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Integration and Segregation through Leisure: The Case of Finnish Somalis in Turku


Camilla Marucco

University of Turku, Turku, FI
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Unlike housing and employment segregation, leisure segregation remains under-researched. Leisure offers insights into the informality of everyday life that policies strive to address. Moreover, studies of integration and leisure are limited to sports, outdoor, and public or consumer spaces. This article explores leisure patterns among Somalis in the city of Turku, Finland, enriching the literature on leisure, race, and ethnicity through its novel geographical approach. My study shows the relevance of informal leisure practices and home-like spaces to Finnish Somalis’ leisure and contributes to discussions around leisure, gender, and class. I find that Finnish Somalis’ age, time of migration, and power relations shape leisure segregation and interactions the most. I argue that addressing power and whiteness is unavoidable to understand integration, segregation, and leisure.

How to Cite: Marucco, C., 2020. Integration and Segregation through Leisure: The Case of Finnish Somalis in Turku. Nordic Journal of Migration Research, 10(3), pp.90–104. DOI:
  Published on 27 Aug 2020
 Accepted on 21 Apr 2020            Submitted on 21 Apr 2020


Scholarly and policy debates concerning integration and segregation tend to focus mostly on employment (Aasland & Tyldum 2016; Heikkilä & Pikkarainen 2008) and housing (Rasinkangas 2014; Sundsbø 2016). In contrast to this, segregation during leisure time remains under-researched, despite the insights it offers into ‘the elusiveness of the informality of everyday life that is so difficult for policy to address’ (Long, Hylton & Spracklen 2014: 1781). Studies of integration through leisure concentrate mostly on sports and outdoor, public, or consumer spaces (Crouch 2006; Peters 2010; Walseth 2016), neglecting informal leisure practices and other spaces. Leisure studies increasingly emphasise the diversity of migration-background people and various ethnic groups (Stodolska & Santos 2006: 144). My study, with its novel geographical approach and attention to power relations, can be seen as contributing to ongoing debates on leisure and race (Stodolska & Floyd 2015: 245). Compared to the case of immigrants, investigations of leisure among refugee-background people are still limited and mostly recent (Lewis 2015). This article enriches the literature on leisure integration among refugee-background people by exploring leisure patterns among Finnish Somalis. My work lies at the crossroads of the burgeoning spatial studies on leisure segregation (Kukk, van Ham & Tammaru 2018) and the critical debate on leisure and race (Arai & Kivel 2009; Kivel, Johnson & Scraton 2009; Mowatt 2009). Focusing on the Finnish city of Turku, I adopt a migrant-centred perspective (i.e., I explore leisure through Finnish Somalis’ own ideas and experiences of it) (Stodolska 2018: 46).

In Finland, leisure studies have focused mostly on multicultural youth (Harinen et al. 2012; Kivijärvi 2015). This article concentrates on people arrived from Somalia in Finland at different times during their lives, although mostly as adults. First, I examine Finnish Somalis’ leisure patterns (i.e., practices and spaces) in Turku, especially in the districts of Ketunaho, Koivuinen, and Keltamarja, where many Somalis live—I use pseudonyms for the districts for ethical reasons. Second, I analyse the factors influencing their leisure patterns. Third, I discuss the issues shaping leisure segregation and interactions between ethnic Somalis and Finns. I do so through the lens of space: public, private, semi-private, material, and social. Through intersectional analysis (Yuval-Davis 2006), I explore Finnish Somalis’ positions and relations with regard to dynamics of leisure segregation and integration. In what follows, I present the conceptual framework, Finnish Somalis, the data, and the methods. Then, I discuss Finnish Somalis’ leisure patterns, the factors influencing their leisure, and the issues contributing to their leisure segregation and interactions. In the conclusion, I offer suggestions for future studies and policy efforts.

Conceptual Framework

Leisure can be understood in three ways: as time that is free and unobligated; as an activity other than general responsibilities; as something individuals subjectively define as leisure (Chick 1998: 115–16). The idea that migrants and refugee-background people should use their leisure time to integrate into the host society may have some currency in research and policy debates. However, such a view conflicts with the freedom typical of leisure and may indeed increase feelings of exclusion and alienation by forcing people out of their safe spaces (Long, Hylton & Spracklen 2014: 1781).

I examine Finnish Somalis’ leisure patterns by focusing on their physical and social spaces of leisure. Physical space can be understood as both the material space and the perceived space produced by everyday practices. Social space is produced by people in their everyday experiences and social interactions (Lefebvre 1991).

Integration has no universal definition (Ager & Strang 2008: 167), but it can be considered as attaining equal rights in several dimensions (e.g., housing and employment) (176). Leisure has traditionally been approached as an assimilation tool, but critical studies have shown the potential of leisure to help resist marginalisation and to reveal ‘how effective integration goes beyond, and often happens outside of functional spaces of … employment, … housing and formal organisations’ (Lewis 2015: 44–45).

I approach leisure segregation as spatial separation: when people from different ethnic groups are segregated, they may undertake the same or different leisure practices but in separate locations (Kukk, van Ham & Tammaru 2018: 2). I see segregation as a mutual process: when individuals or groups are segregated, they are separated from each other.

I propose that debates on leisure among refugee-background people are inseparable from an examination of whiteness and its normative power (Stodolska & Jackson 1998: 26). Whiteness is ‘a particular power relation that privileges–and normalises–the culture and position of white people’ and racialises leisure spaces (Long, Hylton & Spracklen 2014: 1784). White segregation is hardly ever seen as a problem, yet it is increasingly linked with the segregation of minority groups (Bolt, Özüekren & Phillips 2010: 174).

Finnish Somalis

Finnish Somalis form a heterogeneous group in terms of age and position in the life cycle at the time of migration to Finland, class, education, and occupation. I sometimes refer to them as ‘ethnic Somalis’, defining ethnicity through the mother tongue. Substantial research has been conducted on, with, and by Finnish Somalis concerning their participation in civil society (Tiilikainen & Mohamed 2013), civic integration (Harinen et al. 2013), battles for citizenship (Sotkasiira & Haverinen 2016), perceived possibilities and residential preferences (Dhalmann 2013; Nielsen, Holmqvist & Dhalmann 2015). However, their leisure patterns and the power relations at play in them remain largely unexplored.

The first Somalis arrived in Finland seeking asylum in the early Nineties (Harinen et al. 2013: 83). Subsequently, their number grew through family reunifications and the birth of new generations (Open Society Foundations 2013: 26). In 2017, 20,007 people in Finland spoke Somali as their mother tongue and 6,677 were Somali citizens (Statistics Finland). Finnish Somali youth are virtually multilingual (Oikarinen-Jabai 2015: 83), although their registered native language may be Somali. In December 2014, Somali was the sixth largest minority language in Turku (1,197 speakers), after Russian, Arabic, Kurdish, Estonian, and Albanian (City of Turku 2014). At the end of 2016, 1,383 of the 190,000 inhabitants of Turku were ethnic Somalis (City of Turku 2016).

In 2014, 42% of the Somali-speaking labour force in Turku was employed (about 130 individuals). Around 450 Turku Somalis were under 14 years of age, and about 220 were of school age; the unemployment rate among Somalis in the city was around 58% (City of Turku 2014). Compared with other ethnicities, children with a Somali background seem to feature in the lowest level of educational achievement and tend more often to stop studying after accomplishing compulsory education (Tiilikainen 2015: 66). It is common for Finnish Somalis to get married in their twenties; however, many of them postpone marriage to pursue studies and work first (Mubarak, Nilsson & Saxén 2015: 151–52).

Data and Methods

I started mapping leisure possibilities and spaces through phone interviews with workers of the City of Turku and local libraries. Subsequently, I did participant observation, informal interviews (Fetterman 2013), and group interviews chiefly with Finnish Somalis, but also with other residents, site users, and gatekeepers (e.g., people working in NGOs or youth centres). Between March and September 2017, I conducted fieldwork several days a week and at different times of the day in the three districts and in the city centre. The research field included courtyards, shopping centres, libraries, associations, sports venues, homes, and cafés. Meeting Finnish Somalis who may not spend leisure time far from their home provided more nuanced insights into their leisure patterns.

During informal interviews, I established contact with people in leisure spaces by greeting them and presenting the research. Then, I asked them about their leisure patterns and those of other people in the district. Depending on the interviewee’s availability, I asked some background information (e.g., their position in the life cycle and migration history). Informal interviews lasted from three to thirty minutes. With gatekeepers, I held slightly more structured interviews. After each interview, I recorded verbal or written notes.

I found informants through my already existing networks, by visiting leisure spaces that Somalis use, and asking them to suggest more informants. The spaces through which I accessed the field partly influenced the data. To avoid ethnic profiling, I informally interviewed people of various ethnic backgrounds and used their input as background information about leisure in the neighbourhoods to contextualise Finnish Somalis’ data. Altogether I interviewed 87 people: 71 informants and 16 gatekeepers. Forty-five informants were Somali (1 girl, 8 boys, 20 women, 16 men); 15 were Finns (7 men, 8 women); 7 were of Kurdish, Arabic, Nigerian, Iranian, and Turkish background (all men and women, and 1 girl); 14 were youth whose ethnic background remained unknown for ethical reasons. Thirteen gatekeepers were Finnish, two Somali, and one of another background; they worked in NGOs, projects, and leisure spaces.

I coded the data using NVivo, examined them through content and thematic analysis, and applied an intersectional approach to reflect the informants’ positions (gender, race, class, age, marital and parental status, and time of migration). I organised my results based on gender, crucial to investigations of leisure and power structures (te Kloeze 2001: 53).

Conducting fieldwork around people’s homes, I acted as transparently as possible. I allowed everybody to ask me questions concerning this study and my researcher role, I constantly clarified my name, affiliation, and research, and I shared my contact information. Whenever invited, I spent time with the informants as they wished: in this way and through participant observation (McAvoy et al. 2000: 484), I built trust with Finnish Somalis. Several imbalances existed between me and many Finnish Somali informants (e.g., in terms of discrimination, access to employment, and legal status). As a white researcher, I worked intensely to be aware of my privileges and position and discussed these issues with informants and gatekeepers whenever possible. Having migrated to Finland from Italy, having learned Finnish as an adult, and having Somali acquaintances helped me find common ground and build positive research relationships with Finnish Somalis. I use pseudonyms for people and places throughout this article.

This article is based on data collected in three Turku districts: Ketunaho, Koivuinen, Keltamarja, and around the city centre. I selected these three districts because Turku Somalis tend to significantly concentrate in them: this allowed me to collect data from a relatively large number of Finnish Somali informants and to preserve their anonymity. Ketunaho is a densely populated, multicultural suburb. At the end of 2016, more than 400 ethnic Somalis lived in Ketunaho, nearly one third of all the Somalis in Turku (City of Turku 2016). Koivuinen is a large suburb in Turku. There are around 100 ethnic Somalis in Koivuinen (City of Turku 2016). Keltamarja is a smaller neighbourhood; compared to Ketunaho and Koivuinen, Keltamarja has a lower but significant percentage of residents with migrant background. There are more than 150 Somalis living in Keltamarja (City of Turku 2016).

Leisure patterns

Leisure practices

Before presenting the results concerning Finnish Somalis’ leisure practices, it is worth underlining the significance of the subjective definitions of leisure, namely of how people understand leisure and whether they think they have any leisure time at all (Juniu 2000: 366). Some men—not only ethnic Somalis—argued that women know more about leisure opportunities and spaces; on their part, some women believed that men have more free time. Some informants wondered whether stay-at-home mothers and entrepreneurs have any leisure at all.

Among the Finnish Somalis interviewed, the most popular leisure practices were physical and outdoors activities, such as walking, jogging, biking, doing physical exercise and sports. Mostly, this applied to both women and men. Football emerged as a key leisure practice, particularly among men in Keltamarja, probably due to lack of other leisure opportunities, except for a football pitch. Football recurred in the fieldwork as a physical activity and a conversation topic, in videogames or in the matches that the informants would watch together on TV. Mostly men and boys, but also women, would watch the matches together in cafés or at home. Football seemed to bring together people from various ethnic backgrounds. The data suggest that, in Keltamarja, adults with a foreign background and ethnic Finns may not otherwise spend leisure time together. Football seemingly cuts across different classes as it does not cost much and Turku offers several public pitches. However, with regard to spatial segregation, football is a strongly gendered leisure activity: men and boys tend to play among themselves and so do women and girls.

Informal leisure practices, such as meeting, visiting, and chatting, were prominent among both Finnish Somali men and women of all ages. My finding reflects the significance of socialising with family and friends during leisure among Muslim immigrant people (Livengood & Stodolska 2004: 191). A recurring element in these practices was preparing and consuming food together, which can be a way to maintain a sense of self-identity following migration (Farrer 2004: 653). Organised leisure practices such as hobbies may not be particularly popular among Finnish Somalis. Men especially would go to cafés to meet new people and discuss Finnish, Somali, and global politics, play dominoes, or watch football matches. As a gatekeeper told: ‘People are dispersed … so, during their little free time, they meet and talk about the future–both in Finland and beyond’ (observation notes). Many Somali men and women spend their leisure with the family and visiting relatives, neighbours, or friends. This can be seen as ‘a less sustained performance [based on] shared history … so the exchanges need less effort and fewer cultural resources’ (Long, Hylton & Spracklen 2014: 1788; see also Stodolska & Jackson 1998: 40).

Meeting friends and hanging around, both in the district and elsewhere, were popular also among the multicultural youth interviewed in Ketunaho, where, despite the availability of leisure opportunities, some informants felt there was nothing to do. The data suggest that boys were more mobile than girls during leisure time (Isotalo 2015: 217).

Last but not least, Islam has a meaningful place in the everyday lives of most Finnish and diaspora Somalis (Tiilikainen 2003). However, Islam emerged only a few times during fieldwork. Some Finnish Somalis would use leisure time to read the Qur’an, attend the Quranic school, or take children there. Many religious communities and mosques play a proactive role in family welfare, identity building (see Martikainen 2014: 94), and integration processes. They can be seen as contributing to ‘positive integration’, which, through Islam, places values to the centre of integration processes and promotes ‘Muslims who are full-fledged members of their European societies … with the guidance of their faith’ (Al-Sharmani 2017).

Leisure spaces

The home constituted a recurrent leisure space for both Finnish Somalis and people of other ethnic backgrounds. This was particularly relevant in Keltamarja and Koivuinen, possibly due to their residential character. For many Finnish Somalis, the home is a key socialisation place. Nonetheless, it would be incorrect to consider it as their only leisure site (see also Livengood & Stodolska 2004: 197), especially with regard to women: many Finnish Somali women go for walks in the district and elsewhere, practise sports, and move around the city with their children. In my data, the home lay at the intersection of the family and leisure spaces. Extended families of Finnish Somalis may live in the same apartment, house, or neighbourhood. For many, the neighbourhood is a large family helping bring up children; interestingly, such mutual support and social contacts do not occur only with co-ethnics (Dhalmann 2013). This finding underlines the importance that private leisure spaces have for many Finnish Somalis, complementing the literature on leisure and integration. Interestingly, many of the physical leisure spaces of Finnish Somalis recalled the cosiness of living rooms, with armchairs and small tables that the customers could place where they liked.

After the home, the outdoors was the most popular leisure space. Residents of Keltamarja, including Finnish Somalis, would walk in the surrounding nature or sit and chat in the courtyards. People with a minority ethnic background tend to spend their leisure closer to home and to be more family-oriented (Juniu 2000: 358). The outdoors and football social spaces of Keltamarja appeared quite multicultural: people of various ethnic backgrounds used them. Unlike Ketunaho and Koivuinen, Keltamarja does not have a library of its own; together with youth centres and associations, libraries offer most leisure activities in Finland. As to the social spaces of Keltamarja, during fieldwork I encountered no young adults without children; one resident commented that many people around 20 years old leave Keltamarja to pursue elsewhere their studies, work, and leisure.

In Koivuinen, in addition to the home, a common leisure space was the youth centre, used by people of different ages for various purposes. In addition, many used the library during leisure time, especially children and families. In contrast to Keltamarja and Ketunaho, Koivuinen did not seem to have many multicultural leisure spaces, except for the library, the youth centre, and particular courtyards where people of various ethnic backgrounds spent some leisure time. The data suggest that, except for the home, local adults may lack spaces to meet in Koivuinen, unless they go to public consumer places (i.e., pubs and restaurants). Thus, Koivuinen seemed to lack informal, non-institutional, and free leisure spaces.

In Ketunaho, I encountered the most multicultural leisure spaces (e.g., the football pitch—where festivals and events are held in the summer—the institutional spaces of the library and associations, and a shopping centre with its benches where many people, including Finnish Somalis of different ages, would sit and chat). Leisure social spaces in Ketunaho appeared to be quite gendered, with males using most of them.

My data suggest one peculiarity concerning Finnish Somali women’s leisure spaces. In the meeting place for women in Keltamarja, women would perform their work practice, handle bureaucracy, study the Finnish language, and enjoy some leisure time together while being near to their children. Similarly, in the Somali shop in Ketunaho, women would come not only to buy things, but also to sit and chat with the owner or other customers. In such spaces, the multiple positions and practices of the women as mothers, workers, or students intersected with their leisure practices.

Factors influencing leisure

Across all research sites, the main factors influencing leisure were linked with the informants’ positions: gender, age, class, employment, marital and parental status, language skills, religion, drinking alcohol or not. The only exception to this was the weather, which had the most influence on leisure, particularly in Keltamarja and Koivuinen, probably because of their physical space (i.e., their residential landscape). In the following sections I concentrate on gender, class, and availability of services as factors influencing Finnish Somalis’ leisure.


Gender is a valuable perspective in the research on leisure (Stodolska & Floyd 2015: 247). In my data about Finnish Somalis, leisure patterns intersected prominently with the informants’ gender. The leisure patterns of Finnish Somali men and women can be profoundly different. Thus, their social leisure spaces are gender segregated, as the literature on Muslim immigrants confirms (Livengood & Stodolska 2004: 192). As a Somali gatekeeper shared

Although much has changed in the West due to inter-generational diversity and migration, there is a clear gender divide when it comes to leisure: Somali men and women have completely different leisure activities and spaces. This is partly connected with cultural values, practices, and social and religious norms. (Gatekeeper 2018, pers.comm., 5 February)

Separate leisure spaces for women and girls may provide them with a sense of freedom and safety, support in childcare, and time for themselves. As such, these separate spaces have a positive value. Nevertheless, on some occasions, men and women did spend leisure time together.

The Finnish Somali women I interviewed reportedly spent their leisure with other women shopping together, visiting each other, watching movies at weekends, being with the children, chatting while drinking tea or cooking together. Somali male informants would spend leisure with fellow men, often playing together, practising sports and outdoor activities. Many men told that they socialise in cafés, sharing experiences and views about several topics and exchanging information (Farrer 2004: 654).

There are important inter-generational dynamics and shifts among Somali women. More and more young women are now attempting to break the gender-specific notion of leisure. Like men, they want to spend their leisure with anyone they deem to socialise with. This is a new and rare phenomenon which is taking shape. (Gatekeeper 2018, pers.comm., 5 February)

My data suggest that the leisure practices of many Finnish Somali mothers can be spontaneous, spatio-temporally fragmented, and dispersed. Many women may spend their leisure time here and there while running errands, often in groups (e.g., walking to the supermarket, sitting and chatting in the courtyard, or at home with friends and neighbours between one daily chore and another). This observation applies particularly to those women with no work outside the home. The following excerpt illustrates the spontaneity of women’s leisure and its intersections with gender, namely with the broader organisation of women’s everyday life:

In Somalia, Waris would invite her friends to a restaurant to eat together, but here she cannot, it is expensive. She recalled everyday life in Somalia: you are home with the kids, you make food, a neighbour or a friend knocks on your door–all this is spontaneous and mostly unplanned. Life in Finland is different: here, if you ask people to meet, first they have to check their calendar–she said laughing. Leylo added that, in Finland, there is a defined time for everything: one hour to study Finnish, one to clean, one to eat, one to read the Qur’an, … There is one system in Finland, one system in Somalia, Waris concluded. (Observation notes)

In sum, following migration, Waris’ leisure social spaces shrank and formalised, while her practices lost spontaneity (Juniu 2000: 371).

In the data, gender intersected with age and family roles, chiefly for girls and women, revealing the connections between the spaces of the home and leisure. According to gatekeepers, compared to many migrant mothers, girls with a migration background seemed to spend more leisure time with their ethnic Finnish friends. This can be considered valid also for Finnish Somalis and may be explained by different time availability, the time of arrival to Finland in one’s life, and the fact that many of these girls have grown up in Finland.

Some gatekeepers shared that girls with a migration background, including ethnic Somalis, could be expected to learn something useful through leisure; unlike boys, they may have to show the product of their leisure to their families. This finding adds nuances to the idea that non-Western cultures value more ‘passive’ uses of leisure time (Stodolska & Floyd 2015: 246), underlining the importance of intersections between gender, leisure, and cultural practices. Some leisure workers struggled to involve girls with a migration background, as many may be engaged in housework after school and some parents may not trust youth centres (Isotalo 2015: 218). Thus, some gatekeepers working with the youth kept closely in contact with families to build trust and to support the girls’ right to leisure.

Finally, as regards integration and the spaces of home and employment, many Finnish Somali families divide the work in and out of the home between women and men. In these cases, women tend to first take care of the home and small children while men apply for studies, trainings, and jobs. In some families with a migration background, only men work outside the home. According to Ismail (2016), ‘Finnish Somali children are raised by their mothers’. However, many female informants also studied the Finnish language, trained for their profession, searched jobs, or were employed while having small children. Many women may pursue a professional education and become employed only when the children go to kindergarten; this can hamper or slow down the development of Finnish language skills, thus complicating women’s employment and integration. This discussion has shown that the leisure patterns of many Finnish Somali women interviewed were often linked with their patterns of motherhood and housework.

Class and availability of services

Class and the availability of services appeared to influence the informants’ leisure particularly in Koivuinen. Social class is a structural mechanism shaping the rhythms, spaces, and contacts during leisure time (van Ham & Tammaru 2016: 958), as this excerpt suggests:

Zeki, a man of other background than Somali, has been living in Koivuinen for more than a decade. He speaks about the neighbourhood and Finland in general. Before, people would go out more often, but now unemployment is high, it costs to go out to drink, then to the disco or so. Thus, people … spend part of their leisure at home, and later they go out. I comment that Koivuinen does not offer many places to go, but for Zeki this is not the main reason. He says some people just have money for the rent … and the car. If one has enough money and does not think about tomorrow, s/he goes out, enjoys food, drinks … and maybe tomorrow something will happen for which s/he would need that money, but the money is gone. (Observation notes; see also Stodolska & Santos 2006: 157)

At the time of fieldwork, Koivuinen was witnessing a progressive decrease of local services, businesses, and leisure activities for adults. Some residents had to find leisure opportunities outside the district. However, this cost too much time and/or money for some of them. Most informants had free time during weekends, when there are fewer buses to the city centre; some of them commented that, in contrast, Ketunaho has everything necessary. Thus, leisure practices intersected not only with class, but also with the temporalities of leisure and the material spaces of the neighbourhood.

Leisure segregation and interactions

From the perspective of Finnish Somalis, interactions between ethnic Somalis and Finns during their leisure time are shaped mainly by two factors: first, age and time of migration, which can influence the development of language skills; second, by power relations and norms, which perform through racism, different socialising practices, and individual attitudes. The dynamics of interaction between ethnic Finns and Somalis during leisure should be recognised as subjective and nuanced; indeed, the experiences among Somalis can be extremely varied (Mubarak, Nilsson & Saxén 2015: 191). Furthermore, individual integration paths can differ and influence leisure significantly (Stodolska & Floyd 2015: 244).

Concerning age and time of migration, the data suggest that Somalis who came to Finland as children or teenagers and spent several years in Finnish schools may socialise better with ethnic Finns and spend more leisure time with them, compared to those who moved to Finland as adults. Generally, the school emerged from the data as a key socialisation space influencing leisure patterns (Turjanmaa 2017: 9). Nonetheless, making Finnish friends can be challenging for Somali people who arrived in Finland as children or teenagers (61).

Many Somalis who migrated to Finland as adults may not spend their leisure with ethnic Finns or speaking Finnish; there seems to be the most distance between adult Somalis and adult Finns (Mubarak, Nilsson & Saxén 2015: 193). However, some informants did spend some leisure time with ethnic Finns going out together, chatting, or looking after children in the neighbourhood. The data suggest that Finnish Somalis—and people with a migration background in general—who are older than 20, learning Finnish, have no job yet, and did not attend school with ethnic Finns may have a harder time advancing their language skills and socialising with ethnic Finns than those who went to school with them. If people who have arrived from Somalia and ethnic Finns do not socialise through studies or work, many of them may struggle to establish relationships that would allow Somalis to improve their language skills and spend their leisure ‘in Finnish’. Therefore, more supporting policy efforts should be made that concentrate on people learning Finnish in the phase between compulsory education and employment in order to buttress and facilitate interactions between ethnic Somalis and Finns in that transition moment.

Many Somalis perceived Finnish language as crucial to accessing social networks and information about the environment, culture, and systems. They saw the language as a key to interaction and independence. As Khadija, a young mother, commented, ‘Many Somalis have at least one incentive to learn Finnish: to access information, you have to know Finnish well enough, otherwise you may be dependent upon the help and time of others who are proficient’ (observation notes). Proficiency in the main language of the receiving community has been recognised as central to integration (Ager & Strang 2008: 182). Surprisingly, most Finnish Somali informants would not claim that Finnish language proficiency directly shaped their leisure; rather, some Finnish Somali men observed that limited proficiency could thwart their interactions with ethnic Finns in general. According to many Finnish Somali informants, insufficient or developing language skills can make them feel ‘disconnected’ and not confident enough to ‘make the first move’ towards interaction with Finns (observation notes). Language barriers may turn interaction into an unwanted effort, which goes against the freedom of leisure (Stodolska & Santos 2006: 148). Leisure time being scarce and perceived as one’s own, some people may just spend it ‘in Somali’, which can be seen as requiring ‘a less sustained performance’ (Long, Hylton & Spracklen 2014: 1788). Being with co-ethnics or retaining ethnic traits during leisure time allows people to ‘maintain contact with their traditional culture, families back home, keep up with news from the home country’ in an unfamiliar environment where individuals strive to rebuild their lives and work can prove stressful (Stodolska & Floyd 2015: 246). Also, it may provide a safe space vis à vis discrimination, racism, and insufficient language proficiency (Juniu 2000: 377).

Spending leisure time with co-ethnics may not always be at odds with integration. The Somali community in Turku provides valuable support networks for many individuals, especially to newcomers: ‘When someone is new, the local Somalis invite them, they show them around’; ‘Somalis always have someone to be with and things to do as soon as they arrive as asylum seekers’ (observation notes). For example, the Somali Society of Western Finland (Länsi-Suomen Somali Seura in Finnish) pursues ‘informal integration’ for newcomers—not just Somalis—both in their native language and in Finnish: they show newcomers around, share information about the Finnish system, and spend leisure time together. Moreover, some Finnish Somali communities are 30 years old and the Finnish Somali underage population is substantial: many of these people use both Somali and Finnish in their everyday life to share knowledge about life in Finland. Recognising their contribution to integration can help newcomers’ transition to their new home (Juniu 2000: 378). Co-ethnics may contribute to sharing and increasing newcomers’ ‘broader cultural knowledge’ of their new home country (Ager & Strand 2008: 182). In such cases, ethnic spatial segregation during leisure may not be incompatible with integration and indeed have concrete benefits for it (Ager & Strang 2008: 178; see also Bolt, Özüekren & Phillips 2010: 177).

All the dynamics analysed in this section are lacking unless considered in connection with the prevalent problems of racialisation and discrimination—although few Finnish Somali informants mentioned these issues. Racism and the fact of being identified as black or brown in an overwhelmingly white space can influence interactions significantly, also in leisure spaces. As Nuur, a young Somali man, suggested, ‘It is one thing if I, a white woman, enter a black or Somali café, another thing if he, a black man, enters a white café’ (observation notes). People of African descent can be more apprehensive of entering prevalently white spaces than others regarded as white and thus perceived as invisible (Long, Hylton & Spracklen 2014: 1786). Because whiteness is assumed to be the norm, black and brown people are identified based on their appearance and positioned as different (Stodolska & Jackson 1998: 35). Racism recurred more often in the data from Somali men—although racism targets women, too. Experiences of racism can weigh significantly heavy in a person’s everyday life and can influence the use of public space also during leisure (Stodolska & Floyd 2015: 248). Finnish Somalis are recognised as one of the most discriminated ethnic groups in Europe in the education and employment domains; many Finnish Somalis have reported being harassed and discriminated against on the street, in the shops, or by the police (Open Society Foundations 2013: 13–14, 43). Thus, they may feel unsafe, isolated, and insecure. Integration and feelings of security are closely intertwined (Ager & Strang 2008: 183–84). Spending leisure time with co-ethnics socialising in semi-private or private spaces may also be a reaction to discrimination (Farrer 2004: 653): through their leisure practices, Finnish Somalis create and participate in material and social leisure spaces that they perceive as friendly and familiar (Stodolska & Jackson 1998: 39).

As to the contextual power relations and norms concerning public and leisure spaces, many Finnish Somali informants would use their body and speech to express emotions in ways which are often considered expansive, unusual, or improper in public spaces in Finland. The informants knew this, as they encounter such norms daily. They thought they could not behave the same way in leisure spaces where the owner and customers were not Somali or familiar people or had different expectations and practices as to leisure; Finnish Somali informants felt they could end up disturbing the other customers. Certain individuals and groups ‘may be perceived as less conforming to what is accepted as a social standard’ (Stodolska & Jackson 1998: 43), which can contribute to prejudice and discrimination against them and influence their leisure patterns.

As my analysis has demonstrated, socialising is a common leisure practice among Finnish Somalis, especially men. In general, different socialising strategies can shape interactions. Ethnic Somalis share a strongly oral culture: many of them socialise by greeting people, shaking hands, and chatting. For many Finnish Somalis, small talk is a means of getting to know new people. Although there are variations, socialisation through small talk may be rarer among Finns who, for many Somali informants, were ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ and who may rather socialise through established social spaces such as the school, workplace, or hobbies. This finding reflects the ‘lack of informal communication between people’ described by Juniu (2000: 370). Some informants who were studying Finnish language mentioned that they would benefit from having someone to speak Finnish with. Nonetheless, diverging socialising strategies can make it harder for ethnic Somalis to connect with ethnic Finns.

Finally, it is important to recognise that individual and mutual attitudes shape leisure interactions among both ethnic Somalis and Finns. Attitudes emerged from the data as linked with power relations, class and education, experience, and self-motivation (e.g., to learn Finnish, make friends with people of different backgrounds, and spend leisure time in different languages). Significant variations exist within the same ethnic group due to each individual’s own personality and life history (Livengood & Stodolska 2004: 203). Several Finnish Somalis noted that many Finnish people would listen to them, but only some would dare to respond and interact more. From a group interview with five Finnish Somali men

These informants say that integration is a two-way interaction. They feel that it would be easier if Finnish people were more open, positive, and interactive with Somalis. However, these informants perceive Finns as closed, so interaction is hard. They think that, if newcomers could combine the language they learn at school with everyday communication, it would be easier for them to understand the country, the culture, and to integrate with each other. (Observation notes)

This powerful reference to two-way integration is reflected in the document Position on the Integration of Refugees in Europe by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE 2002). Mutual attitudes are connected with language skills: weak or developing language skills can hamper the development of mutual knowledge and familiarity. This feeling of prolonged disconnection can complicate fighting the prejudice, which exists among both ethnic Somalis and Finns. Language challenges and unfamiliarity with the lifestyles of the new home country can constrain the leisure of migration-background people (Stodolska & Santos 2006: 148). While some literature may see leisure as supportive of the development of language skills and of proximity to dominant groups, sometimes leisure patterns are influenced more by social contacts than the reverse (Long, Hylton & Spracklen 2014: 1787). My data enriches the existing scholarship by stressing the mutuality of integration processes, easily overlooked in studies adopting the assimilation and acculturation paradigms (Stodolska & Floyd 2015: 244).


In this research, I have explored leisure patterns, segregation, and interactions among Finnish Somalis in Turku. Sports, physical, and outdoors activities appeared to be popular leisure practices among Finnish Somalis. My study enriches the literature on leisure and integration by discussing how sports and outdoors activities can be gendered and gender-segregated. Moreover, a main contribution of this article is that it showed the prevalence of informal and spontaneous leisure practices among Finnish Somalis, such as meeting friends, visiting, and socialising around meals.

In general, the home and home-like physical spaces have emerged from this study as popular among Finnish Somalis. This appears to be in contrast to most of the studies on leisure and integration, which concentrate on public and consumer spaces. Thus, semi-private and informal spaces deserve more attention both in the research and in policies addressing integration and leisure.

A broad range of factors influence leisure among Finnish Somalis. Based on my analysis, some important factors were external—such as the weather—but most were linked to Finnish Somalis’ various positions, in particular gender and class. This research identified gender as the main form of leisure segregation among Finnish Somalis. Gender shaped the spatio-temporalities and mobilities of leisure among the Finnish Somali informants; however, this study found that noteworthy, inter-generational differences exist, and changes in women’s and girls’ leisure practices are underway. Separate leisure spaces can sometimes benefit women. The novel case of Koivuinen supports the existing literature by showing how unemployment and decreasing service availability can influence leisure patterns.

The main issues shaping leisure segregation and interactions between ethnic Somalis and Finns emerged as being age and time of migration, on one side, and power relations and norms, on the other. Age and time of migration can influence the development of language skills, which are central to interaction and experiences both in leisure and in other spaces. Interaction between ethnic Finns and Somalis may prove hard when they have not attended school or worked together. At the same time, it is worth remembering that interaction experiences among Finnish Somalis are nuanced and subjective.

Spatial de-segregation can be seen as a precondition for interaction. Nonetheless, my analysis suggests that leisure ethnic segregation may at times support integration by increasing newcomers’ cultural knowledge of Finland. Spending time with co-ethnics can also provide safe spaces for Finnish Somalis and other racialised people and allow them to preserve elements of their culture. Analyses of leisure segregation and interactions are lacking if they do not address the power relations, whiteness, and racism affecting leisure patterns; therefore, future research and policy efforts should concentrate on these issues.

In conclusion, my research has confirmed that ethnicity alone cannot explain leisure patterns (Kapoor 2013: 453). More intersectional analyses addressing power relations and the multiple dimensions of integration are needed to better understand the dynamics of segregation and interaction. Both in research and policy, future undertakings should consider the specific social and cultural concerns, as well as any other possible concerns influencing leisure patterns, segregation, and interactions.

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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