Accepted paper:

What kind of objects are refugees for anthropologists and the welfare state?

Authors:

John Borneman (Princeton University)

Paper short abstract:

Refugees are specific objects of research for anthropologists, and displaced people in flight for the welfare state. They place demands on the anthropologist to be a "container" for their emotional messages, and on the welfare state to function as a holding environment.

Paper long abstract:

Refugees are specific objects of research for anthropologists, and are encountered as displaced people in flight for the welfare state. They place demands on the anthropologist to be a "container" for their emotional messages, and on the welfare state to function as a "holding environment." This paper suggests the inadequacy of the usual frames of witnessing or participant observation if one relates to refugees in interlocution-based fieldwork. A more appropriate frame may be "containment", where one is asked to perform the function of container to the emotional messages. Furthermore, people in flight seek a holding environment in which they feel secure and can develop a capacity to care for themselves and others. Among different state forms, the northern European welfare state comes closest to promising this holding environment, hence it is has become the preferred destination of most of the world's refugees. Its promise to sustain this type of environment for its residents is often perceived as in conflict with extending this environment to people in flight. The anthropologist, in turn, is located in this environment not as a neutral witness or observer but either as one who extracts information or as a potential facilitator. This paper explores these issues with respect to Syrian refugees in Germany.

panel P154
Uncertain solidarities: migration, social incorporation, and European welfare states