- Elgar Research Agendas
Edited by Barbara Czarniawska
Chapter 7: Making humans and nonhumans talk in diversity research
Allow me to take you to Sweden for a moment, to a training college for the electrical trades in one of the country’s larger cities. Here, I observed the following scene as part of a commissioned evaluation of a national labour market project directed at supporting recent immigrants into employment: A recent immigrant from Syria in his late 40s arrives early one morning to have his occupation as an electrician validated by a local vocational expert. This assessment includes, among other things, a multiple-choice test in Swedish. In the assessment procedure, the trainer will be helped by an interpreter, also originally from Syria. The immigrant and the interpreter enter a classroom and sit down next to one another in front of a computer. The interpreter has studied philosophy, and, as he will tell me later, does not know much about the electrical trades. The trainer explains how the test works, the interpreter translates, and then the trainer leaves the room. . . . The interpreter translates the questions as they appear on the computer screen. As he is unfamiliar with the technical terms of the electrical trade, he uses Google Translate, which he enters through his smartphone. One question in the first part of the test consists of two lists of technical terms, one in Swedish and one in English. The task is to connect the matching terms. In one instance, the men ask Google Translate to translate the term ‘Main switch’ into Swedish. However, the result, Huvudströmbrytare, is not on the list of Swedish terms on the computer screen. The immigrant and the interpreter discuss the possibility that ‘Main switch’ matches one of the two other terms that appear on the list: Huvudbrytare and Strömställare. After resolving this question together, they once again turn to Google Translate, this time to translate the term ‘Direct current’ into Swedish. Once again the result delivered by Google Translate is not on the list of terms visible on the computer screen. The two Syrian men engage in an intense debate over which of the Swedish terms on the list could match ‘Direct current’. Could it be likspänning? (Fieldnotes, 110530: 4) The government-sponsored project sought to introduce a novel procedure for integrating recent immigrants more effectively into the labour market and into Swedish society – by having their prior learning recognized and validated. The project was called VINN, but no one seemed to know what this acronym stood for – although it does allude to the Swedish word vinna, which means ‘to win’. It ran from 2009 to 2011, and its goal was to ‘test the validation procedure on 500 immigrants’. Similar to many past ‘integration’, ‘managing diversity’ or ‘gender equality’ projects, it failed to achieve its goal of quickly integrating immigrants into the labour market.
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