The power of young people’s reflections and will to engage – whether with opinions, thoughts and experiences radically different from my own, or not – blew me away. Perhaps most profoundly, because whatever their take on the boundaries of “Norwegianness” they were in everyday life dealing with diversity in the nation, among themselves, in ways there’s much to learn from: as class mates, as young people. The data set we have from working with these young people is fascinating, but more importantly for me: their will to engage with a shared future together in Norway, with no rosy lining and no shying away from conflicts that could arise from real differences, is a hope to build on. To be able to share some of the in-depth reflections and discussions from this data, in this article, is a privilege. There are quite long data extracts from focus groups in here – though there can never be enough – for some food for thought, have a look!
The concept of “negotiation” is often used in English in the sense of “muddling through” yet there’s more purchase to it, conceptually. Setting out to show how that might be the case, and how it might be analytically helpful, has been an interesting ride. But a worthwhile one: for how do nations grapple with diversity within? When does it matter more “who” nationals are? And when does it matter more “what” we want to describe as the imagined community, drawing on (always select) key descriptors? The two clearly connect, but when is which given more weight: In the case of the children of emigrants born abroad? In the case of adopted children? In the case of children or grandchildren of immigrants born in the country? Or in the case of religious converts, to one religion or another? Evidently, national communities are bound by more than birth place, but what more and in which constellations, can or cannot constitute national belonging. Here, I argue, perspectives from negotiation theory are helpful in unpacking different lines of thinking, where relational or substantive concerns are seen as primary. But, if no shared future can even be imagined, the potential for negotiation is not there. The negotiation dynamics found in discussions among class mates, therefore, cannot easily be assumed transferable to polarized media debates, where a will to engage with shared futures is questionable or lacking. The difference in tone, wording and attitude from the commentary fields online – to the exchanges during our face-to-face focus group discussions, meanwhile, is notable.
Grappling with a huge data set, and theoretical approaches from fields far beyond my own (on negotiations and negotiating primarily), unsurprisingly led to a manuscript in need of revisions. Four rounds of revision down the line, including two pretty full-on re-writing exercises, my faith in the double-blind peer review process as something which is a quality enhancing mechanism in research, is only stronger. Being pushed, challenged and pointed in directions I would not have chosen, while time-consuming and frustrating, has without doubt sharpened the analysis and robustness of the research now published. Besides the help received from three anonymous reviewers, this article gained so much from numerous discussions with the research team and advisory board of the NATION project, as well as colleagues at PRIO and various conferences, although the stumbling around in negotiation theory was a more solitary exercise. On the less idealist side, following a rejection after two rounds of revisions, and another rejection after one round of reviews in Political Geography some years back, it’s good to know it’s always possible to try again, and manage to cross those new bridges.