- Professor Hedda Giertsen,University of Oslo (leader)
- Emeritus Professor Tony Jefferson, Keele University (1. opponent)
- Senior Research Fellow Elaine Chase, University of Oxford (2. opponent)
Chair of defence
- Professor em. Kjersti Ericsson
- Professor Michael Seltzer
- Førsteamanuensis Ketil Eide
The thesis addresses four main themes: the lived experiences of marginalisation of street-involved Black and minority ethnic youths (BME youths) in Oslo in relation to important social and institutional arenas that are crucial for their transitions to adulthood in the Norwegian society. These include the family, school and education, the housing and labour markets. Further, how the youths feel about and tackle the psychic and emotional pains associated with such experiences of prolonged marginality are presented. The thesis also examines their interactions with various social welfare and health services, how service providers define the needs of the youths, how the youths perceive the professionals they meet, and the main factors that hinder or promote their help-seeking efforts.
The accounts given by the youths show that they have aspirations, hopes, dreams, and yearn to lead positive lives. They share the conventional cultural values and goals of Norwegian society, and our basic human social, psychological and emotional needs. They are creative and caring and look for love, affection, understanding and belongingness. However, majority of them narrate daily experiences of poverty, institutional racism and other forms of social exclusion. Such experiences often lead to feelings of frustration, humiliation, disappointment, rejection, abandonment and wrong choices, creating a deep inner psychic and emotional turmoil that many have to deal with in their daily lives.
They adopt several coping strategies or mechanisms. These include repressed feelings of anger and resentment; occasional recourse to physical violence in order to save face; attempts to seek revenge and strike back; social withdrawal and depression; suicidal thoughts and tendencies; religious transcendentalism and fatalism; ambivalence, apathy or resignation; unsuccessful attempts to seek respect on the street; and self-medication with drugs. Others seek ontological security in the stability and routine provided by prison life. Involvement in street drug dealing, drug use and other crimes often result in a deep sense of shame, regret and guilt for most of them for the pain they have caused those around them, especially their families. They would like to give something positive back to society in order to reduce this sense of shame and guilt, but lack opportunities to do so.
Most of these youths give accounts of cumulative, but largely negative experiences with social welfare and health services. Many attempt to avoid these services and find their own solutions to the challenges facing them. They consider access to help or care as very limited and tend to be fearful, sceptical and mistrustful of these services. Many also attach stigma to mental illness and may experience reduced self-worth and feel stigmatised in their contacts with mental health services. In addition, many hold culturally defined notions of masculinity that dictate that men should be strong in the face of adversities. Others feel that no one can understand how they feel inside and that there is no help out there, while others do not know where to go for help.
The accounts given by both the youths and some professionals suggest the existence of institutional racism within social welfare and health services, including municipal youth services. This form of racism is often unconscious and unintentional. Nevertheless, it constitutes a fundamental barrier to easy access to and utilisation of services. Though the youths give several accounts of experiences of racism and the negative psychological and emotional effects for them, rarely are issues of race, racism, and other structural factors that may negatively affect the smooth transitions of these youths to adulthood addressed by professionals who meet them. Rather, the needs of these youths and the challenges they present with are often explained with the young people’s own shortcomings, or what is often perceived as their “dysfunctional’’ families or local communities with a high concentration of non-western immigrants in which they live.
The few study participants who narrate positive experiences with professionals emphasise the importance of close and non-coercive follow-ups based on trusting professional-client relationships over time, the ability of these committed professionals to address their psychic and emotional needs and to collaborate with other professionals in assisting them. All the study participants emphasise the importance of being listened to, understood and taken seriously and treated with respect as well as being given information and advice as important elements of “good help”. The feelings that one is cared for that they might have are crucial for the trust they can have for professionals and adults they meet.
By adopting a psychosocial approach that focuses on the inner psychic and emotional worlds of marginalised street-involved BME youths, the study departs from the common assumptions or stereotypical views that we can understand who these youths really are in terms of their tough masculine and gangster-like postures in street culture, their criminal and violent acts and street competence. These views negatively misrepresent them as threats to the Norwegian society and tend to inform punitive measures targeted at them.
The main argument of the thesis is that in order to understand who these youths really are and their deviant acts and develop and reach them with more effective intervention measures, we need to go behind their gangster-like masks and understand their deep inner psychic and emotional pains. This way we can understand the emotional and psychic closure they seek on the streets: belongingness, acceptance, recognition, affirmation, self-clarity, status and respect that they cannot find elsewhere. These are basic human needs we all share and seek to satisfy.
Professionals need to reproduce these psychic and emotional goods in their interactions with these youths and in services and projects that target them, and help them meet other needs related to housing, employment and challenges they may face at school. Through their commitment, love, care and affection, motivated caregivers can nurture the hopes, dreams and aspirations of these youths and help them to come to terms with their painful emotional memories. There is the need to implement structural and institutional changes, and holistic, creative and culture sensitive approaches to service delivery to achieve social inclusion for them in the Norwegian society.