Rikard Engblom

Rikard Engblom, doctoral student in Ethnology

Time Warps: Refugees and the Experience of Waiting in Rural Sweden

by Rikard Engblom

ABSTRACT This thesis explores the ways in which refugees’ experience of time is warped when they come to Sweden. It is based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Avesta, a small municipality in rural Sweden.

Refugee reception and immigration control in Sweden is characterized by humanitarian ideals that exist in tension with practices and policies aiming to restrict immigration in the name of security and stability. Each chapter of this thesis documents a different combination of these ideals and concerns, examining how they generate particular configurations of waiting. For many refugees in Sweden, everyday life is characterized by waiting—waiting to have their asylum application processed; to receive a residence permit, which grants them the right to work; to be reunited with their families to find a place in Swedish society. This process often takes several years, during which the conditions for receiving residence permit may suddenly change or be made more difficult. 

The thesis is a contribution to the recent “temporal turn” in migration studies through its focus on waiting as a productive phenomenon in vulnerable circumstances. The increased presence of refugees has given rise to anti-immigrant sentiments in Sweden, but it has also generated welcoming, compassionate responses. By addressing not only how refugees cope with living in a continual state of waiting under precarious conditions, but also how bureacracies, civil societies, and individuals respond to this waiting, the thesis discusses the sociological and ethical implications of refugees’ waiting. Time Warps demonstrates the importance of unpacking combinations of humanitarianism and securitarianism when developing a deepened understanding of refugees experience of waiting in rural Sweden.

Rikard defended his thesis on February 3, 2023.