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UW Professor Receives Grant to Study Icelandic Immigration

October 8, 2019
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Pamela Innes

Rural communities in Iceland are more similar to Wyoming’s than you think, according to the University of Wyoming’s Pamela Innes.

The Department of Anthropology associate professor recently was awarded an $896,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue her research project, titled “Immigration and integration in rural Arctic communities” -- research that Innes hopes one day will help communities in the Equality State improve integration policies. The funding begins in March and runs through February 2023.

Innes, whose primary field is linguistic anthropology, says her study focuses on how immigrants join their new communities, specifically the ways in which integration is defined, determined and experienced. She asserts there has been no systematic investigation into the breadth and distribution of definitions across constituencies. Her research will explore whether patterns occur within the definitions and experiences offered by members of various social groups in small, rural Icelandic towns. Understanding variation and patterning across the definitions and experiences of those who migrate will clarify discussions about this topic. Colleagues from the University of Iceland will collaborate in the work.

“Much of what we are going to be looking at there will be transferable and at least worth comparing with communities here in Wyoming, given that in some ways the situations are kind of similar for rural communities here as is happening there,” she says. “We are starting to see more and more movement of people who are not considered to be local into these communities. This offsets the outmigration of younger people and some families now because of economic and political changes. We are having similar types of movements and flows.”

Innes plans to use methods commonly employed by social scientists to gather material for analysis. Over the three years, she and her group will spend three months at a time in five rural regions of Iceland interviewing; attending meetings of local groups; monitoring news and social media output; analyzing government records; and observing residents’ daily interactions. The group will search for connections between individuals’ definitions and a range of factors that may influence their responses.

“You might be kind of surprised that Iceland, sitting in the north Atlantic, has people from Vietnam and Thailand, as well as even African nations, coming there,” she says. “Practically, though, it can be difficult for different types of immigrants to come in and be allowed to enter and be accepted as individuals working with Icelanders. We are really going to be looking at what happens in real people’s day-to-day lives.”

Innes believes results of her research will assist scholars in the field of cultural geography, anthropology, sociology, migration studies and others. The results will offer information about how various groups within small communities define integration and identify integrated individuals. Attention to methodological processes also will benefit researchers using holistic, qualitative methods to examine complex social issues in comparative cases.

And with immigration a recent topic in the U.S. as a whole, Innes hopes the research will be useful to nations and states throughout the Arctic and beyond -- specifically assisting communities to improve programs and policies promoting integration.

“Discerning how residents in small, rural communities in the Arctic define integration and evaluate integrative processes also can offer models and insightful information to communities in less fragile social and ecological environments,” she says. “Results from the study will assist aid organizations and policymakers helping to relocate individuals and families to areas outside of Iceland, providing them with information about what they can do to best help them integrate and find security.”

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