Communication Studies, Department of


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Kathleen Krone. Lincoln, Nebraska: October, 2011

Copyright 2011 Sarah J. Steimel


Voluntary non-profit organizations play a critical role in mediating the transition of refugees into their new host communities in the United States. Furthermore, mediation is fundamentally a communicative phenomenon, as social services are provided in through communication between nonprofit workers and clients. Critically, for voluntary mediating organizations to create empowering spaces for refugees, communication is central. In this study, I emphasize the tensional processes inherent to mediating interactions and explore how refugee resettlement organizational staff members and refugee-clients describe and manage the communicative tensions which emerge when they interact with one another.

I conducted eighteen in-depth interviews with fifteen organizational staff members from two nonprofit resettlement organizations and I conducted in-depth interviews with eleven refugees who had participated in both organizations about. Furthermore, I analyzed public documents from both resettlement organizations and engaged in participant observation at both organizations. Findings from the present study reveal that tensions surrounding (a) knowledge and expertise, (b) empowerment, bureaucracy and control, (c) rights, power, intervention and liberation, (d) openness, closedness, dialogue and privacy, and (e) integration, separation, uniqueness and uniformity profoundly impact the communicative interactions of organizational staff and refugee-participants in refugee resettlement organizations. The results are discussed in terms of practical implications for mediating organizations as well as theoretical implications for organizational knowledge, voice, empowerment and participation processes.

Adviser: Kathleen Krone