(Nanny) State as family by proxy

Media discourses on refugee and asylum-seeking children in Norway


  • Rafael Lomeu Gomes MultiLing, University of Oslo and UiT The Arctic University of Norway
  • Elizabeth Lanza MultiLing, University of Oslo
  • Zahir Athari MultiLing, University of Oslo




critical discourse studies, family language policy, media, southern epistemologies, unaccompanied minors


In this article, we extend the boundaries of research on family language policy (FLP) by addressing the situation that occurs when the State takes over the care of unaccompanied minor refugees and asylum-seekers, thereby assuming by proxy the responsibilities normally assigned to families. We analyse media discourses involving unaccompanied minors (UMs) in Norway, a Scandinavian country perceived as having liberal policies, in a corpus of 30 articles published between 2016 and 2017, a significant period of immigration in a European context. Our analysis reveals a polarized debate around these children, often termed anchor children, who allegedly aim for future biological family reunification. Assuming the family role as proxy, Norway is referred to as a Nanny State, making decisions for the UMs regarding their well-being, education and language learning. Engaging with recent calls for decolonizing and southernizing critical discourse studies (CDS), we anchor our analysis onto decoloniality. We argue that this epistemological move allows us to identify opposing understandings of culture undergirding two competing sides in debates about UMs in Norway. The study has both theoretical and methodological implications for future conceptualizations of the family in FLP research.

Author Biographies

  • Rafael Lomeu Gomes, MultiLing, University of Oslo and UiT The Arctic University of Norway

    Rafael Lomeu Gomes is a postdoctoral research fellow at UiT The Arctic University of Norway and a Guest Researcher at MultiLing – Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan at the University of Oslo. He has served as co-editor of the book series Global Forum on Southern Epistemologies (Multilingual Matters). In his recent publications, Lomeu Gomes has worked with southern and decolonial approaches to the study of family multilingualism and media discourses.

  • Elizabeth Lanza, MultiLing, University of Oslo

    Elizabeth Lanza is Professor Emerita of Linguistics and former Director of MultiLing – Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan at the University of Oslo, a Centre of Excellence financed by the Research Council of Norway. She is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Lanza has published widely on multilingualism, addressing issues of language socialization, family language policies and practices, migrant narratives, language ideology, language policy, linguistic landscape and research methodology.

  • Zahir Athari, MultiLing, University of Oslo

    Zahir Athari holds a Master’s degree in media studies (University of Oslo) and worked as a research assistant at MultiLing – Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan at the University of Oslo. His academic interests include media discourses and Critical Discourse Analysis. He has been awarded grants from the Norwegian Non-Fiction Writers and Translators Association (NFFO) and the Fritt Ord Foundation to write a book about the women’s movement in Afghanistan.


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How to Cite

Lomeu Gomes, R., Lanza, E., & Athari, Z. (2024). (Nanny) State as family by proxy: Media discourses on refugee and asylum-seeking children in Norway. Journal of Multilingual Theories and Practices, 4(2), 265-287. https://doi.org/10.1558/jmtp.26482