Identity Navigation During Refugee Experiences

ABSTRACT - In 2018 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asserted that there are 25.4 million refugees worldwide. News media, state actors, and other bodies speak about refugees in ways that emphasize certain aspects of their experiences. We do not often hear how those identified as refugees speak about themselves and how they navigate their identities in the context of information. This article asks: How do self-identified refugee communities in Athens, Greece, and Hamburg, Germany, engage with information spaces during their refugee experiences to navigate identity in new receiving-society contexts? Drawing on Erving Goffman (1959) and Webb Keane’s (1997) idea that information transmission through interaction is at the center of identity development, this research uses a mixed method of semi-structured interviews and embedded participant observation. The findings expose three challenges to identity navigation at both sites: prolonged liminality, unfamiliar information spaces within receiving societies, and misinformed information spaces within receiving societies. In addressing these challenges, participants balanced tremendous effort and agency with the effects of systems beyond their control. The implications of our findings relate to the viability of liminality theories and the need for policy modifications to encourage receiving societies to assume responsibility for aspects of identity work within their control.

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