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Laborer, citizen and neighbor: refugee subjectivity in Pittsburgh and Berlin

Eichinger, Fiona (2019) Laborer, citizen and neighbor: refugee subjectivity in Pittsburgh and Berlin. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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With 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, on-the-ground evaluation of policy-level decisions is crucial for developing sustainable frameworks. To do so, we must engage the voices of refugees whose daily life is shaped by state bureaucracy and procedures. My case studies of Bhutanese refugees in Pittsburgh and Syrian refugees in Berlin investigate the subjectivity of refugees. Data from this ethnography indicate that this subjectivity emerges from the intersection of a state’s imposed subjectification and a refugee’s agency to replicate, appropriate and resist such institutional subjectification. Regarding the former, refugee-receiving nations envision a particular future for refugees within their borders, embodied in a multi-dimensional subjectification. I focus on three dimensions of subjectification: how refugees are expected to relate to the state (citizen figure), to the economy (laborer figure), and to society (neighbor figure). Refugee agency, a reality often overlooked in the bureaucratized refugee regime, shapes how individuals replicate, appropriate, and resist such subjectification. I addressed this intersection of the institution and the individual through 22 interviews and over 300 hours of participant observation at local refugee-serving non-profits in Pittsburgh (2017) and Berlin (2017, 2018). I argue that US policy emphasizes training refugees to become self-sufficient laborers, complemented by non-demanding citizens and inconspicuous neighbors. German policy prioritizes a dependent citizen, complemented by the skilled laborer and multicultural neighbor figures. In both Pittsburgh and Berlin, interviewed refugees replicate the principally desired figure while appropriating and resisting secondary expectations. Yet in both cases, the primary economic or political condition that is most uncertain in a refugee’s life is reflected exactly in the principle figure encouraged by the federal framework, thereby incentivizing refugees to inhabit a precarious subjectivity. States compel refugees to strive for the fulfillment of a particular figure without facilitating its actualization. This contradiction perpetuates the precarity of displacement and fails to provide a durable solution.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Eichinger, Fionafge1@pitt.edufge10000-0001-7140-6858
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMatza,
Committee MemberTerry, Martha
Committee MemberCabot,
Committee MemberRamsay,
Date: 26 April 2019
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 21 March 2019
Approval Date: 26 April 2019
Submission Date: 19 April 2019
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 120
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: refugee, Pittsburgh, Berlin, subjectivity, resettlement, integration, precarity
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2019 19:44
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2019 19:44


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