlandic independence, and that there are considerable inconsistencies in how the social issues are formulated in Denmark and in Greenland. The question of Greenlandic independence is characterized by strenuous dilemmas, and on the basis of our results we conclude that the social issues constitute an obstacle to secession from Denmark.

Hegemonic Discourses

The discourse analysis is divided into three subsections. In the first subsection we identify two dominating hegemonic discursive formulations concerning the social issues’ effect on Greenlandic independence: A Greenlandic independence discourse and a Danish Realm discourse. By Greenlanders, the social issues are mentioned as a reason for an unwanted dependency on Denmark. This relationship stands in the way of independence. The Danes however, express the same relationship of dependence as an opportunity to strengthen the unity of the Danish Realm. These dominant discourses are both under pressure in Greenland and in Denmark, respectively.

Greenlandic Sub-Discourses

The second subsection deals with the Greenlandic articulations of the social issues. We conclude that there is a negative discourse among Greenlanders about Danish interference in the social sector, which has a clear connection to the question of independence. This applies both to the articulation of visiting Danish labour and of Danish economic interference in the social sector. At the same time, we identify a competing discourse that articulates the necessity of the Danish contribution to the socially disadvantaged, though still with an underlying understanding that independence is the overarching goal. The Greenlanders' language and culture in the workplace are highlighted as constituting the Greenlandic national identity, and Danes are in this connection portrayed negatively. Overall the Greenlandic discursive formulations of the social affairs in Greenland has a negative impact on the desire for independence.

Danish Sub-Discourses

The third subsection of our analysis examines the Danish discourses in the Greenlandic social sector. We find that the Danish discursive articulations of the social sector are divided between the desire to remedy the issues through cooperation on the one hand, and the recognition of Greenland's autonomy concerning the social sector on the other. Based on the Arcticism perspective, we identify a discourse among Danes employed in the social field which encompass personal gain and experiences of visiting Greenland. Nevertheless, the discursive articulations show Denmark's duty to support the Greenlanders' desire for independence. Common to the Danish discourses, however, is the desire to help and strengthen the cooperation with Greenland within The Danish Realm. We conclude that this poses a challenge to Greenland's desire for independence.

We assess that our results on the social issues and the Greenlandic-Danish-relationship contribute with a new perspective to the existing literature in the academic field. Meanwhile, we are attentive to other possible relevant variables and their influence on Greenlandic independence, such as the dramatic geopolitical developments in the Arctic which have taken place in the period after 2009.

Perspectives on The Danish Realm

The Self Government Act of 2009 marked a new era in The Danish Realm. Since then, the independence discourse in Greenland has intensified, leading to a more patriotic self- understanding. Meanwhile, the geopolitical importance of Greenland has become more prominent in Danish discourse. Following the events over the last decade we conclude our thesis by looking at two pivotal developments in The Danish Realm.

The 2020 Racism Debate

In several cases we find that the Danish articulation of Greenlandic social issues contains prejudices about Greenland’s culture and way of life. In the summer of 2020, the anti-racist Black Lives Matter-movement sparked a heated debate in Denmark and Greenland about racism towards the Inuit. We argue that the debate and the following increased focus on the colonial past in The Danish Realm will have a considerable impact on future discourses and articulations about social issues and independence in Greenland.

Increasing Greenlandic support for The Danish Realm?

Meanwhile, a considerable section of the Greenlandic population want to maintain the connection to The Danish Realm. We argue that a certain discrepancy between the perception of normal citizens and the hard rhetoric of politicians in both Greenland and Denmark is worth examining. A future exploration of this subject will be relevant in the following years which we expect to be decisive for the future of The Danish Realm.

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Senest opdateret 31. januar 2024