Communication Studies, Department of



Steimel, S. (2016). Negotiating refugee empowerment(s) in resettlement organizations. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies 15 (2017), 1-18. doi: 10.1080/15562948.2016.1180470


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In-depth interviews with both organizational staff and refugee-clients in two American refugee resettlement organizations explore how empowerment is communicated to and understood by refugees being “empowered.” This study found that while organizational staff professed empowerment focused on self-sufficiency as self-determination, in practice their communication to clients defined self-sufficiency a priori in economic terms. Refugee-clients instead constructed empowerment(s) in economic, educational, personal, and family terms. These findings highlight the need for changes in US resettlement policy and for theoretical and practical understandings of refugee empowerment to recognize polysemic and conflicting empowerments in different life arenas and from different positionalities.