A considerable amount of multidisciplinary studies focusing on refugee representation have brought attention to the one-dimensional nature of refugee representations in both mainstream media and in humanitarian communication. Refugees have had little control over their own representation, as they have been portrayed primarily as victims or threats. More recently, various scholars have noted a particular shift in humanitarian communication. Refugee aid agencies are increasingly committed to voice refugees, and to enhance their agency and self-reliance. However, despite these intentions, several scholars continue to find refugees’ mediated visibility to accompany great invisibility. Taking a Foucauldian approach to conceptualize refugee representation, it is suggested that international organizations have the power to produce and shape our knowledge of forced displacement and the ‘subjects’ who personify this discourse. Within this context, the present study aims to examine how refugees are represented in contemporary humanitarian narratives. By means of qualitative analysis, 42 stories/blogs published on three international refugee organizations’ websites will be examined. A multimethod approach – a thematic analysis of textual elements and a semiotic analysis of visual elements – should shed more light on the way that ‘the refugee’ subject is constructed within digital humanitarian communication; as well as the extent to which refugees’ voices are included or excluded. The findings of this study reveal refugees are most often portrayed as good deserving citizens; an urgent problem; vulnerable victims; and reflections of us. It was found that refugees remain largely silenced as a result of the relationship between refugee agencies and logics of neoliberalism, securitization and colonialism. Despite several attempts to highlight refugees’ agency, their agency is found to be limited primarily to participation in market activities. Refugees further remain largely constructed around discourses of vulnerability and dependency. It is suggested that refugees are silenced and excluded on the same conditions that uphold asymmetrical relations between North and South.

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Paz Alencar, A.
Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Makhnev, Milene. (2020, June 29). A Story Worth Telling: Refugee Voice and Representation in Humanitarian Communication A Qualitative Analysis on the Construction of the Refugee Subject in Refugee Aid Organizations’ Digital Communication. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2105/55325