The critical phase

Book review

The Critical Phase

Photo: K.B. Haugstulen / A-Magasinet
Authors Aud Korbøl (right) and Arnfinn H. Midtbøen (left).

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

The Critical Phase

Book cover: Den krtisike fase

In 2016, sociologist Arnfinn Midtbøen was invited to give a lecture on the history of research on employment immigration to Norway. He agreed. As a young researcher (then 34) and Norwegian Journal of Social Research editor, he knew that the first significant research on employment immigration had been on workers from Pakistan, conducted in 1970-73 by a young sociologist, Aud Korbøl (then 29). As then was usual for academic research, only a few paper copies of her treatise were kept on file by the research institute where she had worked.

Midtbøen borrowed and read a copy of the treatise, a 500-page typescript. He found that it was more than an analysis of immigrants adapting to Norwegian society. It foreshadowed what was to come. Over subsequent decades, employment immigration evolved into a salient issue in Norway, much as it did elsewhere in Europe. So he felt that Korbøl’s treatise should be made available to a wider audience. He then contacted, met with, agreed with, and finally collaborated with her to publish Den kritiske fase: Innvandring til Norge fra Pakistan 1970-1973 (The Critical Phase: Immigration from Pakistan to Norway 1970-1973).

The salient strength of the book is its storytelling tone. It’s a page-turner that sometimes reads like a compelling novel. When Korbøl began studying the Pakistani immigrants to Norway, she worried that their cultural baggage might set them apart from Norwegian culture, then predominantly ethnic Norwegian. So she dealt with differences cautiously, lest they give rise to conflicts. She recalls an early incident that underscores the sense of that approach.

In 1971 in Oslo, as a guest in a small apartment, she sat on the floor, eating with a group of young Pakistani men living there. As then was fashionable for women of her age, she was wearing a miniskirt. Without a word, one of the men rose, picked up a lap robe and resolutely laid it over her bare knees. Before returning to his place on the floor, he softly advised her to “never again come here with a miniskirt.” She realized that he was minding his own honor as well as hers. Amusing as it may be today, that trifling incident conveyed the message that not only was she a questioner, but also a questionee. That mix is evident in the book. Such differences may take generations to fade.

At the time, the general opinion of the citizenry was that integration into Norway would be straightforward and swift. That’s not what happened. Korbøl’s evaluations were prescient and accurate. Integration takes time. The children and grandchildren of the Pakistani that she studied now reflect Norwegian values and attitudes. According to official statistics, as of Jan. 1, 2018, 37,412 first-generation Pakistani immigrants and their second-generation offspring now reside in the country. That’s about seven-tenths of 1 percent of the population. Though small in number, their history, of which this book might be regarded to be the first chapter, is relevant in today’s dialogue on immigration and integration.

The book:

Den kritiske fase: Innvandring til Norge fra Pakistan 1970-1973 (The Critical Phase: Immigration from Pakistan to Norway 1970-1973), by Aud Korbøl and Arnfinn H. Midbøen, 2018 (in Norwegian)

This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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