Categories and categorization are an inevitable part of our social life. It is almost impossible to observe or interact with other people without reflecting in terms of categories or groups - based on either class, gender, ethnicity or other possible ways of sorting and classifying people. Relationships in both public and private contexts are affected by imagined differences between different population groups. The authors problematize these categorizations - preferably when it comes to (real or imagined) differences between people on the basis of national origin and ethnic group affiliation. The research overview also includes observations of how the Swedish state has contributed with terminological recommendations regarding the classification of people with a foreign background, and how this has made an impression in the debate.

Some overall conclusions and recommendations

  • Publicly initiated categories and categorization (used in official statistics, for example) can work both enabling (by drawing attention to problems) and limiting (by people being locked into assigned identities).
  • Challenges that a certain group of people face can be identified by pointing out certain characteristics or categories and linking them to specific difficulties. In the long run, this can potentially strengthen the designated person's resources and position in society, but it can also contribute to stigma.
  • To gain a better understanding and decision basis future research could make contributions via international comparative studies of more and less ethnically oriented systems in population statistics.

About the report authors

The research overview, The Dilemma of Categories (2015:7), is written by Per Strömblad, Associate Professor of Political Science at Linnaeus University and Gunnar Myrberg, Associate Professor of Political Science at Uppsala University.

Picture by Bruno Martins from Unsplash.