Negotiating (un)belonging in sites of entanglement – The lived experience of language of a German migrant in Sweden

Author: Anna Mammitzsch (Stockholm University, Sweden)
Speaker: Anna Mammitzsch
Topic: Language and Spatiotemporal Frames
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2021 Poster Session


The poster entails first findings of a linguistic ethnographic study on how German migrants in Sweden narrate their experiences of migration, language and identity and position themselves in relation to social categorizations and temporal-spatial configurations. The data stems from a participant-guided walking tour through Stockholm to sites of entanglement, conducted as part of my dissertation project. Sites of entanglement are understood as spaces of mutuality, where moments of complication are experienced, as previously separately imagined identities, spaces and social relationships intersect in unexpected ways (Nuttall 2009:11). These sites are embedded in narrative performances of tropes of difference and sameness, apprehension and misunderstanding, deriving from encounters with complex language ideologies and societal norms regulating semiotic practices. Previous literature (Meinhof 2011) emphasizes the use of narratives in the context of migration as a resource for identity construction. By bringing together motion and storytelling, they become an embodied, social and imaginative practice and aid our understanding of people’s sense of self and place and the relationships and semiotic practices that shape them (Moretti 2017). Despite a current scholarly interest in the representations of lived experiences of personal upheaval, such as migration, this has not been investigated in a Swedish-German context. By employing the concept of small stories and positioning analysis (Bamberg and Georgakopoulou 2008), the analysis shows that by telling small stories of change, the participant describes not only complexities of coping in spaces of exception (Heugh et al 2018), but also negotiates different forms of (un)belonging. The participant’s efforts to unbind herself from imposed and internalized linguistic, cultural and social boundaries initiates a process of counteracting dominant language hegemonies and prompts the capability to create new meanings of these particular locales. The results demonstrate the persistence of societal language purification, interwoven in the migrant’s lived experience of language in Sweden.

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Heugh; Stroud; Scarino. 2018. “Spaces of Exception: Southern Multilingualisms as Resource and Risk.” Current Issues in Language Planning 20 (1): 100–119.
Meinhof. 2011. “Introducing Borders, Networks, Neighbourhoods: Conceptual Frames and Social Practices.” in Negotiating Multicultural Europe Borders, Networks, Neighbourhoods, Armbruster; Meinhof (eds), 1–24.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Moretti. 2017. “Walking.” in A Different Kind of Ethnography: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies, Culhane; Elliott (eds), 91–112.
North York, Ontario: University of Toronto Press. Nuttall. 2009. Entanglement. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Keywords: site of entanglement, space of exception, belonging, small stories, Germans in Sweden