08 January 2024

“Temporality is a loaded word, a hot topic that everyone is talking about today. I was one of the first to conduct research in the area.” Zoran Slavnic is a professor of Sociology at LiU. He researches and teaches to inspire others faced with future decisions involving migration, integration and ethnicity, as well as major structural, economic and political changes in society.

A man, his name is Zoran Slavnic.
“I want to inspire, not come up with solutions, and hope that my research inspires my students,” says Zoran Slavnic, who has worked as a researcher and teacher at REMESO since 2007. Karin Midner

Zoran Slavnic was promoted to professor of sociology at LiU in September 2022. He has previously worked at Umeå University (1995-2000) and at Arbetslivsinstitutet (National Institute for Working Life) in Norrköping (2000-2007). He came to LiU in 2007, and here he has worked in most areas in his field.

“I've been standing on three legs,” he says, laughing, and explains that the three legs are research, teaching and administrative tasks (including being a director of studies).

What does your research involve?

“I’ve been doing a lot of different things and I’ve just published an article on the legal status and integration of refugees. But I’d like to tell you how it all started.”

Zoran Slavnic smiles warmly and vividly describes how he came to Sweden from the war in Bosnia in 1992. His wife and two young children were already here. It meant a lot to all of them when he finally arrived and they could start their new life together, in a small village near the Finnish border in the municipality of Övertorneå.

Later, while living in a refugee reception centre in Haparanda, they became interested in Umeå, which was the closest university town. They wanted to live in northern Sweden because of the high refugee numbers around Stockholm and in the southern parts of the country. Soon after, they got a new home in Vindeln.

“We felt hesitant, we wanted to go to Umeå, not to Vindeln. It’s almost 70 kilometres from Umeå and we had our two children and a little baby. Commuting to Umeå seemed impossible. When we complained, the reply came back… `No, this isn’t the best, but it’s the second best.´”

He quickly came in contact with Carl-Ulrik Schierup and Aleksandra Ålund at Umeå University, who happened to have a large Scandinavian project underway where a sociologist from Bosnia was needed.

“I started at Umeå University as a doctoral student in 1995. The project was funded by the Nordic Council and focused on how well the integration of Bosnian refugees in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark worked. My sub-project was about the refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina who came to Sweden with Croatian passports. There were over 6,000 of them in mid-1994, and that was the first large refugee group in the history of Swedish migration and refugee policy to receive temporary, time-limited residence permits.”

The title of his thesis was: Existence and temporality: the complexity of contemporary refugee status.

“At that time, temporary residence permits were an exception and now, 30 years later, they are the rule. Temporality is a loaded word, a hot topic that everyone is talking about today. I was one of the first to conduct research in the area,” says Zoran Slavnic.

He talks about different research areas in temporality. I ask him to describe the word and he says that it means temporary, something transient, the waiting for a new status. Something that can create feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability – waiting without rights and being exploited, being an outsider.

Moving to Norrköping

Zoran Slavnic defended his doctoral thesis in 2000 and then moved to Norrköping. Several migration researchers from Umeå University moved down at the same time to start working at the National Institute for Working Life.

The Institute’s new unit in Norrköping focused on the economic aspects of international migration and the integration of migrants into the Swedish labour market. Seven years later, the same research team received a large grant from what was then the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (FAS) and is now the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (FORTE) to start the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO) at LiU.

Since then, Zoran Slavnic has worked as a researcher and teacher at REMESO. He is currently involved in an EU Horizon research project on return policies in the EU. He has passed what used to be known as retirement age but finds it difficult to stop, because he is content in his work and there is so much to research. But in 2023 he received a gentle push from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation).

“It’s a project grant that can be given to researchers, it’s called Sabbatical. The idea is that I will take a sabbatical year to finish long-term research in the humanities and social sciences. In my case, it will be a book in which I conclude my many years’ work on the subject of international migration and the informal economy. The manuscript has the working title ´Political economy of economic informalisation`.”

What is it in your research area that interests you?

“Everything! I have a broad area of interest and I’m also impulsive and find it difficult to let go of things that interest me. There are always exciting, unexplored areas that arouse my interest.”

He thinks that is why it took so many years for him to become a professor.

“I’m always starting new things and have several projects going on at the same time. When I’m out in the field, I don’t follow any template. I’m open to surprises, what’s interesting and exciting, even if it’s harder to work like that.”

What makes research in this area so important?

“My goal is that what I produce will be of great benefit to those now starting their research journey today in that field. That is, those studying the connection between on the one hand migration, integration and ethnicity and, on the other, the major structural, economic and political changes that our societies are undergoing today. I want to inspire, not come up with solutions, and hope that my research inspires my students who have their sights set on becoming officials, decision-makers, teachers or maybe politicians. I hope they will remember what we discussed at our seminars and lectures when they perform their tasks or make their decisions in the future.”

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