Nationalism, borders, migration, and everyday life – University of Copenhagen

Nationalism, borders, migration, and everyday life

Borders define and divide not only territorial green lines but they also constitute cultural boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (Barth 1969). Borders were part of the founding myth of the nation-state, demarcating who is on the inside and who had best stay outside (Löfgren 2017/1989). Hence, borders are constitutive for the body politics of states and for the everyday lives they inhabit. The idea of the territorial border as a property of the (European) nation-state located at its outer edges has among scholars been critically assessed as being equivalent to methodological nationalism, in which the stability of the nation-state and its borders is taken as an unconditional premise for scientific research. To the contrary, it is argued, transnationalism, together with migration and mobility across borders tend to challenge the territorial nation-state border as a stable fact. Migration movements reveal the dual face of the border’s brutality and fragility, and in turn create a permanent state of tension at the border (Hess & Kasparek 2017). The increased migration to Europe, with refugees not only arriving from the sea, but also walking along European highways and crowding main central stations during the autumn of 2015, is an emblematic symbol of this tension at the border.

In the late 1990s the nationalization of culture and the role of the nation-state was characterized as a soon to be closed chapter in the cultural history of Europe (Stoklund 1999), yet the nation-state seems surprisingly robust still. To this adds the paradoxical fact that even though each nation-state conceives itself as unique, there tends to be an international cultural grammar of nationhood and national symbols – a standard toolbox (such as flag, hymn, rituals) for do-it-yourself nationalism, as argued by Löfgren 2017/1989 (on the ritualization of citizenship, see Damsholt 2008). The nationalization of culture is exactly therefore extremely pervasive in everyday life practices, creating tacit knowledge on ‘this is how we do things here’ or ‘this where the home is’. Further research is therefore needed on the anthropology of the (nation-) state, and on processes of everyday nationalization, which can lead to new understandings of the robustness of national imaginaries, answering why the nation-state is still very much with us.

Suggested PhD/postdoc projects

National imaginaries, everyday nationalization and the anthropology of the (nation) state
The aim of the postdoc/PhD project is to develop an analytical framework for studying how cultural, symbolic and political forms of national imaginaries find expression through everyday life practices, and how the idea of the nation-state, and the dreams connected with it, continue to find new ground. The ethnographic approach can be comparative or choose a single case of everyday life nationalization processes, as well as include a historical perspective. Thereby the project will contribute with new approaches to the anthropology of the (nation) state.

Migration, Temporality and Crisis
In 2015 more than 1.3 million refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Europe. Asylum systems broke down, border control was reinforced, and cooperation measures at national and EU level were severely challenged. In the minds of the European publics and politicians the so-called “Mediterranean crisis” then turned into a so-called “Refugee crisis”, not least through intensified media coverage during this period. Whereas migration highlights the border as a permanent state of tension, the border produces migrants as a problem and a cause of crises. The aim of the ethnographic PhD/postdoc project is to investigate the different faces of crises, their temporality, practical management and their implications for the European border regime. Specific attention should be directed to the border as concept and practice: who qualifies to be on the inside, and who is excluded; how are so-called “suitable” migrants chosen? Where and how do borders work in practice, and for whom does the border work? The project would be developed in cooperation with the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies, UCPH.

Responsible researcher

Associate professor, PhD, Marie Sandberg is responsible for the theme Borders, migration and everyday life. She is an ethnologist with a research focus on everyday life Europeanization, European borders and migration practices. She is the PI of the research network Helping Hands - Research Network on the Everyday Border Work of European Citizens
funded by the Danish Research Council for Independent Research, and co-PI of the Velux core-group project Diginauts: Migrants’ digital practices in/of the European border regime 2018-2020. As a steering group member of the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies (AMIS), UCPH, she is vividly engaged in discussions within international as well as Nordic fields of migration and border studies. She has organized several international research conferences and published a number of peer-reviewed articles in high-ranked journals. Together with prof. Monique Scheer, University of Tübingen, Marie Sandberg is editor-in-chief of the international, A-ranked Ethnologia Europaea – Journal of European Ethnology. As a core member of the Center for the Study of Nationalism, UCPH, Marie Sandberg has a special interest in the ways cultural, symbolic and political forms of national imaginaries find expression through everyday life practices. For instance she studies how borders in/of everyday life are continuously negotiated, overcome, and rebuilt through informal volunteer networks working in support of refugees coming to Europe.


Barth, Fredrik 1969: Ethnic group and boundaries: The Social Organisation of Culture. Bergen 1969.

Damsholt, Tine 2008: The Sound of Citizenship. I: Ethnologia Europaea, Journal of European Ethnology 38:1, Museum Tusculanum Press

Hess, Sabine & Bernd Kasparek 2017: Under Control? Or Border (as) Conflict: Reflections on the European Border Regime. Social Inclusion 5 (2017), p. 58-68.

Löfgren, Orvar 2017/1989: The Nationalization of Culture. Reprint from Ethnologia Europaea 19 (1989). In: Ethnologia Europaea 47 (2017), no. 1, Special issue: 50 Years of Ethnologia Europaea – Readers’ Choice from Half a Century, p. 35-53, here p. 38.

Stoklund, Bjarne 1999 (red): Kulturens nationalisering. Et etnologisk perspektiv på det nationale. Museum Tusculanums Forlag.