Refugees Shaping Communicative Spaces in Institutions: The Case of the Open Learning Initiative at the University of Vienna

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Katharine SARIKAKIS, Vienna University, Austria
Yulia BELINSKAYA, University of Vienna, Austria
Izabela KORBIEL, Vienna University, Austria
Wagner MANTOVANELI, University of Vienna, Austria
One important dimension of power in institutions is control, a central problem in Sociology since its beginnings. Institutions, according to Berger and Luckmann (1966:72), “by the very fact of their existence, control human conduct by setting up predefined patterns of conduct, which channel it in one direction as against the many other directions that would theoretically be possible”. Refugees are forced to interact with ‘fortified borders’ of institutions ad hoc, finding hurdles in the process of ‘home making’. We explore refugees´ efforts to redefine the future, their personal and community aspirations and their role on the constitution of dialogical institutional spaces in society through the case of two Higher Education programmes to prepare these groups for University study. We draw upon refugee and forced migration studies and history “from below” (Elie, 2014:30; Sigona, 2014). The problem that control imposes from an institutional point of view to a history from below is directly associated with creating communicative spaces in which this control is negotiated. Our case to observe the ways in which these communicative spaces may emerge from an institutional approach is the Open Learning Initiative (OLIve) at the University of Vienna, Austria, a programme designed to receive refugees from all nationalities who have an interest in pursuing and/or continuing tertiary education. Our question proposed is, then, how, besides the intrinsic control characteristic of institutions, a communicative space could emerge to make the refugee voice effectively heard? For this matter, the paper assesses/examines documents produced inside the programme where both the teachers and refugees register their experiences on a regular basis and in a systematic way so that the symbolic dimension can be identified, compared and scrutinized against the institutional boundaries imposed.