On 14 April, the right-wing Danish activist and party leader Rasmus Paludan was given permission by police in the Östergötland region to hold a public gathering in Linköping – a gathering at which he planned to burn a copy of the Quran. He had chosen to hold the gathering in Linköping’s Skäggetorp district, which is an area with many foreign-born residents. This led to strong resistance, and those who had gathered to protest attacked the police. Several individuals with face coverings threw bricks at police cars, and even set fire to an unmarked police car. After the event, several similar clashes took place throughout Sweden.
Afterwards, a bitter debate took place in the media, both about the police’s decision to grant permission for the gathering, and about their ability to stop similar future developments. The debate also concerned the residents’ lack of faith in the police.
Ahmed Kaharevic, PhD student in political science at LiU, is following events. He has already performed a field study in Skäggetorp, together with a colleague in 2019. He is now looking further into the issue as a part of his doctoral thesis. In the survey, in which the researchers proactively sought out Skäggetorp residents, 68 percent of the 323 participating residents indicated that they had faith in the police.
“Even though the study was carried out before the clashes, it gives another picture of the Skäggetorp residents than that which is shown in the media today”, says Ahmed Kaharevic.
Part of a larger research project
The study was performed within the framework of “A digitally sustainable society for everybody” a project at the Division of Political Science at LiU, funded by the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development. The project’s goal is to examine how sustainability is shaped by an ever more digital society of which socio-political participation and political attitudes are important parts. Some of the questions in the study concerned how much Skäggetorp residents used digital tools and e-services, as well as how much faith they had in politicians and public authorities, as well as to what extent they felt that they were active participants in society.
“What I think is interesting is that, during the clashes in April, a picture was given of low faith in the authorities and police in the district. But our study showed that 68 percent have faith in the police. There are no big discrepancies here from the figures in surveys that try to gauge faith in the police in the Swedish population in general.”
Challenges for researchers
Skäggetorp is a district with socio-economic challenges and is, like several suburbs in large Swedish cities, what researchers call a “hard-to-reach” area. For this reason, the voices of their residents are less prominent in surveys and other studies. Insights into their lives and experiences are, therefore, often missing. Decisions, both political and of other natures, are taken without reference to them. This is why Ahmed and his colleagues carried out a survey translated into several languages. The survey was handed out personally by the researchers, who were able to explain the questions in all of these languages.
“This is a good method for reaching more people, and getting more – though far from all – voices heard. We want to know more about inclusion, and use of digital social services”, says Professor Elin Wihlborg, who led the whole research project.
The approach was inspired by a method developed by Peter Esaiasson, professor at Gothenburg University. Together with colleagues, Professor Esaiasson used the method in a similar study, focussing on similar questions, in two suburbs of Gothenburg. Ahmed Kaharevic relates how the LiU researchers, instead of sending the survey via post, went to Skäggetorp physically during the course of a month.
“We knocked on doors, visited various locales, and asked the people we met to answer the survey. We even offered a voucher to those who took part. At first, we were a little worried about how people would react when we came knocking, especially when you think about the reputations of these areas. But the people we met were very welcoming, and after just three days, it felt safe and fun to go doorknocking.”
The method allowed the interview team to talk at length with the respondents, about the survey questions on exclusion and use of the internet.
“It gave the study another kind of depth, which the researchers would not have had access to if the respondents had only answered the surveys. Not all Skäggetorp residents use e-services, but many use social media to keep in touch with relatives.”
But the researchers’ method also showed that it can be problematic to carry out surveys in suburbs. This is, for example, seen in the choices made to adapt surveys to suburban populations. The usual ways of doing surveys, such as via post and online, are more anonymous. With these methods, researchers use sampling, based on established statistical logic, to get a representative picture of the respondents. However, according to Ahmed Kaharevic, this is not always suited to “hard-to-reach” areas:
“The fact that we interviewed respondents face to face, offered a voucher as an incentive, and recruited respondents through local organisations – all this was better suited to our purposes. But this also led to new challenges, and raised new questions, such as whether the respondents’ answers were influenced by the method. And can we translate all concepts correctly?”
Our methods raise questions about how far we can generalise the results
“Recruiting respondents by knocking on doors is a method that follows guidelines for producing a representative sample. However, recruiting respondents via local organisations which are not frequented by ‘all’ Skäggetorp residents is problematic”, says Ahmed Kaharevic, who is interested in developing more equitable, inclusive methods.
“Our methods raise questions about how far we can generalise the results. Are the results representative for just the respondents, or also for Skäggetorp as a whole?”
In total, 500 randomly chosen individuals were asked to participate in the survey. Of these, 323 participated in the survey. Of those who were chosen, those who were not at home or who did not answer the door were excluded. The study was carried out by several co-workers at the Division of Political Science, as well as by several student workers at Linköping University.