Research with refugees

June 28, 2006 — Review

Written by Jenny Bourne

A new publication examines the methodological challenges in doing research with refugees.

Three decades ago, the issue of how to conduct research on Britain’s Black communities (BME had not yet been coined) rocked academia and caused a palace revolution within the Institute of Race Relations and threw a spanner into the works of race relations research. Were researchers just spies for a malign government? Were the questions they asked of any relevance to their interviewees? Was knowledge neutral? How could Black people themselves inform research? Were Black people – the objects of most research – the problem or was it White society?

1972 may have been a more radical climate, but many of the issues raised then about the relationship of scholars to the objects of their research – particularly when they are from marginalised and demonised sections of society – are still relevant. And refugee studies is gradually becoming an academic field in its own right.

Doing research with refugees is the product of a series of Economic and Social Research Council-financed seminars where academics and policy workers met to focus on methodological issues relative to research that sets out to elicit views on ‘refugee people’. The papers gathered here raise a number of key issues: how included refugees are in actual research design and content; whether refugee ‘leaders’ are being used to speak (sometimes unrepresentatively)for a whole community group; whether researchers are well-enough attuned to new variables (such as religion) which ought to be included in refugee research.

A series of articles on a number of disparate areas – health of Somali refugees, home/lessness and integration, the community ‘leader’, empowerment and regeneration, involving disabled refugees, the importance of religion – are gathered here and a short appendix on guidelines for ‘eliciting the views of refugee people seeking asylum’ is also included. This book, emanating from and directed towards academia and care providers, is not for the lay reader. Nonetheless, it begins an important debate.

Related links

Policy Press

Doing research with refugees: issues and guidelines, edited by Bogusia Temple and Rhetta Moran, The Policy Press, 2006.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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