The purpose of the current study was to examine how discourses on refugee connectivity have been constructed in reports published through UNHCR’s Connectivity for Refugees initiative. As literature on discourses of refugees connectivity is currently scarce and under theorized, the current study aimed to offer new insights into the ideas and imaginaries that contribute to the construction of discourses on refugee connectivity. In order to do so, the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries has been introduced as a theoretical lens. Moreover, a multimodal critical discourse analysis has been performed to answer the research question: “how are discourses around refugee connectivity constructed in the UNHCR Connectivity for Refugees initiative reports over time?” Based on the analysis, six main components of UNHCR discourse on refugee connectivity have been identified: (1) utilitarian perspectives on improved quality of life; (2) the exceptionalism of the (un)connected; (3) from needs to rights and choices; (4) connectivity as a matter of inclusion; (5) The unquestioned path to connectivity; and (6) connectivity as a universal solution. The findings demonstrated that overall positioning of connectivity within the reports is positive. Connectivity is generally approached from a positive standpoint focusing on the opportunities it can bring and most importantly, its effect on quality of life. Overall, connectivity is presumed to contribute to well-being and quality of life of all people. This techno-optimistic standpoint however, reduces the broad concept of life quality to a set of utilitarian functionalities. In accordance with the literature, this study has demonstrated the inherent utilitarianism of UNHCR discourse on refugee connectivity. Moreover, UNHCR discourse on refugee connectivity is constructed through a predominant positive and techno-optimistic sociotechnical imaginary. The sociotechnical imaginary underlying UNHCR discourse, is based on a utopian conception of a connected future. The realm of connectivity is presented as a separate sphere which can be reached. However, not every individual has the means needed to reach this connectivity. Moreover, connectivity is not just the condition of being ‘in contact’, the use of digital technology has been approached as a means to access benefits and opportunities that stay out of reach for the unconnected.

, , , , , , ,
dr. (Amanda) A Paz Alencar
Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Anne-Lotte Groenewegen. (2022, June 27). Connected Refugees Sociotechnical Imaginaries in UNHCR Discourse. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from