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Telling stories, re-imagining lives:
An inter-disciplinary examination of arts-based methods & life-stories as a vehicle for self-expression among refugees & asylum seekers.

STAVROPOULOU,, NELLI (2020) Telling stories, re-imagining lives:
An inter-disciplinary examination of arts-based methods & life-stories as a vehicle for self-expression among refugees & asylum seekers.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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As news stories around the ‘refugee crisis’ permeated the British social imagination in a Brexit vote era, new questions around notions of belonging, borders, and (im)migration emerged. Refugees and asylum seekers, now more than ever, are represented in accordance to dominant narratives and in a variety of visual forms through news media, advocacy campaigns, films, and popular culture, amongst other means. Despite their hyper-visibility, stories of those seeking asylum are more often told about them by others rather than by those seeking asylum themselves. Asylum-seeking stories emerge within a matrix of power relations responding to different narrative landscapes, expectations, and audiences. Within the current ‘hostile environment’ in the United Kingdom (UK) and across Europe, the need to tell stories in a ‘safe’ space becomes imperative.
Through combining biographical work with arts-based methodologies, the project adopts an ethno-mimetic methodological framework that facilitated the production, exchange, and creative re-interpretation of stories of living in exile. An 18-month fieldwork period, involving life story interviews, creative sessions and photo-elicitation discussions, yields the data on which this study is based. Drawing on symbolic interactionism and social constructionism theories, this research examines how individuals seeking asylum (re)present themselves through their stories and explores how such experiences are negotiated by participants in an attempt to respond to the expectations of the ‘good refugee’.
Through an exploration of interviewees’ journeys (physical, legal and resettlement), this study reveals the enduring impact of immigration policies on individuals seeking asylum in the UK. More importantly, it identifies a particular sociopolitical moment that is defined by increased hostility, punitive policies, and disbelief, as well as legal, cultural, and narrative expectations over asylum seekers’ ‘deservingness’. This thesis argues that an arts-based approach to research can transform individuals’ lives by allowing them to participate meaningfully in the production of knowledge; by feeding their creativity and existing storytelling skills into the research process; and by initiating a safe space for participants to tell personal stories that may remain unheard as a result of the narrative expectations of the deserving/undeserving; weak/strong; grateful/ungrateful ‘refugee’ (Sales 2002; Taylor 2016; Stavropoulou 2019: 94).

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:migration; storytelling; arts-based research; refugee stories
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Sociology, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:29 May 2024 09:29

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