Gå til indhold

Resumé af Sophie Dolmers speciale

Specialetitel: Between a binary and a hybrid understanding of social identity - The discursive duality among Greenlandic High School students.

Research question

Several researchers in Greenland have called attention to a new ‘post-postcolonial’ era represented by a young generation of globally orientated Greenlanders, who claim to have moved on from their country’s colonial past. However, some of these young Greenlanders do not consider the colonization completed, and therefore subscribe to a new movement of decolonization, which came to expression with the strong Greenlandic reaction and support for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

An obvious and quite specific remnant from the Danish colonization is Danish language as a mandatory subject in the Greenlandic High Schools, where the pupils are studying the language and literature of their former colonizer. Concurrently, the subject holds educational opportunities that the Greenlandic language does not. Hence, the Danish language as a subject in schools reflects a general ambivalence in the Greenlandic relationship with Denmark.

This leads me to the aim of my thesis which was to examine the following: (1) What comprehensions of social identity are the pupils expressing through their experience with Danish as a subject compared to Greenlandic and (2) how do they reflect the current Greenlandic discourses?

Methodical and theoretical foundations

To answer these questions, I have conducted two qualitative, semi-structured interviews with two students in Nuuk High School. They are mentioned under the pseudonyms Nivi and Anouk. The interviews were based on a phenomenological approach that understands social phenomena from the respondents' own subjective perspectives, wherefore the approach is based on the idea that ‘reality’ is a discursive construct. This approach is consistent with my thesis’ understanding of identity comprehensions as exactly a discursive construct.

An interesting aspect of the interviews is my own participation. With a starting point in Danish as a High School subject, the interviews also came to deal with identity, the Greenlandic relation to Denmark and the conflicts within, for which reason I as a white, blond university student was inevitably intertwined in the topic and even embodied a historical stereotype of the Western research on a (ex)colony country. Moreover, my own questions for the students were affected by the dichotomic postcolonial structures that abounds in society. For an instance I ask the students how they distinguish between “someone being Danish and someone being Greenlandic”. However, with this and a number of precautions in mind, the purpose of doing these interviews was to hand over the floor to the Greenlander. Consequently, my thesis maps the students’ discursive comprehensions and inserts these in a context of the contemporary Greenland, but it does not judge whether these comprehensions, and the dualities within, are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ - this I will leave to the students themselves.

For my analysis I have involved primarily two theories that simply speaking can be said to represent a postcolonial and a post-postcolonial discourse. Furthermore, I have used contemporary research on the specifically Greenlandic situation to illuminate the nature of the various identity discourses in the country Henry Jenkins’ theory of Social identity (1996) claims that an individual’s and a group’s social identity is based on the principle of resemblance and diversity, inclusion and exclusion, us and them. Thus, one group will always be defined by the demarcation of the other group; by saying what they are not, you are thereby saying what they are.

With the Danish colonisation of Greenland in 1721, the Greenlandic social identity was clarified through the Danish stranger and vice versa. This dichotomy has through the colonial history implied an unequal balance of power between colonized and colonizer, where the latter has been superior. This is what some parts of the postcolonial discourses have paid attention to and criticised. But by doing so, they have in the same turn maintained this dichotomy and an utterance of the colonized as inferior. It is partly the same discourse we see with the present Greenlandic movement of decolonisation, however, with the national-ethnical Greenlandic ‘us’ fused together with an international ‘us’ of former oppressed colonies.

As a counterpart to this dichotomic and categorical theory, I have also used Homi Bhabha’s theory of Hybridity (1994): Culture is always already multicultural because culture is always an exchange of culture. The term contains a flexible comprehension of identity that is no longer bound to an essence anchored to ethnicity and nationality as something clearly demarcated.

Therefore, the Greenlandic culture cannot be clearly demarcated from Danish culture due to a persistent culture exchange through the last 300 years. The Greenlandic culture and identity are thereby always already also Danish. Besides his annulment of categorical dichotomies, Bhabha also attributes to the colonized the agents of constructivism, and combined with the idea of hybridity, the colonized is set free to pick and choose from the many modern Western opportunities and thereby to reconstruct a social identity at will. This is the discourse and tendency that the present research has pointed out as being symptomatic within the modern young generation of post-postcolonial Greenlanders; they abolish the boundaries between local and global, national and international, traditional and modern, and they act as global Innuits who are no longer defined by their colonial other. Thus, when combining Jenkins, Bhabha and the literature on contemporary Greenland, two identity discourses emerge among the young generation of Greenlanders. This is shown through Greenlandic art, music, politics and through the media. In these forums, the speakers usually have a clear opinion on the Greenlandic identity topic. But what about the ordinary Greenlander, who has not “chosen a side”? What identity discourses does she possess?


Analysis, results and conclusion

Analytical take-off: The High School curriculum

The main focus of my analysis was on the students’ experience with and perception of Danish as a school subject. To get a stable foundation for my analysis and to be able to elevate the students’ statements to a more general perception of Greenlandic identity discourses, I took an analytic starting point with a comparative analysis of the Greenlandic High School curriculums.

The analysis showed that Danish as a subject has a practical function; it has an educational purpose, for which reason it is primarily language-oriented – in order to carry out further studies you must be able to speak and write in Danish. Moreover, the subject according to the curriculum is not centred around the specific Danish culture, but rather around literature and textual analysis in general, because the Danish teachers in general have a higher education than the Greenlandic teachers. Also, the Danish school subject contains a much wider repertoire of literature.

Compared to the former curriculum, the latest curriculum emphasises an involvement of a Greenlandic context, but also an involvement of the modern and international reality that contemporary Greenland is also a part of. Danish culture is not mentioned as a part of the curriculum, which underlines the exclusively practical use of Danish consisting of the Danish language.

Danish and Greenlandic – intertwined opposites

The practical function of the Danish language is further seen in my analysis of the students’ use of language and further in their descriptions of Danish and Greenlandic as subjects.

In their descriptions of the general language usage in High School, an ambivalence between Danish and Greenlandic languages turns up: Danish has a practical function, but it undermines the Greenlandic language which is closely connected to Greenlandic identity. Thus, the students regard Danish and Greenlandic as opposites on one hand. On the other hand, and because of their bilingualism, they seemingly unknowingly act out the languages as something intertwined in the Third Space of hybridity. The students’ understanding and use of language shows the features of both a binary and a hybrid relation between the Danish and the Greenlandic, which is also expressed in the further analysis of the students’ social identity. The two students showed both similarities and differences in their conceptions of Danish and Greenlandic as subjects and with it their identity discourses.

Nivi constantly differentiates between Danish language, culture and identity as opposites to Greenlandic language, culture and identity. The Greenlandic ‘us’ is clearly defined in a demarcation to the Danish, or rather the non-Greenlandic, ‘them’. According to her, Danish elements are at the expense of Greenlandic elements and thereby identity. At the same time Danish is one of her favourite subjects, because of the skilled teachers and the general analytical tools the classes provide her with – for this reason, her view is corresponding with the analysis of the curriculum. The specifically Danish content, which is inevitable, she cannot relate to. The Greenlandic subject, on the other hand, she describes as downright boring with less talented teachers. Nevertheless, she finds the subject extremely important for her Greenlandic identity, especially because the subject maintains the exercise of the Greenlandic language that is threatened by the Danish language and thereby by non-Greenlandic culture.

Even though Nivi considers the non-Greenlandic as a threat to Greenlandic identity, she is drawn towards not only a Danish, but also an international culture through social media and news.

Furthermore, she describes multilingualism as “cool”, and she ascribes her own outgoing manner as something particularly Danish – and this in a positive manner. By dividing identities into a Greenlandic ‘us’ in opposition to a Danish/non-Greenlandic ‘them’, Nivi’s own interests, manners and behaviours are conflicting. She is a global Inuit constantly shuttling between Greenlandic and non-Greenlandic manners (based on her own definitions), and yet she herself maintains these manners as opposites, as postcolonial dichotomic discourses.

This comprehension is most likely closely connected to her critical opinions on Denmark as continuedly superior to Greenland, which is indirectly forcing her to study Danish in school and thereby to learn about Danish literature and culture, while Danish High School students hardly are taught anything about Greenland and the Commonwealth.

In contrast, Anouk is mainly showing a hybrid understanding of her social identity, and she explicates the Greenlandic identity as a mixture of Greenlandic and Danish manners – this she finds unavoidable after 300 years of culture exchange, and therefore she, according to herself, cannot distinguish the Danish elements from the Greenlandic. She can relate to the Danish literature, because she clearly sees the universally human aspects of the content. Perhaps this is also the reason why she is able to regard Danish and Greenlandic manners as intertwined, not divided – she is focused on similarities, whereas Nivi is focused on differences.

Yet, Anouk also distinguishes between the Danish and the Greenlandic manners a few times during the interview, revealing that she also partly holds a postcolonial identity discourse as seen with Nivi. Furthermore, Anouk fears that the Danish language and culture will overrule the Greenlandic language, culture and thereby identity. Compared to Nivi, Anouk is not quite as exposed to a ‘Danification’ of her identity, because she holds several of the (according to the students themselves) typical Greenlandic features; she mainly speaks Greenlandic, her shy personality is typical for a Greenlander and her local focus is not distracted by global news and social media as is seen with Nivi. Thereby Anouk automatically performs a Greenlandic identity, whereas Nivi’s manners to a greater extent subscribe her to a Danish identity – this attribution is made by Nivi herself, but also by her fellow students calling her ‘Dane’.


All in all, Anouk is very much inscribed in the post-postcolonial identity discourses, where the relationship between Denmark and Greenland are reconciled and positively intertwined. She is simply sick and tired of the dichotomic postcolonial discourse, and she longs for the day, where she can go to a McDonalds without being non-Greenlandic and thereby Danish. However, she also unconsciously holds parts of this dichotomic discourse of the postcolonialism, which is also very much seen with Nivi, who is extremely conscious of the division between the Greenlandic and the Danish/non-Greenlandic. This could perhaps be due to her perception of her own identity, which holds several features of non-Greenlandic identity, for which reason Nivi’s identity is marked as Danish. Thus, the Greenlandic us/them is rather a Greenlandic us/not-us, where everything that does not point to a Greenlandic tradition or manner is categorised as Danish.

In different degrees, both students hold divergent identity discourses. One points backwards to the country’s colonial past and criticize ongoing and unequal power structures between Greenland and Denmark. The other points forwards to a multicultural understanding of iidentity, where one identity feature does not preclude another, where tradition and modernity, nationality and internationality, Greenlandic and non-Greenlandic elements can co-exist.


Discussion in the light of the Commonwealth

Fundamentally, this thesis gives an insight into the Commonwealth’s major impact on contemporary Greenland. The thesis shows a discursive duality, not only between generations or between groups within the same generations, but also in the individuals themselves. The Greenlandic individuals’ comprehension of their social identity mirrors a Danish-Greenlandic ambivalence in general; the benefits from the Commonwealth are on several points at the expense of the Greenlandic social identity.

According to my thesis, this is in one case caused by the educational benefits necessitating the ability to speak and write in Danish, which again necessitates having Danish teachers, reading and analysing Danish literature and culture, and of course it necessitates an improvement/maintenance of the Greenlanders’ Danish language skills. These necessities are, however, considered as non-Greenlandic elements that exists on the expense of Greenlandic practice and thereby Greenlandic social identity. The performance of a social identity thereby seems to rest on the idea that the performance of identities takes place in, exactly, a limited place. Performing one social identity will somehow always take space from another social identity. Moreover, especially a ‘Danish’ performance can cancel out the feeling of being Greenlandic, because the relationship between Greenlanders and Danes over the last 300 years has been infected with a clear-cut us/them dichotomy.

So, what now? Should the Greenlanders step out of the Commonwealth to sacrifice their ensured education (among other things) and thereby be able to act out their Greenlandic identity? Or should they replace the dichotomic discourse for good and go all in for a hybrid understanding of social identity, even though parts of this identity will spring from many years of inequality? And is an understanding as such altogether possible?

Especially Anouk’s discursive duality encloses the hard choice between these options. It seems like she would rather possess a contradictory discourse of both/and than choose either/or; she wants to protect a Greenlandic ‘us’ and at the same time embrace her identity as a hybridization that erases the demarcation with the Danish, global, and according to her non- Greenlandic ‘them’. And maybe, for now, that is the best way of navigating through one’s social identity when constantly pervaded by Greenlandic, Danish and global manners and performances.

The next question arising from this is: Can Greenlanders such as Anouk and Nivi maintain this discursive duality? Or do they at some point have to choose between them? - This being a choice between the group of critical Greenlanders demanding a decolonization, and on the other hand the group of Greenlanders who have already reconciled themselves with their colonial past and acknowledged their social identity as being a multicultural, and thereby also Danish, hybrid. This will now be up to the Greenlanders themselves to decide.

Handlinger tilknyttet webside

Senest opdateret 14. december 2021