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Negotiating belonging: the integration of Mozambican refugees in South Africa

Polzer Ngwato, Tara (2012) Negotiating belonging: the integration of Mozambican refugees in South Africa. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This study is about refugee integration: how refugees become citizens, and more generally how outsiders become insiders. More specifically, it is about an appropriate conceptual framework for studying and understanding refugee integration processes. I propose that refugee integration be understood as local politics, and that, therefore, refugees and hosts negotiate their relationships with each other based on their respective interests and using a series of material and symbolic exchanges. While this conceptual approach to integration seems self- evident, this empirical, process-oriented, and spatially and temporally specific approach radically departs from the predominant normative assumptions in the policy and academic literature. The thesis sets out and develops how this simple framework, consistently applied, carries analytical correlates which stand in marked contrast to most analyses of refugee integration processes. My argument is supported empirically with a detailed case study of villages in a rural border area of South Africa where many (former) Mozambican refugees are settled since the 1980s. I spent four years (2002-2006) living and conducting field work in this area. The thesis by published (and publishable) works includes five articles covering different aspects of refugee integration as political negotiation. These include: 1) analysing the conceptual dangers and empirical fallacies of approaches to local integration which frame it as a ‘solution’ within the international refugee assistance and protection regime; 2) illustrating how common conceptual and methodological approaches to studying refugees tend to hide the presence of integrated refugees; 3) applying the political negotiation approach across time periods by comparing the integration processes of two ‘waves’ of Mozambicans fleeing conflict into South Africa in the mid-1800s and the 1980s; 4) showing how integration processes, including those related to legal status, often function according to very different logics than intended by national or international legal frameworks and policies targeting refugees; and 5) looking at processes of negotiated integration at the level of the village and how they are spatialised.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Tara Polzer Ngwato
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Beall, Jo and Allen, Tim

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