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Educational experiences of racialized differenciation in Danish high schools


Students with an ethnic minority background comprise 9 percent of high school students in Denmark (DST 2019) - a figure that is steadily increasing, making questions of how to understand and deal with diversity in high schools increasingly relevant. As the student population becomes more diverse, principals and politicians have drawn attention to problems of segregation (Scheer 2019, Larsen & Svaneborg 2016). Studies show that the number of ethnic Danish students decreases when the number of ethnic minority students increases, affecting the reputation and popularity of the school (Lessel 2019, Bloch 2020).The number of ethnic minority students is a key factor in many students’ and parents’ choice of high school, often avoiding what have been called “ghetto schools”. These high schools are defined as schools with more than 30 percent ethnic minority students (Bloch & Jessen 2017), and recent reports show a rise in the number high schools where the ethnic minority students are in the majority (DST 2019). A related area of concern is the level of drop-out in high schools (UVM 2009, Hetmar 2013, Mariager-Anderson et al. 2020). Studies show that young people with an ethnic minority background are overrepresented in dropout statistics (Jakobsen 2015, Pihl 2016). Ethnic-racialized discrimination, socioeconomic background and poor academic skills are described as the main factors affecting dropout (Murning & Hutters 2014, Pihl 2016, Slot 2016). Studies conducted within high schools show a tendency for students to group together according to ethnicity and religious background, whilst narratives from ethnic minority students point to experiences of non-belonging, a lack of recognition and discrimination (Mørck 2006, Khawaja 2015, Rambøll 2019). Meanwhile, other studies highlight good student-teacher relations, school belonging and strong peer communities as important factors to fight segregation and a sense of alienation amongst youngsters in high school (Murning 2013, Hetmar 2013, EVA 2019, Nielsen 2020).


Based on the assumption that students experience differenciation regarding their religious, ethnic and racialized background, the project asks: How do processes of racialized differenciation form and inform pedagogical encounters amongst students and educators?

The objective is to conceptualize the intertwinement of differenciation and racialization in order to understand pedagogical encounters amongst students and educators in increasingly diverse high schools. The aim is thus to develop a conceptual framework that can capture the embodied processes of racialized differenciation and belonging in education.

Main concepts

Pedagogical encounters is a term denoting everyday educational interactions and highlighting educational practice as spaces of becoming for both educators and students (Ahmed 2000, Gannon 2009).

The concept of differenciation is based on an understanding of difference as an ongoing process of power relations. Instead of understanding difference as fixed in static categories (majority/minority), difference is seen as a creative force of becoming (Deleuze 1990, Bell 2006). Even though differenciation is dispersed and in constant movement, it “sticks to” certain bodies and categories (Ahmed 2000), which is why racialization is a relevant concept.

In this project, racialization is linked to differenciation to capture embodied differenciations in pedagogical interactions providing or preventing access to positions of belonging in education.

Intersectionality (Crenshaw 1991) is used as a framework for working with the dynamics of differenciation as entangled with various categories (e.g. class, gender, age) to create more or less privileged positions and access to communities of belonging.

The concept of belonging is intended to capture subjects’ affective attachment to communities, spaces and positions of acceptance and recognition (Davies 2000, Khawaja 2010), which enables a focus on students’ racialized experiences of (non-)belonging in education. This could be belonging to peer-groups, to specific positions in the class, or to the high school as a larger entity.


The project consists of two subprojects conducted at high schools in different areas with diverse student populations in terms of ethnic background and socioeconomic status.

The project addresses the analytical questions connected to the main research question: How do processes of racialized differenciations form and inform pedagogical encounters amongst students and educators?

1. How do educators understand and approach diversity in high school and which challenges do they face in regard to racialized differenciations?

2. How do processes of racialized differenciations play out amongst ethnic minority and majority students and how do these processes influence their sense of belonging?