This doctoral project was part of the Norwegian case study of Youth at the Margins (YOMA), a Nordic-South African research project on marginalised youth and faith-based organisations that ran from 2013 to 2016. The thesis is a contribution to the research on youth exclusion, religious organisations, and religious diversity in Norway. It asks how religious organisations’ activities and engagements for youth in Søndre Nordstrand, a super-diverse city district of Oslo, contribute to social cohesion. The thesis approaches the research question on two levels: a theoretical discussion of social cohesion and qualitative research on youth exclusion and on religious organisations’ activities and engagements for youth in Søndre Nordstrand.
The theoretical discussion of social cohesion draws on Niklas Luhmann’s theory of society and argues that social cohesion should be understood in terms of people’s access to participate in social systems (social integration) and the extent to which communication flows across different social systems (system integration) rather than in terms of consensus among people or whether people share values (socio-cultural integration). I conceive of the synthesis of social integration and system integration as communicational permeability. This represents a new and different way of conceptualising social cohesion, which is nevertheless grounded in established sociological theory.
The qualitative research for the thesis followed two different, but interrelated, tracks. The first track aimed to address the relevance of religious organisations among other networks, engagements, and attachments in the lives of excluded youth in Søndre Nordstrand through interviews and ethnographic research. While I was trying to find and meet young people who were not in education, employment, or training (NEET young people), a category of excluded youth, I became aware of how the concept meant different things to different people and in different contexts. Rather than taken as an objective and unproblematic category of excluded youth in qualitative research, I suggest in Paper 1 that it has different meanings to different people and in different contexts. It should therefore be understood contextually.
The second track of my research focussed on religious organisations’ activities and engagements for youth in Søndre Nordstrand. This was based on a mapping of and interviews in the religious organisations in the city district. Through the mapping, I found 14 religious organisations in Søndre Nordstrand in addition to four parishes of the former state church, the Church of Norway. Twelve of the religious organisations and Church of Norway parishes became part of my research. Paper 2 analyses inclusion in and exclusion from the religious organisations’ activities and engagements for youth. Representatives and youth groups from most of the religious organisations that were part of my research described excluded youth in similar terms, and most of them had little to do with these youths. The main motivation for the religious organisations’ youth work was to pass on their religion. The youth were segmented in the religious organisations by roughly overlapping categories of ethnicity, race, and religion.
Paper 3 analyses the religious organisations’ communication with each other and with other organisations. The communication among the religious organisations in the city district was not primarily differentiated into different religions but segmented corresponding to communities in the suburbs. The religious organisations also had contact with public authorities and welfare services. Moreover, all of them were part of citywide, national, or transnational networks of organisations that espoused similar faith, although the relative importance of different geographical scales varied between the different organisations.
In terms of communicational permeability, the religious organisations in Søndre Nordstrand did not contribute to social integration by including large shares of the population or otherwise excluded youth, but their communication with other organisations may have contributed to system integration. The analysis and discussion in the thesis focus particularly on their communication with secular organisations in the city district. Based on this and as a contribution to the research on religious diversity and religious organisations, I suggest that the religious organisations in Søndre Nordstrand can be understood as public space, which is a contribution to recent discussions on religion in the public sphere. The religious organisations in Søndre Nordstrand became part of the infrastructure facilitating the public sphere as a relatively open and accessible network of communication, facilitating certain kinds of non-religious communication rather than participating with a voice of their own. For youth research, the thesis contributes a critical analysis of the exclusion concept and a discussion of how religious organisations can contribute to alleviating youth exclusion. Of relevance to the ongoing debates on integration and social cohesion in Norway and elsewhere, the thesis how applying Luhmann’s theory and focussing on the interrelations between social systems and on the inclusion and exclusion of people in them can provide a viable framework for future research.
List of papers
Holte, Bjørn Hallstein. 2017. “Counting and meeting NEET young people: Methodology, perspective, and meaning in research on marginalized youth.” Young – Nordic Journal of Youth Research 26(1): 1-16. Published online 16 March 2017: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1103308816677618
Holte, Bjørn Hallstein, Annette Leis-Peters, Olav Helge Angell, and Kari Karsrud Korslien. 2018. “Us and them: Faith-based organisations and street youths in Søndre Nordstrand, Oslo, Norway.” In Stuck in the Margins? Young People and FBOs in South African and Nordic Localities. Edited by Ignatius Swart, Auli Vähäkangas, Marlize Rabe, and Annette Leis-Peters. Book manuscript in preparation.
Holte, Bjørn Hallstein. 2017. “Religion and integration: Religious organisations’ communication in a diverse city district of Oslo, Norway.” Article manuscript under review.