International law, government policy, and a range of academic disciplines all demonstrate different approaches to the task of defining who is a refugee. Yet how do refugees define themselves? When, how, and why do they come to identify with this term, or not? This essay offers reflections on these questions based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians in the Middle East and Europe from 2012 to 2018. Syrian experiences illustrate how individuals’ self-understandings as refugees evolve over time as a contingent process not necessarily coterminous with actual physical displacement. I trace how these self-understandings are generated as shifts in three indicative relationships: displaced persons’ relationships to their expectations of return to their homeland; their relationships to their pre-flight lives; and their relationships to the word “refugee” itself. This focus on the bottom-up, organic development of a new subjectivity suggests how one's self-definition as a refugee might be less a quality or state that exists synonymously with forced migration than it is an identity that comes into existence gradually over time. That is, it is the product of a process of “becoming” more than “being.”
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed