Research questions and Cultural Rucksack

Our main and subsidiary research questions:

  • How can place-specific arts and cultural initiatives in two cities help young refugees to develop a sense of belonging, and increase participation in the civic, social and cultural life of their new cities?  What are the enabling factors and barriers to social and cultural participation?

  • Does gender play a role in participation in social and cultural life, and how can engagement with arts overcome barriers to this participation?

  •  Do place-making activities positively impact on self-esteem and wellbeing evidenced through increased levels of participation in events and activities within community and civic locations? What is the new knowledge generated by close analysis of a place-specific initiative to adapt the Cultural Rucksack in each city?

  • What is unique to each of our contexts and what is general/generic?

The conceptual thinking underpinning this study foregrounds the dialogic relationship between the individual migrant youth and the spaces they interact with in their new communities. It has been influenced by Kraftl’s (2020) provocation to focus on developing inclusive spaces for young people in cities through practices that enhance recognition, participation, support and collaboration in order to develop the social and cultural value of these spaces for those who are marginalised.


Two theoretical framings are central: art as place-making activity, and cultural capabilities. First, people engage in placemaking through arts and cultural activity and this brings about increased ‘points of connection’ (Lankshear and Knobel 2011) to communities and places. Second, a capabilities approach enables us to focus on ‘What … people really (are) able to do and what kind of person are they able to be’ in a place (Robeyns 2017, 9). We want to shift the focus from outcomes that are viewed instrumentally in relation to the labour market, to a process of recognition (Honneth 1992) that enhances individuals’ capability and capacity to aspire on an individual as well as collective level, leading to enhanced experiences of citizenship for new arrivals and their new communities. The programme will be developed in Nottingham by building on that city’s existing use of the CR approach, and then introduced in Lund - currently without such a programme.


The design principles of the CR programme will be common across the three contexts but specific articulation of this in terms of arts form, types of cultural organization, and age of target group will differ. This will allow for comparison of what is common and what is unique in the extension of the CR programme for young refugees to inform further roll out in urban spaces across European cities. Evaluations of the CR programme are overwhelmingly positive, but there are a number of challenges and criticisms, most notably the critique of its role as a means of ‘civilizing’ the population (Bjørnsen 2012), with inherent notions of what counts as art and what participation looks like (Chrisophersen et al 2015) In the proposed application of the CR, the programme will intentionally foster participation in arts activities as both critical consumer and producer of arts reflecting elite and common cultures.


This project will extend the concept and application of the CR in the following ways. First, the concept will be enhanced through the addition of a capabilities dimension.


Second, by targeting young forced migrants and encouraging all relevant stakeholders to have greater awareness of the potential of ‘recognition’ when working with migrant and host communities. 

Inclusion of the voices of the refugee communities in the design of the programme alongside those representing the municipality ensures a reciprocal approach to programme planning and evaluation (McGregor and Ragab 2016, 17).


Moreover, the project works with our municipal problem owners and partner organizations, to see how informal activities and organic connections can also add to this sense of how culture is made and recognized (Wilson et al 2017). We will incorporate the use of ‘badges’ and portfolios as a mediating/conversational device between different actors in the city, and thereby enhance recognition of the assets of both migrant youth and the host community underpinned by a developing shared understanding of cultural sensitivities. There are several innovative aspects of this approach. These include: 


  • Modifying and testing the CR approach with new target groups and evaluating its efficacy in formal and non-formal contexts by building on existing knowledge in different contexts 

  • Identifying how different ways of organizing activities within individual municipalities affect how gender plays a role in participation in social and cultural life 

  • Testing approaches from individual contexts to see if they can transfer to new environments, and whether these can enhance cosmopolitan citizenship within notions of wider European and global identities whilst valuing people’s roots and cultures

  • Making visible what young people bring with them and recognizing their heterogeneity

  • Adding in badges and portfolios that enable migrants to articulate their aspirations and demonstrate their capability to enhance future work/learning and citizenship

  • Connecting problem holders, local actors and researchers within and across urban localities

  • Establishing infrastructure that enables sustainable on-going knowledge sharing across the three cities and beyond to other urban migration destinations in Europe.