Members of Migrant Organizations, Refugees and Volunteers – a Study Based on Figurational Sociology and Biographical Research

Monday, 16 July 2018
Isabella ENZLER, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Germany
In this paper I will present findings from my PhD project on figurations between members of migrant organizations, volunteers and refugees, as well as the biographical processes that lead to participating in the field of ‘refugee support’. I argue that with a biographical and figurational approach, it is possible to analyze an individual’s lifeworld embedded in organizations, power relations and discourses in the past and the present. This approach draws attention specifically to the power relations between the members of the involved groupings and the interrelations between life courses, collective histories and types of engagement.

To present how power relations in this field are entangled with different types of (biographical) engagement, I will discuss case reconstructions of members of migrant organizations and participants in so-called befriending programs, where refugees are matched with volunteers for social, emotional, informational and instrumental support. One finding of my case studies is that the relationship structures in befriending programs, which are initiated and overseen by an organization, are characterized by the denial of traumatizing experiences. In terms of power balances – in the sense proposed by Elias/Scotson – between refugees and volunteers, this weakens the refugees’ (interactive) power, while it increases the power of the (established) volunteers.

In accordance with my findings, I will discuss possible ways of rectifying this imbalance, for instance by giving refugees a voice in the organizational structure, or developing refugee self-organizations.