Refugee Stories in Britain: Narratives of Personal Experiences in a Network of Power Relations

Hebing, M. (2009). Refugee Stories in Britain: Narratives of Personal Experiences in a Network of Power Relations. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)

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Abstract

Contemporary Western society is permeated by a culture in which personal tales can be told and listened to continuously, which is intensified by different modes of hi-tech mass media production and consumption. However, some narratives seem to flow into public discourses and find receptive audiences much more easily than others. Personal experience stories of excluded communities, when they feed into audiences that will listen to them, have the potential to bring about social change. Indeed, lifting the silence surrounding socially excluded lives is a legitimate, democratic means of achieving social and political justice. In a globalised world it is the degree to which a person has the capacity to control the story of their lives which is considered a significant means of empowerment. Refugee narratives are mostly represented by others, mainly as part of a political strategy to control their entry into Britain, and their lives whilst their claim for asylum is being considered. A range of narratives about refugees dominates public discourses, whilst personal refugee stories remain marginalised. There is limited scope for refugees to tell their stories, and restricted access to a potential audience. As a result they lack the capacity of agency in constructing their own lives, and in having any impact on their political and social circumstances. This qualitative study explores how personal refugee narratives are situated in a network of power relations. A methodological framework involving extensive fieldwork, which includes a number of in-depth life story interviews, provides the background to the study. Narrative analysis offers a profound insight into the extent to which refugees can be seen as agents in constructing their life stories. The current social climate and policy environment determines how refugee narratives are represented, which is epitomised in the asylum determination procedure, where refugee stories need to meet narrow criteria in order to be deemed credible. In contrast, the recent academic and government interest in the personal dimension of refugee integration within social cohesion discourses, indicates the urgent need for a narrative space, or a platform where different communities can share experiences. In this context, thinking about refugee narratives as constructed within a structural setting as well as conceptualising them as a vehicle to integration and empowerment, is high on the policy agenda and remain key areas of interest for future academic research.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: School of Social Sciences > Department of Sociology
URI: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/11925

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