At åbne skuffen: om tidligere børnehjemsbørns transformationer af selvet og den sociale verden gennem erindringsarbejde

Stine Grønbæk Jensen

    Research output: ThesisPh.D. thesis


    For more than a decade, narratives about neglect and abuse of children placed in out-of-home care in Denmark from the end of World War Two and onwards have been a centre of attention in public space, not least because of the struggle to obtain an official apology from the Danish state – a struggle undertaken by the National Association of Godhavn’s Boys, a group of former institutionalised children or care-leavers from the Boys’ Home Godhavn. The thesis deals with care-leavers who, in this particular historical landscape of memories, have decided to ”open the drawer” in order to confront themselves and others with experiences, previously surrounded by silence or oblivion. The aim is to examine how care-leavers try to transform their inner selves and their social surroundings by engaging themselves in their personal history. Empirically, the thesis is based on comprehensive field work at the Danish Welfare Museum. For more than a decade, the museum has exhibited and undertaken research, related to the history and lives of children placed in out-ofhome care, including the story of Godhavn. On a weekly basis, care-leavers contact the museum to ask for information or to share their personal version of the larger narrative. In collaboration with some of these men and women, I have created a multi-layered empirical material, which provides a nuanced insight into the multiple ways of making sense of and handling memories of an institutionalised childhood and adolescence. Analytically, I examine the practices and processes of engagement with the past as memory-work, which has a transformative potential. By working on and with the past, the memories change from something carried within the body and interwoven with everyday life to something obtaining an outer shape, which can be subject to reflection, recognition and social critique. I will argue that memory-work can be seen as an active performance of critical subjectivity, which enables a certain control with one’s life story and allows a reshaping of one's self. At the same time, the critical subjectivity activated through memory-work makes it possible to bring personal experiences into the public debate as a shared ethical and political issue. In the actual analysis, I show how the memory work of care-leavers has been actualised by the formation of Godhavn as a site of memory creating a space where 328 others show an interest as well as a willingness to listen to and believe in the narratives of care-leavers. At the same time, Godhavn as a site of memory has established a frame of meaning in which articulating and making sense of one’s own memories have become easier. I also show how the transformative potential of memory-work is activated through specific practices and processes. In particular, I show how narratives and materialities like biographical objects, places and buildings, photographs, folders and albums are used as means for an externalisation, reinterpretation and renewed formulation of the past. I especially draw attention to written biographies as a materialisation of the transformation of the self, whereas the published book can function as an independent political actor in the public sphere. The thesis is historically and anthropologically composed and throws light on the presence of the past in the present. Through my thesis, I contribute to the field of memory studies with knowledge about a hitherto underexposed field: How human beings, through active and creative memory-work, relate to, reflect on and try to break free from the way they have been shaped by the past.
    Original languageDanish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Southern Denmark
    • Petersen, Klaus, Principal supervisor
    • Sjørslev, Inger, Co-supervisor, External person
    External participants
    Date of defence31. Jan 2019
    Place of PublicationOdense
    Publication statusPublished - 12. Feb 2019

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