Prospective PhD idea

PhD researcher or student information

Pelopidas Flaris

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Discipline: Policy

Degrees BA: BSc in Psychology, MSc in Educational Sciences


PhD idea information

Conceptualizing protection through the depotentiation of victimhood: Can we rethink and reevaluate refugee vulnerability in a manner that informs a much elusive "integration"?

Brief description:

Is There Such a Thing as a ‘Refugee Condition’?
I do not believe in ‘refugee studies’ which conceptualize migration as a problem for development; what I also do not believe in is the colonization of refugee issues, and the idea that there exists a more or less ‘set refugee experience’. Agreeing with anthropologist Malkki, I would like to contribute to the argument that there is no such thing as “the essential refugee”, and no such thing as a single, homogeneous, and transhistorical refugee condition. Unfortunately, the contemporary refugee narrative has been shaped by these conceptions, and to this day has obstinately revolved around identifying and fixing problems for this ‘category’ of people.
Malkki partly attributes this narrative to ‘depoliticization and dehistoricization’ of refugeeness. Ever since the formal formation of the refugee camp, strategies and systems of managing mass influxes of people have been characterized by an idea that the ‘social category of the refugee’ is a moral, legal, and global issue for which a resolution ought to be sought. Their voices have been stripped, and often their trustworthiness, in the eyes of the institutions supporting them, reduced to mere complaining. Our (western society’s) ceaseless search for objective and reliable evidence has caused us to push to the side the subjective narratives of the people who we are called to support, and rather to place them in categories of wounded peoples. Fassin similarly notes that it is “the suffering body that society is prepared to recognize”, and that “greater importance is ascribed to the suffering body than to the threatened body, and the right to life is being displaced from the political to the humanitarian arena”.

On Vulnerability and Trauma
Essentially, I am talking about an imbalance in the inspiring efforts of humanitarian workers to view the people they support as equals from who they can learn, and the manner in which the infamous system forces them to perceive themselves as saviors who are there to put them on the right path. A question that is repeatedly asked is how many valuable resources are offered towards the honest support of refugees’ needs, as co-determined by them and the institutions (and not just the latter), and how many resources are wasted on reaffirming notions about refugee trauma and how a traumatized past uniformly leads to a bleak future.
The trauma discourse has inevitably bred a ‘culture of vulnerability’. People are not only automatically put in the position of helplessness, but are often called to prove the extent to which they have been subjected to vulnerability in order to ascertain their basic human rights. Regarding asylum applications, trauma is essentially the dislocated people’s social currency, while vulnerability becomes one’s passport.
The process of granting asylum in the contemporary context of Europe is perhaps one of the poignant stories of our times when talking about treatment of the dislocated. Preexistent categories determine whether someone’s story merits protection consideration, a story which is barely heard if not for the characteristics that go into checkboxes. A culture that so prides itself on its respect of human rights does not offer protection in terms of these basic rights, but in terms of vulnerability. Lawyers, psychologists, and social workers are often put in the position of ‘tutoring’ the people they support, in the hope of a positive result, meaning plain human dignity. Provided someone does get ‘protection’ through the characteristics of their story, they must further carry the vulnerability label in order for the support towards them to not be temporary. In some countries, this vulnerability legally obstructs them from pursuing a job, essentially defeating the point of a vulnerable person’s path to integration by default.


Through my involvement in the write-up of the handbook Psychosocial dimensions of the refugee condition: A Synergic Approach, I have become familiar with the theoretical framework of Professor Renos Papadopoulos. One of his central notions is that, much like every phenomenon, the refugee phenomenon is characterized by its own complexity, uniqueness and totality and also that the interventionists themselves are part of this condition to an equal extent. Following this approach, which Papadopoulos has termed synergic, presupposes as inevitable the need to first of all search for the particular and unique complexity, uniqueness, and totality of the respective refugee condition. His conceptual framework is based around the dislocated’ admirable potential for resilience, as well as what he terms adversity-activated development. These occur simultaneously with weak facets, meaning that a person is simultaneously traumatized, resilient and strengthened (with regards to different parts of their being subject to change) by various different aspects of their current and past wellbeing. It is intelligible that complexity is comprised not only by refugees, but also by those who work with/for them, as well as the context in which these parties “meet”. It is also comprehensible, though not self-evident, that the uniqueness of the refugee condition must be prevalent and must find a way to spring out every time that a “meeting” takes place, as well as that every person perceives and experiences this condition in their own unique ways, and certainly in ways that are subject to changes over time. Finally, it is comprehensible that when we make reference to totality what we mean is the recognition of the Other within the sum of their ‘humanness’ and not only their ‘refugeeness’. I strongly believe in the formation of a multidisciplinary perspective investigating the perils of vulnerability and how its institutionalization is bringing all actors involved in paradoxical predicaments. I would love to find a way to combine my recent background within refugee mental health with the interest to do ethnographic fieldwork which places people’s voices in the centre (or at the very least considers these voices) and actually relates to their lived experience rather than our assumptions for it. Ideally, this would involve a qualitative as well as quantitative exploration of i)the number of refugees that would consider themselves vulnerable, ii)the extent to which they attribute vulnerability as a positive/negative characteristic with regards to their current wellbeing, iii) professionals’ stance on vulnerability’s instrumentalization, iv) a sincere examination by institutions concerned with policy making with regards to how much damage and how much ‘good’ is really done through existing asylum policies. That said, a number of questions I would like to explore within the context of a potential project are: - Can we say what we ‘provide’ is protection? Is the definition that has been given to protection (at least its tacit acceptance) in the refugee phenomenon fundamentally flawed? Can there be such thing as protection in a camp? -How can we better identify the relationships between concepts such as the aforementioned complexity, the instrumentalization of vulnerability, and victimhood? As electing to take a victim identity to increase one’s chances of securing their basic human rights is standard practice, and the vast majority of asylum applications are rejected, are we led into a bleak future where people are fiercely competing for vulnerability marks? Anyone who has been made to leave their home is a victim; what is an effective way (from a policy standpoint) to witness and acknowledge people’s pain, without forcing them to narrate their painful stories to numerous institutions repeatedly? -From the side of the displaced people themselves, how different could things be if they adhered to their condition as a protective legal status and unique moral condition* ? If they saw refugeeness as a matter of becoming, as a trait rather than as a stigma, as a process towards a future worth looking forward to? And so, if there are refugees who conceptualize their situation in this manner, what resources have they employed in order to do so? Are there ways for them to teach/communicate this?

Keywords: asylum policies, intégration, Vulnerability

Potential language(s) of writing: English, Greek

Added to catalogue on: 21-04-2019

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