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Subjects of Precarity – Migration, Labor and Health

An ethnographic study of work, health and living conditions among vulnerable migrants in the Oslo area.

About the project

Over the last decade, conditions of employment and human mobility in Europe have been changing in significant ways. This is due to a combination of political and economic factors, such as the European integrated labor market and the EU expansions in 2004 and 2007; the European financial crises and austerity measures; conflict areas in adjacent regions engendering increased influxes of refugees; transnational processes of marginalization and global labor market developments with effects of exclusion and «precarization».

One result of these transformations is a growing number of people in Europe living in precarious conditions. In Norway, the economic developments influencing employment conditions and engendering the precarization of populations have also had an affect, but to a lesser extent, attributed in part to a combination of universal public welfare schemes and a highly organized labor market. However there are indications that a rising number of migrants living and/or working in Norway appear to be subject to the same processes of marginalization: who are inadequately protected by labor protection law; who suffer from poverty and destitution; and who experience restricted access to health services and social assistance, with the detrimental effects on health and well-being this process entails.

This project will probe into how this nexus of material poverty, exclusion from welfare protection, and the vulnerability to labor exploitation that follow suit, affect the health, well-being, and psychosocial experiences of this diverse group of migrants. Furthermore, it aims to improve the understanding of the political and economic context in which these experiences emerge, through a focus on mechanisms of labor exploitation and on the adverse terms on which these workers are incorporated into labor markets and relations.


The twin main objective of this project is:

  1. to increase understanding of the connections between health, employment and living conditions among migrants in Oslo with limited means, who suffer from restricted access to public welfare and population health services, and who are consequently vulnerable to labor exploitation.
  2. to explore how these conditions of precariousness translate into health consequences, and to do so in ongoing dialogue with relevant user organizations and NGOs, with the purpose of strengthening and informing ongoing and new mitigation and prevention efforts.


The project is designed as a qualitative, exploratory study, using ethnographic methodology, involving multiple modes of observational, conversational, and textual data collection. It draws on perspectives from medical anthropology with its focus on the interplay between social inequality and poor health, and ways in which social exclusion shapes embodied lived experience. It also builds on recent contributions to the medical anthropology of migrant studies and the anthropology of labor and precariousness, and it is firmly situated within the Department of Community Medicine’s long-standing priority given to inequality in health and social justice.

The project is developed as part of the formation of Gruppe for praktisk samfunnsmedisin at the Department. The group aims to conduct action-oriented research on urgent community health concerns in close collaboration with community and user groups, and civil society organizations. True to this aim, the current project is developed in collaboration with The Church City Mission and in dialogue with other organizations currently involved in monitoring the conditions of vulnerable migrants in Oslo, and in the provision of services to them, notably Caritas, the Red Cross, and LO-Oslo. Fieldwork as well as dissemination of findings will be structured by the collaboration with these programmes and organizations.



  • The Church City Mission
  • Caritas
  • LO i Oslo
  • The Red Cross Norge

Start - finish


Published Feb. 29, 2016 3:34 PM - Last modified Aug. 28, 2020 11:25 AM