“I think I am a very strong woman”: Arabic-Origin Women Mobilizing Values and Claiming Worth in Denmark
Sandra Angelika P. Al-Jarrah and Kristina Bakkær Simonsen
July 21, 2022
Across Western European nations, politicians often problematize immigrants’ cultural values and question their fit with majority society. Within this discourse, immigrant women, especially those of Arabic origin, occupy a central place, since they are portrayed as un-agentic victims and reproducers of an oppressive culture that they pass on to their daughters. In this article, we study how, in a climate of suspicion and devaluation, these women make sense of themselves, their values, and their place in society. The research presented here departs from existing work on the role of values in immigrant integration that focuses on attitudinal differences or similarities between immigrant minorities and national majorities. Using the theoretical perspective of boundary-drawing, we seek, instead, to shed light on how women of Arabic origin actively mobilize cultural values to establish (in)compatibility between themselves and majority society and claim their worth. We situate our analysis in Denmark, where the problematization of immigrants’ values is salient, and analyze 12 interviews with pairs of Arabic-origin mothers and daughters. We show that mothers often activated values otherwise presented by Danish politicians and the media as “un-Danish” to demonstrate their fit with and contribution to Danish society. Contrary to political and academic concerns about the children of immigrants feeling constrained or experiencing value conflict, we find that daughters established dual bases of worth by mixing values from different cultural repertoires. We use these findings to discuss the potential of studying values as meaning-making tools used by immigrants and their children in the integration process.