A guest post from Malene H. Jacobsen. Malene is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Geography, Maynooth University, Ireland. Grounded in feminist political geography, Malene’s work focuses on war, displacement, and the lived experience of refuge. Over the years, her research has been supported by the US National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Danish Institute in Damascus. Malene has published peer-reviewed articles and chapters on issues related to forced migration, citizenship, and feminist methodologies. Funded by the Irish Research Council, her current research project “Precarious Protection: Syrian and Somali Struggles for Refuge in Denmark” explores the legal shift towards temporary refugee protection in Denmark.
Babies, birth rates, and borders. Like many other countries with declining populations, Denmark has become increasingly anxious about falling birth rates and their repercussions for the viability of the country’s famed welfare state. To bolster fertility rates, several campaigns have been created to encourage young women and heterosexual couples to have (more) children, preferably early in their lives. For instance, in 2015, the Danish Public Broadcaster DR produced a Saturday evening program called “Bang for Denmark” (Knald for Danmark), which focused on how Danes could become more reproductive. The same year, the municipality of Copenhagen launched the “Count your eggs” (Tæl dine æg) campaign to encourage women to have children earlier in their lives. In 2016, the Danish travel company Spies aired commercials under the title “Do it for Denmark!” Using crude terms and questionable statistics, these commercials encouraged Danes to go on short getaways to Paris or to take active sport holidays to foreign destinations to increase their fitness and desire for sex. Spies linked foreign travel with fertility, claiming that 10% of Danes are conceived abroad. While acknowledging its own commercial interests in promoting foreign travel, Spies urged young Danes to “do it”, if not for the nation (fædreland) then for “mom”.
These commercials presented a specific imaginary of the Danish family. Spies used white actors and portrayed an idealized version of heterosexual coupledom by showing upper-middle class leisure activities including traveling to foreign destinations, doing yoga, playing tennis, and dining out. “Doing it for Denmark”, then, means (re)producing the white, heteronormative, bourgeois nuclear family. And these efforts seem to be working. Several of these campaigns claim that birth rates are on the upswing, even if they have yet to reach the state’s desired levels. However, Denmark’s celebration of fertility and the family does not extend to all intimate ties. Alongside its growing obsession with babies and birthrates, the project of reproducing the white, heteronormative, bourgeois nuclear family has also involved a range of policies and practices that regulate, separate, and preclude the intimate ties of racialized, colonized, queered, and other subaltern peoples.
If reproduction, as Sophie Lewis[i] has elaborated, is an irreducibly raced and classed project of social engineering, I argue that in the Danish context this project has long been and continues to be a distinctly geopolitical project of bordering and intimate separation. I develop this claim by exploring the forced separation of kin across borders using two examples, namely the repatriation of Danish citizen children currently living in prison camps in Syria and the Danish state’s attempt to strip Syrian refugees of their protection status. As I explore below, these examples remain hotly contested by politicians, NGOs, and legal practitioners, yet are rarely seen as connected. By bringing them together and situating them in Denmark’s long history of empire, I de-exceptionalize them as somehow isolated and unprecedented, and instead show how they are part of a broader project of racialized nation building.Continue reading