Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
SY-II-23: Young refugee’s lifeworlds between agency and restriction – empirical findings and challenges for a human right based social work discipline and practice
Wednesday, 21/Mar/2018:
1:30pm - 4:00pm

Session Chair: Dr. Pascal Bastian, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Session Chair: Dr. Caroline Schmitt, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Location: T03 R02 D82
40 Plätze, Seminarraum
Session Topics:
qualitative, Social Pedagogy/Education and Social Work, Intercultural and Migrant Education, Refugee and migration Movements - Challenges for Education and Social Work

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Young refugee’s lifeworlds between agency and restriction – empirical findings and challenges for a human right based social work discipline and practice

Chair(s): Dr. Pascal Bastian (Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz), Dr. Caroline Schmitt (Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz)

Social Work with young refugees is characterized by a tension: social workers aim to empower people and enable them to an autonomous live. However, young refugee’s power to act is dominated by their status as asylum seekers which goes hand in hand with many restrictions of agency. Professionals and actors engage between the tension of intended autonomy and limiting social structures. How the field of tension is coped with by professionals as well as the young people, is not a self-evident knowledge in social work discipline and profession. This symposium aims to analyze the possibilities, resources and restrictions of agency within the field of flight. It convenes qualitative empirical studies taken out with refugees in Great Britain, Germany and Malta. A concern of the symposium is to move beyond the restrictions imposed by national legislations and to discuss an appropriate human right-based approach for social work with refugees.


Presentations of the Symposium


Protecting Asylum seeking children on the move

Prof. Ravi Kohli
University of Bedfordshire

Asylum seeking children hope to move from danger to safety and simulteaneously integrate and disintegrate during shifts from one place to another. The lecture discusses the young people’s needs of „protection“ and „home“ to strenghten their agency. It introduces the concept of „The Scottish Guardianship Service“ that has developed its work across the asylum, welfare and social network domains to respond to children seeking asylum in humane and humanising ways by prioritising their needs for care. Analyzing the Guardianship concept and the experiences of the addressed young refugees, the lecture points out that The Guardianship Service has come to be appraised highly by young people themselves as providers of home and protection, even if the home is temporary. The lecture argues that even in temporary places, children can be protected in an embracing way, so long as the UNHCR, national policies, and local practices interlock, and so long as (social) workers work across the domains of asylum, welfare and social networks in ways that generate clarity, continuity and coherence.


Aspiring after agency - Wishes and restrictions in young refugee’s lifeworlds in Germany

Dr. Caroline Schmitt, Dr. Pascal Bastian
Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz

The lecture gives an insight into results of two different studies with young refugees that have arrived in the Rhine-Main-area in recent years. The study of Pascal Bastian analyses the needs of young refugees from a social work perspective. The study of Caroline Schmitt asks about the young people’s view on their participation in Germany. Based on qualitative interviews, the lecture reconstructs the young people’s wishes and needs and focuses on how they deal with the demands assigned to them in the asylum process. The young people express a strong educational aspiration – they want to learn the German language, extend their skills and visit school, apprenticeship and university. Another strong wish is “to give something back to Germany“: Reciprocity as a basic human need is the basis for the constitution of social relationships. It is only when the young people can be receivers and givers of support, that they can experience themselves as active subjects (agents) who participate in society. The analysis places the desire for reciprocity and the educational aspirations in connection with political and social discourses about refugees: the young people want to be perceived with their resources and abilities. A task of social work is the creation of an infrastructure which supports the young people in their wishes and works for the participation of the young people in society.


Doing participatory research with asylum-seekers – Potentials of agency and structural challenges

Dr. Susanne Becker
Max-Planck-Institut zur Erforschung multireligiöser und multiethnischer Gesellschaften

Unequal power relations and power hierarchies inherent in research relations have been a topic in social sciences for decades. This becomes especially important when working with highly vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers and refugees. While anthropological debates have long debated and acknowledged the need for reciprocity in research encounters to strengthen the agency of the researched, sociological debates have only recently opened up to more participatory research approaches. Participatory research approaches emphasis the co-production of knowledge by researchers and researched. To strengthen the agency of research participants they need to be acknowledged as co-researchers. This presentation draws on empirical research undertaken within the project “Diversity of asylum seekers’ needs and aspirations”. The ethnographic research project worked with participatory research methods like photovoice which aimed at strengthen the agency of research participants. This presentation will discuss challenges and pitfalls that arose during the fieldwork. It raises questions like: How can asylum seekers be included as co-researcher if the concept of research is unknown to them? How can we negotiate expectations of reciprocity? Herby the presentation addresses the question how participatory research methods can enable agency for asylum seekers in the research process to a certain degree and how they are at the same time caught in structural restrictions.


Contested Age: Young Refugees between Regulation, Autonomy and Vulnerability in Malta

Laura Otto
Universität Bremen

As an EU member, Malta is a port of arrival for refugees and a part of the EU border regime. Despite the EU-wide processes of harmonization concerning asylum rights over the past decades, it is still the case that the actual implementation of regulations is negotiated nationally, illustrated by the varying practices of age assessment. The analysis of my empirical data, collected during fieldwork by following both a multi-sited and a multi-perspective approach, shows that the category "age" gains importance in the migratory process of young refugees who are usually confronted with their chronological age for the first time after crossing the EU’s external border. The assigned age structures their arrival and further trajectories immensely. By referencing my empirical data as well as postcolonial theories and the concept of intersectionality, it is highlighted to what extent gender, religion and ethnicity also influence age assessment and how the refugees deal with Othering in their situation. Furthermore, it will become clear that even following formal age assessment, further “age negotiations” between institutional and non-institutional actors take place. The analysis shows that the home where they are accommodated in order to protect the “most vulnerable group of refugees“ becomes a place of new vulnerabilities and insecurities, simultaneously resulting in mutual support between refugees.

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