Belonging and Transnational Refugee Settlement: Unsettling the Everyday and the Extraordinary

By Ramsay, Georgina | Refuge, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Belonging and Transnational Refugee Settlement: Unsettling the Everyday and the Extraordinary


Ramsay, Georgina, Refuge


Belonging and Transnational Refugee Settlement: Unsettling the Everyday and the Extraordinary

Jay Marlowe

New York: Routledge, 2017, 180 pp.

How can refugee settlement be conceptualized and implemented in ways that foster long-term belonging and meaningful participation in civic life for resettled refugees? Such is the question at the core of Belonging and Transnational Refugee Settlement: Unsettling the Everyday and the Extraordinary. Departing from the emphasis on integration that is prevalent in forced migration and settlement literature, Marlowe advances the concept of belonging as a lens through which to examine refugee settlement. Over six chapters, Marlowe examines refugee settlement experiences across diverse international settings using case study data, qualitative interviews, and focus groups. Marlowe challenges conventional assumptions about refugees, and highlights how transcending a singular focus on the extraordinary elements of refugee lives and focusing instead on the everyday can reveal transnational and contested dynamics of refugee settlement, with implications for professional practice.

At a time when resettlement programs in numerous countries are being challenged, Marlowe provides refreshing insight into the possibilities of refugee settlement. The use of case studies from different global contexts ensures its appeal to diverse audiences. Marlowe argues that bringing the everyday dynamics of refugees' lives to the fore of research, public representations, political dialogs, and professional work with refugees is a way to challenge the dominant narratives of victimization, pathologization, and deficiency that situate refugees as abstract problems rather than actual people who lead complex lives.

A central focus of the book is recognizing the transnational dynamics of refugee settlement, which is typically characterized in forced migration literature as a predominantly localized experience. Although only around 1 per cent of refugees globally are resettled annually, examining their settlement experiences through a transnational lens reveals that the lives of the other 99 per cent who often remain within insecure, protracted displacement are significantly affected by those who are resettled: making settlement itself a crucial site of interest for understanding forced migration. Turning attention to the transnational aspects of settlement is a key contribution of the book.

Belonging is the theoretical lens applied to various case studies throughout this book. In scholarly work, belonging can often be applied in vague and uncritical ways, but Marlowe avoids this by identifying three aspects that need to be taken into account when considering how (and whether) people experience belonging in contexts of refugee settlement: social locations; identifications and emotional attachments; and ethical and political value systems. Marlowe notes the important distinction between a society that invites refugees to settle there and a society that welcomes them; between a society that tolerates the presence of refugees and a society that fosters the active participation of refugees.

This critical turn towards belonging allows the experiences of refugees themselves to inform and direct how settlement is evaluated and understood, rather than the more extrinsic and externally determined markers that are typically applied to them through integration discourses. Marlowe identifies aspects of settlement that significantly affect how resettled refugees experience belonging but have otherwise been treated as peripheral in forced migration literature, including exclusionary access to education and employment. That settlement itself can confront resettled refugees with experiences of social and economic exclusion that can be just as traumatizing as displacement is an important point that is often overlooked in forced migration scholarship. …

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