TFF co-founder PhD
with thesis about young people
with roots in other cultures

PressInfo # 138

 November 8, 2001 


Christina Spännar


Happy news from our own world! On Friday October 26, 2001, TFF co-founder Christina Spännar successfully defended her dissertation at the Department of Sociology at the University of Lund. The title is With foreign luggage. Thoughts and experiences told by young people with roots in other cultures or The postmodern strangehood.

"Christina has conducted her research while also caring for many everyday tasks at the foundation, particularly when I travel," says Jan Oberg. "She participates in all important decisions about TFF policies and does a lot of editorial work on our publications and site articles. No PressInfo is distributed around the world before she has commented and improved on the drafts."

"She reads and comments on virtually all my texts and I am happy to have been able to pay back a little now by being her test reader and comment-maker through the work with her dissertation, " says Jan Oberg. "Christina is the anchor and inspiration - and much more so than you may believe when you look at our website and browse our publications. Her doctoral dissertation is a moment for celebration."


A little about the dissertation

The dissertation analyses how youth and young adults construct reality and get their "life- worlds" together when they arrive to, grow up in or settle in a foreign country. To put it very crudely, how we meet what is new, strange and even threatening and learn to cope with it. It's about individuals meeting strangers in our increasingly globalised age.

The dissertation analyses a series of processes and the mechanisms through which these young people come to grips with a world they do not understand upon arrival, but have to adapt to and live in either because they are refugees, immigrants, children of mixed marriages, or something else. In short, they have to piece together cultures, norms and traditions from more than one source and mould them into a meaningful interpretation of their realities.


Photo © TFF 2001

The opponent, professor Charles Westin, CEIFO, Stockholm University,
and Christina in dialogue about "With foreign luggage"


Relevant for peace and reconciliation studies

It's a dissertation in sociology but goes a long way in the direction of peace and reconciliation studies, too. Says Christina: "I have not used peace research theory but the whole issue of living with foreign luggage has become so much more important compared with the time when I started thinking about these problems.

What I have learned from these young people is that they have an ability to mediate and see problems or conflicts from more than one angle, simply because they have experiences from more than one culture to build on. It is less easy for them to see only one truth. They also often become bridge-builders in their new settings between their parents and the new society since they usually learn language faster and interact more actively with that society.

This is something that can help the people of majority cultures to see what their society looks and feels like in the eyes of others. In short, if we all understand these processes better and begin to see the newcomer with foreign luggage as a resource and not predominantly as 'a problem,' there would be less ethnic or nationalist tension and more tolerance around. And, thus, less violence and war."

Says Christina, "I look forward now to continue my research in this field and also devote myself more to TFF. I feel the two will form a synthesis."



The dissertation is in Swedish, but here follows the official abstract in English:


The present study is based on interviews with 22 youth and young adults. The perspective is phenomenological, since my aim has been to analyse and describe the everyday world as it presents itself to these young people. A process begins in the encounter with the majority culture and the emphasis is on how they think about events and experiences along the road to a more complex life-world.

The process of constructing reality that I have found in the narratives share some basic characteristics. The first is a reflexive interplay between the taken-for-granted and the strange. The second specific feature of the process is that the majority language usually is the second language. The third is that of changed relations and positions within the family. Contributing to this is the curtailed social network and the differences in knowledge about and capacity to speak the new language.

Like language, social relations are a tool of paramount importance when moving around in the space of intersubjectivity, which together with continuity and consciousness make up the fourth feature. While the first feature deals with what initiates the thinking process, this fourth feature analyses the thinking itself. Intersubjectivity can be radical or egological. The radical one is direct and non-reflective. When people are not in command of each other's languages and/or do not immediately understand the meaning of the situation, there is more need for reflection and planning which is what characterises the egological intersubjectivity. I believe that the egological aspects weigh more heavily in the encounter between people with different cultural backgrounds. There is a universal human striving for a certain minimum order in life; to connect new information with what one already knows and thus achieve continuity and coherence. The confrontation with a different order causes us to observe, compare, evaluate and seek explanations. This produces a heightened awareness about the different orders. It also means an active relation or approach to culture, which makes up the fifth special feature.

I believe there are certain parallels between the situation experienced in the encounter with the new society and the one we all experience in the postmodern society, which is characterised by reflexivity. This implies that we constantly are confronted with new phenomena. Another defining characteristic is ambiguity, which is also connected with growing up with more than one culture. I therefore believe that the ability to deal with more than one culture can be an asset in dealing with postmodern issues in general.

These young people seem to share an awareness that things can be done and life lived in different ways without having a need to ranking one as better than the other. To them the interplay between the taken-for-granted and the strange seems to be the very stuff that coherence in life is made of.


This is a longer presentation in English of the content of the dissertation.

The book costs 250 Swedish kronor plus postage. It can be ordered here:


Photo © TFF 2001

Friends and colleagues congratulate Christina (right) after the defence in the
beautiful old Carolina Hall in the old centre of Lund



Christina Spännar

Med främmande bagage.

Tankar och erfarenheter hos unga människor med ursprung i annan kultur eller

Det postmoderna främlingskapet


232 pages, 2001

Lund Dissertation in Sociology 40, ISBN 91-7267-100-9

Price 250,00 Swedish kronor + porto



 © The author and TFF 2001



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