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Critical Events Mobilize Norwegian Youth

Critical events like the Obiora-case, cartoon drawings of Mohammed, and the war in Gaza contribute to stronger political involvement among Norwegian youth with immigrant background. A new book looks at the ways in which this involvement comes into expression.

NOVA researcher Viggo Vestel is a co-writer of the book Critical Events – New Voices: Political Commitment and Transnational Orientation in Modern Norway , a new book dealing with political involvement of the minority youth in Norway in recent time.

– Norway has been a multi-cultural society for some years now, and we are witnessing a growing number of young people with immigrant background, says Vestel.

The objective of the research project behind the book was to find out how being a young person with immigrant background in Norway has influenced these individuals’ political involvement.

At the same time as they are Norwegian citizens, the youth with immigrant background develop ties with other countries, with their families abroad and international streams. They turn a conscious eye to what happens both in the country and outside.

Critical events that influence

– We find that significant national and international events, what we have called critical events, influence young adults political commitment. But a critical event may also occur in one’s immediate surroundings or in his or her personal life.

Viggo Vestel, forsker ved NOVA, foto: H. Monfared, NOVA

These are occurrences that mean a lot to individuals and groups; they can mobilize people for political behaviour. Examples of such events are: the Obiora-case, September 11, cartoon drawings of Mohammed and July 22, 2011.

– We wanted to study the way such events can shape young people’s political involvement, says Vestel. Some writers talked about a climate change after the September 11. A greater suspicion grew against immigrants also in Norway, and, as a result, they began looking into their situation as immigrants. They felt then that they belonged to a group which was treated differently.

– What happens now when these young adults wish to communicate their experience with the outside world? And whom will they communicate with: other like-minded youth or the community as a whole? Will they participate in discussion groups on the Internet, or make music and songs, or maybe join youth organizations?

The research team has studied four different subjects

  1. The network RESPECT which was established as a result of the Obiora-case and the incident at the Sofienberg Park, where the injured Ali Farah was left behind by the paramedics.
  2. A Muslim youth organization
  3. Hip hop-musicians and their fans in Oslo
  4. Forums on websites like islam.no and desi.no

– We studied these subjects during 2007-2009 by both participant observation and interviews, says Vestel.


The data showed a diversity of new voices expressing themselves in many different ways.

– It is often easy in dealing with minority youth to fall into generalizations, but we have tried here to show a wide range of political commitment and to emphasize the fact that there are many different positions and views among these youth, states Vestel.

The war at the Gaza Strip as mobilizer

At the same time when one of the researchers was working on the project in the field around the shift from 2008 to 2009, Israel started its bombing of the Gaza Strip. The air strike gave rise to many demonstrations in Norway and other countries.

– This case gave us the unique opportunity to study how an international event could mobilize people politically in Norway, elaborates Vestel. It caused a variety of protests by young Muslims, public demonstrations and discussions on the Internet.

– Some of the young persons we have studied here will certainly continue their political behaviour in more conventional forms, inside the frames of a political party, while others will stay less active politically, says Vestel.

About the Book

The book is the result of a research project which was conducted through a number of years, financed by The Research Council of Norway. Besides Viggo Vestel, other researchers involved in the project were: Mette Andersson (responsible for the project), Christine M. Jacobsen and Jon Rogstad.

The book is published by Universitetsforlaget and is written in Norwegian.

See also:

Rogstad, Jon og Viggo Vestel (2011). The Art of Articulation: Political Engagement and Social Movements in the Making among young adults in Multicultural settings in Norway. Social Movement Studies , 10(3), 243-264

Contact Viggo Vestel for more information: viggo.vestel@nova.no

Nina Eriksen Published: