AT DRIKKE ÆBLETE: Om håndteringen af kulturforskelle i institutioner
The title of this article, “Drinking Apple Tea”, refers to the account of a social
worker visiting the family of his drug-addicted client. While the visit proceeds in
silence, the social worker finds his own frustration rising: “We just sit there and
drink apple tea. What am I doing here?” This story points to the fact that cultural
differences are difficult to manage within the institutions of the Danish welfare
state, since they tend to fall outside the scope of established universal categorizations
and norms that form the basis for institutional practices. On the basis of
an understanding of cultural encounters that emphasize the creativity of human
agency, as well as the institutional fixation of hegemonic norms, the article
discusses specific encounters involving majority institutions and ethnic minorities
in Denmark. The analysis focuses on the ways cultural differences are either
suppressed or displaced as irrelevant factors, or emerge as catchall explanations
for the behavior of ethnic minorities. This pattern is to a large extent attributable
to the institutional norms and practices that implicitly limit diversity. In some
cases, a universal view of human nature means that difference becomes deviance;
whilst in others, a focus on cultural difference reduces diversity resulting in stereotypical
generalizations of the Other. One way of distributing culture and difference
in alternative ways could result from a heightened awareness of the institutional
rationalities and practices among the employees.
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