The concept of belonging has grown in prominence in research and policy relating to new arrivals from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds. Arguably, belonging is replacing integration and inclusion as the panacea to perceived problems associated with places and societies where new arrivals settle. Belonging is also prominent in the literature about formal and informal educational contexts. This paper problematises the concept of belonging. It draws on findings from a research project which explored how young, forced migrants, newly arrived in Europe, could be supported through engagement with arts and culture to achieve a sense of belonging in their new place. Interview data and observational fieldnotes illustrate how belonging and unbelonging are experienced through an informal education programme of arts and culture in two cities in Sweden and England. The paper sheds light on the complexity and ambiguity of belonging for the participants, arguing that ‘to belong’ is not an unequivocally positive experience for new arrivals. In an era of increasing migration, the paper calls for a new language for belonging which recognises this complexity and acknowledges that the process of belonging is reciprocal involving those who have newly arrived and those in situ in the communities in which newcomers settle.

DOI: 10.1002/berj.3946
ISSN: 02671522