horizontale portretfoto Hanna Murray Carlsson
horizontale portretfoto Hanna Murray Carlsson

'We have to look beyond ethnicity'

Hanna Carlsson, researcher at the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, wrote a PhD-thesis about how care practices respond to the needs of older migrants in Nijmegen and The Hague. She advocates a local and future-oriented approach and hopes that policymakers stop problematising differences in backgrounds. "Migration-related diversity can also be a source of meaning and belonging."

What exactly was your PhD research about?

"I wanted to know what happened with the attention to migration-related diversity after the decentralisation of 2015. As a result of this decentralisation, the responsibility for many forms of care, including elderly care, was transferred from the Central Government to the municipalities. My question was: does the decentralisation – with its focus on neighbourhood governance of care – influence access for older migrants? During the research, I realised that decentralisation was not the only important factor. National integration debates and policies also strongly influence what can be done at the local level. So, in the end, my thesis was about looking at the dynamics between national policies and what is possible or not possible at the local level for older migrants."

How did you go about it?

"I did a practice-oriented study and used a method called zooming in and zooming out. I first zoomed in on spaces of care, such as day-care centres, which meant doing participant observation and semi-structured interviews with older migrants, care workers and managers of care organisations. Then, zooming out, I followed the links from those places. For example, the links between day-care and other forms of local care and between the people who make decisions about this care, such as policymakers. I also analysed policy documents. This method showed what the care landscape looks like."

What are your most important findings?

"One of the things my study shows is that ethnicity is not a good criterium to talk about people's access to care. The dynamics of the care landscape are much more important. For example, older Chinese people in The Hague can easily access elderly care because there are Chinese associations, special nursing homes, and care advisors who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. In Nijmegen, the situation is totally different: the Chinese community is smaller and less organised. This shows we must look further than ethnicity and take other common characteristics into account, such as language or religion. If we unpack these characteristics, we can better tailor care services to specific groups of older migrants."

What do you hope people learn from your thesis?

"First, I hope I can convince policymakers to think not only local but also future-oriented. Because of the political sensitivity, policymakers often say: 'Special measures for migrants are only temporary.' But if you frame the issue as temporary, you lack a strategy to meet the needs of future generations of older migrants. Our society is getting more and more diverse. We need to cater to the population we have and are going to have. Secondly, I hope practitioners and policymakers will see that migration-related diversity –often framed primarily as a problem and a source of vulnerability – can also be a source of meaning and belonging. It should be normal to allow older migrants to have care spaces where their backgrounds are not seen as problematic, but as important and enriching."

If you are interested in this PhD-thesis, you can download it here.

Text: Machiel van Zanten

Photos: Duncan de Fey