Moral Economies of Exclusion: Expressions of Antagonistic Anxiety against Minoritized Populations in Contemporary Norway (MEAN) (Søren Mosgaard Andreasen)

Issues surrounding refugeeism and immigration are defining features of the 21st century: more people live outside their country of birth today than in any other period of human history, and these levels are expected to continue to rise with climate changes in the nearby future of the Anthropocene (United Nations, 2018; International Organization for Migration, 2011). At a time when the need to develop policies and cultures of deep, mutual interdependency has perhaps never been more dire, it is alarming that what Ramadan and Shantz (2018) has termed ‘phobic discourses’ targeting refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, and, in particular, Muslims (RASIM) in recent years have surfaced prominently in public and political text and talk in Norway and countries across the globe. With the tragic events of the terror attacks on Utøya 22/07 2011 against Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking (AUF) and again in Oslo 10/08 2019 against the al-Noor mosque, it became increasingly clear how the circulation of such discourse  actively contribute to frame RASIM as enemy-like ‘Others’ allegedly posing an existential threat to Norwegian ways of life, culture and society. In a Norwegian context, the terror attacks were not merely spontaneous acts carried out by deranged individuals but rather a social manifestation of successfully manufactured discursive closure linked to relational and contingent politics of antagonistic anxieties within the culture in which this anxiety was experienced and acted upon.


Historical evidence attest to the fact that discourses mobilizing antagonistic anxieties against minoritized populations have social implications and contribute to normalize processes of othering that may shape perceptions of particular people as de-humanized, threatening, and exposable. As among others Noam Chomsky (2002) and Beyer et al. (2019) have argued, the use of direct or structural violence against designated ’others’ ultimately hinges upon a cultural/political apparatus of legitimization, what Johan Galtung has also termed cultural violence, that “draws upon existing systems of knowledge and representation to form tacit horizons of plausibility for acts of demonization, marginalization” (Beyer et al.: 12). Relatedly, the aim of MEAN is to explore discursive processes through which forms of affective and social responsiveness based on fear and racialized perceptions are encouraged in contemporary Norway and how such frames may render tacit support to the specific notion that exclusion, and possibly violence, is a legitimate and ultimately necessary project for the continued endurance of the nation state. At its heart, MEAN is about addressing how social and political paradigms of inclusion and exclusion, violence and peace, alterity and difference, are made and unmade in the current moment as well as an attempt to conceptualize what it means to critically engage with and possibly intervene in this process of making and unmaking in an advanced media democracy.

As Stuart Hall once observed, the hardening of public opinion into consent relies upon the repetition and accumulation of expressions and beliefs ‘on the street’, in conversations between neighbours, discussion at street-corners or in the pub, rumour, gossip, speculation. In contemporary Norway, ‘the street’ is increasingly replaced by a complex array of information technologies and outlets: (un)social media, conventional and alternative news media platforms, as well as state authorized bodies of knowledge/policy. This implies that it is not sufficient to produce analysis tied to a single societal field (for example policy documents). Rather, there is a need to build a broad analysis of the overlapping ways in which interpellative fabrics and cultural pretexts of violence/exclusion circulate in and across different media strata’s, stabilizing backgrounds of meaning against which such social paradigms become possible and plausible.

Informed by perspectives from affect- and post foundational social theory, MEAN attempts to do so by singling out four critical discursive events that are representative for how processes of racialization and minoritization presently take place in and across an increasingly media saturated society prescribing to and influenced by neo-liberal doctrines. MEAN thus aims to construct knowledge that may help us understand some of the conflict dynamics surrounding processes of inclusion and exclusion of societal new-comers. It is driven by the assumption that coming to terms with forms of ‘irregular’ social mobilities in a peaceful manner is one of the greatest responsibilities of our time which, it seems, may well be the future of much of mankind in the rapidly advancing era of the Anthropocene.   

Key questions include: How may discursive events become cultural pretexts that contribute to promote a culture of fear, securitization and antagonistic anxieties about the incompatible difference of RASIM in relation to majoritized populations? How may such discourses settle and manifest in individual desires and actions? And how may they possibly and plausibly be transformed?