Newcomer stories in the Washington Metropolitan Area: Toward the self -definitions of refugee
There are many strands of meaning to the refugee concept: refugee as legal term, as produced in the public imaginary, as object of knowledge, and as narrated by refugees who have passed through resettlement processing. These and other meanings of the refugee concept are dynamically engaged, interrelated, intersecting, and interwoven to produce a multitonal fabric that hosts multiple interpretations as well as points of tension. In this study, I look closely at several threads of this fabric of meaning---across various public domains---to focus particular attention on the refugee concept as narrated by refugees who have passed through a meaning-producing, status-normalizing apparatus, what I call the U.S. refugee resettlement industry or 'refugee industry.' The refugee industry (1) includes the international refugee regime, nation-state governments, state and local governments, local communities, and refugees themselves; and (2) comprises the entire set of governing and normalizing practices, outside of and within U.S. borders, that are confronted by individuals who come to be called refugees in the U.S. Conducting research through participant-observation in the refugee industry and the collection of personal experience narratives, I use a subset of the life story, the refugee story, as the analytic frame to answer the research question of what are the self-definitions of refugee. The refugee story is a life story landmark. Whereas the life story relates life experiences generally, the refugee story relates refugee experiences specifically. Contextualized within a tapestry of meaning and investigated at particular sites of refugee meaning production, I consider the life story excerpts of a small, diverse set of refugees from Afghanistan, Bosnia, El Salvador, Iran, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan, who live in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Located within their personal experience narratives, there are discernable 'refugee scripts' and 'refugee narratives,' important sites to the investigation of the self-definitions of refugee.