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Negotiating tensions across organizational boundaries: Communication and refugee resettlement organizations

Sarah J Steimel, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


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 voluntary mediating organizations through communication between nonprofit workers and clients. Critically, for voluntary mediating organizations to create empowering spaces for refugees in the United States, communication is central. In this study, I emphasize the tensional processes inherent to mediating interactions and critically explore how refugee resettlement organizational staff members and refugee-clients describe the communicative tensions which emerge when they interact with one another. Additionally, I seek to understand how both staff and refugee-clients manage those tensions throughout their interactions. ^ In researching the communicative tensions present in mediating refugee resettlement organizations, I first uncovered tensions experienced by refugees in their communicative encounters with organizational staff. Second, I explored the tensions that resettlement organizational staff experienced in their communication with the refugee clients they served. Finally, I sought to understand how both refugees and organizational staff perceived themselves managing these tensions in productive and nonproductive ways. ^ I conducted eighteen in-depth interviews with fifteen organizational staff members from two nonprofit resettlement organizations about their interactions with refugee-clients and I conducted in-depth interviews with eleven refugees who had participated in both organizations about their experiences communicating with organizational staff. Furthermore, I gathered and 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.^

Subject Area

Sociology, Public and Social Welfare|Sociology, Organizational|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Steimel, Sarah J, "Negotiating tensions across organizational boundaries: Communication and refugee resettlement organizations" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3481716.