chapter  8
18 Pages

Tamil Refugees in Pain: Challenging Solidarity in the Norwegian Welfare State

WithAnne Sigfrid Grønseth

This article discusses issues of power, stigmatisation and marginalisation associated with

social structures and values promoted as part of a welfare project of individual rights and

solidarity. Based on my fieldwork in northern Norway, the encounters of Tamil refugees

with the Norwegian welfare state are described, focusing on the difficulties they

experience in consulting health officials in the diagnosis and treatment of various aches

and pains. From this perspective, the welfare state effects a subtle blend of toleration and

exclusion by offering individual support and assistance in becoming ‘like us’. By giving

credit to cultural differences, health personnel might instead appreciate that, although

biomedicine and Norwegian ways and values may address many Norwegians’ pain, they

do not ease the pain of many others. Exploring pain beyond pre-defined schemes not only

gives the patient a sense of humanity and personhood but, it is suggested, teaches us new

truths about the social relations of which we are all part.