In a world with extensive migration, many children grow up with multiple cultural influences. Even though this is increasingly common, the young in question may still feel different and be treated as outsiders where they make their home. With this context, participating in an inclusive community can make a welcome difference. The aim of this study is to listen to the voices of young people who grow up with multiple cultures, and explore what participation in creative communities means to them. Knowledge about growing up across cultures, with the challenges and opportunities it brings, is needed in a psychology that takes contemporary society and its diversity seriously. Society at large will also benefit from knowledge and practices that support these young people in navigating their complex worlds.
The theoretical approach combines cultural and community psychology, presenting a contextual take on salutogenesis: what strengthens health, taking diverse meaning-making resources and unequal power distribution into account. The mixed methods design was to achieve a multidimensional understanding, based on critical realism, which acknowledges reality as multi-layered, and our knowledge of it as positioned and always limited. From this, it makes sense to seek to build knowledge in a dialectic and intersubjective manner. Inviting to participatory action research, I started out in dialogue with stakeholders and participants, and had a flexible design that allowed for adjustments throughout the study.
The first stage of data collection was fieldwork in a multicultural creative community called Kaleidoscope, in one of the Norwegian towns where it takes place. Based on this participant observation and dialogue with a reference group of participants, I went on to interview ten young participants from two different Kaleidoscope locations. As a third and
final stage of data collection, I developed a survey and invited participants from four locations to respond. All in all, around 200 children and youth aged 7-28 years participated in the study.
The first paper describes how a creative community can serve as an arena for constructive intercultural identity development, based on observations from the fieldwork. Leaders emphasize that everyone has resources to contribute with, and that participants’ different backgrounds make a greater whole. This inclusive approach allows for and acknowledges identity complexity. When implicit stereotypes loom or ownership of expressions is at stake, participants engage actively in identity negotiations that are both playful and serious. Given room, these dynamics set the stage for a flexible and colorful performance of identity.
The second paper presents a narrative analysis of long-term participant experiences, in the synthesized story of ‘Nadia’. This shows how young refugees find ways to navigate diverging expectations and cross-pressures. Nadia tells us about her loneliness and confusion when she first came to Norway, and how important it was to be invited into a community where she could contribute with songs and dances from her country of origin. Through depression and complications at home and at school, the Kaleidoscope community was her ‘happy place’. Here, she practiced raising her own voice and navigating challenges from both minority and majority voices, and now balances her cultures confidently.
In the third paper, I explore how the participants that were interviewed experience the opportunities they are offered in the creative community, and how this impacts their everyday lives. They contrast this community with experiences at school and elsewhere, and emphasize how on this arena, they can contribute, be themselves and grow. The paper discusses how the recognition characterizing this arena serves as a catalyst for agency.
The fourth paper presents survey data about how creative participation affects health and wellbeing. A clear majority of the 102 participants who responded emphasize that the community is important to them and has helped them grow as a person. The quantitative health/wellbeing scores were generally high, but without statistically significant change
related to having participated longer. The qualitative responses shed light on this by showing the complexity of wellbeing, illustrated by participants who found the community vital to their happiness during other health problems. Their health as a whole might thus vary over
time, even though Kaleidoscope participation contributed positively, towards salutogenesis.
Taken together, these findings illuminate several dimensions of growing up across socially defined cultural categories, and the freedom of movement that a participatory creative community can provide – a place where “everyone is different” and both-and-competency is valued. This allows for simultaneousness; being and doing several things at once. The thesis also discusses different approaches to diversity, and how navigating together makes challenges easier to manage. The discussion also underlines the perks of playfulness, to build community and positive affect, and fight stereotyping with fun.
The study’s strengths lie in the multiple ways of listening and observing that were applied over a fairly long period of time, and the closeness to the interaction and participants’ voices. Still, these perspectives are not exhaustive, and cannot be generalized. However, the findings can transfer to other contexts where young people deal with differences, cross-pressures and stereotyping categorizations. Community and joy can be nurtured when we take time to play and dance together, invite and recognize different contributions, and co-create something new. This challenges health and social systems that do not allow for the patience and relational investments required to build participatory, creative communities over time. Such inclusive communities may just mean the world to young people growing up across cultures.