175.2 Transnational forced migration and negotiating the confusing terrain of contrasting emotions: The case of female refugees in South Africa

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 2:50 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Ria SMIT , University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Pragna RUGUNANAN , Sociology, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Emotions infuse nearly every aspect of human experience, social interaction and interpersonal relations. Within the context of transnational forced migration, this paper seeks to gain a better sociological understanding of how a group of refugees in South Africa perceive their emotional wellbeing, how they make sense of their social world from an emotional point of view and how they negotiate these emotions. The discussion is based on a comparative qualitative study done in South Africa among Congolese, Burundian and Zimbabwean female refugees. In the paper specific attention is paid to the intrapersonal emotional ambivalence that emerged from the respondents’ narratives; how these emotions relate to their challenging life experiences as refugees; and how they negotiate these contrasting emotions within the context of their familial network (or lack thereof) in their new host country. Particular reference is also made to the role children and religion play in respondents’ perceived emotional wellbeing and how it relates to a sense of being and belonging in the host country. In addition, all the refugees in this study had to manage emotions related to transnational familial ties. On the one hand, the respondents experienced an acute sense of family separation – especially in cases where some women left young children in the care of grandparents who remained in their home country. On the other hand, respondents felt a sense of responsibility towards their kin who were left behind in the country of origin which found specific expression in feeling an obligation to provide financial support. Yet, due to economic constraints, few respondents had the means to provide family members with any form of financial assistance. This in turn had emotional repercussions. Against this background, the paper concludes by reflecting on the interplay between negotiated emotions and individual resilience.