Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Symposium 9: Reconceptualising the Refugee Experience for Social Work Research and Practice: A Cultural Psychology Perspective
Friday, 18/June/2021:
3:30pm - 5:00pm

Session Chair: Mariann Martsin
Location: Parallel Session 1

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Reconceptualising the Refugee Experience for Social Work Research and Practice: A Cultural Psychology Perspective

Chair(s): Mariann Martsin (Tallinn University, Estonia)

Discussant(s): Mariann Märtsin (Tallinn University)

Contemporary lives are increasingly characterized by periods of intense uncertainty, experiences of which are being constructed by historically shaped collective imaginations about what uncertainty is and when, how and by whom it could and should be experienced. In this symposium, however, we move away from examining uncertainty as a ’critical’ life-period related to personal or societal moments of rupture and change, and instead focus on the experiences of refugees for whom uncertainty is a common feature of their everyday life. In doing so the symposium builds on the conceptual framework of cultural psychology that directs our attention away from crisis and trauma and towards the everyday meaning making practices of refugees. For it is through these everyday practices that refugees start to integrate their experiences and imagine pathways out of uncertainty, that they can then pursue in their lives. The three papers in this symposium examine these issues in three different contexts. Shapiro, in her paper, examines the everyday practices of Syrian families as they move through different contexts of asylum and reception in Denmark. Her analysis explores how parental care is shaped and challenged by continuous disruptions and changing conditions for everyday family life while stressing the reciprocity between children and parents. Omland and Andenæs, in their paper, turn their analytic gaze towards the context of foster care of unaccompanied minors in Norway and examine how foster parents and the young people in their care carry out relational negotiations about who they are and can be for each other. Samuel, in her paper, examines the experiences of refugee women in Estonia, building on data from photo-elicitation interviews and discussing, among other things, what can be gained from using such alternative methods when working with refugees. Together the papers suggest that by turning away from conceptualizing refugee experience as centered primarily on crisis, trauma and uncertainty, and focusing instead on everyday meaning making practices, the resilience, resources and relationships in refugees’ lives can be foregrounded and explored. The papers thus open up alternative ways of working with refugees that can support and enhance social work research and practices.


Presentations of the Symposium


Parental care in trajectories of forced migration – continuous disruptions, hyper-precarity and rebuilding of everyday family life

Ditte Shapiro
University College Absalon, Denmark

Forced migration has a major impact on family life while increasingly restrictive immigration and integration regimes make everyday life of refugee families hyper-precarious. Critical events and changing conditions of everyday life on personal, social, societal and global levels call for innovative research questions and methods enabling the development of conceptualizations in order to grasp the complexity of the current social reality of refugee families and social workers alike. Most social work and psychological research on parental care in refugee families draw on a deficit perspective focusing on the parent-child relationship based on attachment and trauma theory. Some research points to a spiral of multiple loss and consequential limited socio-economic resources that seriously challenge parents in the process of rebuilding everyday life, but without offering new conceptualizations concerning parental care. With this gap in research concerning parenting in light of forced migration in a contextual and social psychological perspective, the paper will pursue the following questions: How is parental care being shaped and challenged in the disruptive trajectories of forced migration and demanding processes of rebuilding everyday family life in Denmark? The paper explores this process empirically and by unfolding an analytical understanding of parental care as part of different structures of social practice shaped by the participation of family members in different contexts. By drawing on a subject-theoretical perspective on the mutuality of family members and others, the analysis shows how parental care are molded by multiple disruptions in trajectories of forced migration and hyper-precarious conditions in Denmark. The analysis draws on an ethnographically inspired practice research study conducted in cooperation with five Syrian families while they were awaiting asylum and during their first year with a temporary permit in Denmark. The paper offers empirical insight and unfolds a conceptualization of parental care to strengthen the focus on the reciprocity of children and parents in the light of everyday challenges of refugee families in social work.


Expanding notions of family-based care for unaccompanied refugee minors? An exploration of relational negotiations between foster parents and unaccompanied foster children in Norway

Guro Brokke Omland1, Agnes Andenæs2
1Bjørknes University College, Norway, 2University of Oslo, Norway

How do unaccompanied refugee minors living in foster homes in Norway, re-create their lives and futures in exile? This paper explores some of the challenges these young persons have to handle to create a livable everyday life and sustainable futures, and the kinds of developmental conditions foster care arrangements may constitute for the young persons. In Norway, daily care is, for most of the unaccompanied minors, delegated to residential care institutions, and only for very few, to foster care. For children who cannot live with their parents, foster care is considered to be a more adequate care arrangement than residential care because it is supposed to facilitate individualized care and stable relationships. Foster care is even less common for unaccompanied minors than for children from the majority population in Norway. This situation has been linked to the older age distribution of the unaccompanied minors and the difficulties in recruiting foster homes for older children as well as finding a foster home with a so-called 'good match'.

The authors explore ways of 'doing' foster care and the expectations of both foster parents and the unaccompanied children to the foster care arrangement. Building upon the notion of "relational negotiations" (Ulvik, 2007), the paper presents an analysis of the variation of notions about who the foster children and foster parents possibly can "be for each other" within this arrangement. The analysis is based on an interview study conducted with unaccompanied refugee minors and their caregivers in Norway during the resettlement phase. The data material consists of transcribed qualitative interviews with those of the young persons who lived in foster care, and their foster parents, comprising of four cases. The analysis underlines the importance of transcending family-centered notions of foster family practices and elucidates the relevance of elaborating alternative conceptualizations of how foster care can be «done» in ways that facilitate the young persons' well-being and sustainable development. The study contributes to social work practice by inviting to think creatively and innovatively about how care for unaccompanied young persons can be practiced and conceptualized.


Looking for new ways of working with refugees in social work research and practice

Annela Samuel
Tallinn University, Estonia

The refugee research field is dynamic and interdisciplinary. Depending on the specifics of the target group, alternative research methods may also be needed to open up and understand the experiences of this group in academic inquiry of social work. The analysis presented in this paper focused on the migration experiences and adaptation of female refugees from Islamic countries living in Tallinn, Estonia, explored from the viewpoint of cultural psychology, especially the theory of symbolic resources. The study used photo-elicitation interviews with women to enter their unique life-experiences and engage them in joint meaning making about these. The results suggest that in order to understand and support refugees, it is important to study their specific, unique and idiosyncratic experiences and trajectories as these unfold in their everyday life. These everyday life experiences, which to us may seem ordinary and unimportant, can in reality help us to transform the “invisible” world into “visible” and understandable, and also see refugees from a different perspective. By exploring the women’s everyday experiences in this study, it became clear that the women were connected through a constant rethinking and repositioning of their own migration experience, which transformed all of their experiences unique. The study results show that the changes in the personal culture of each woman due to the experience of forced migration were unique, affected by the person’s past life-events and in turn influencing their future. The use of art-based methods in this study greatly supported the analysis and suggested that these kinds of methods can be useful not only in academic inquiry, but can also support social workers in their everyday work.

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