Mediating Encamped Identities and Belongings: An Ethnography of Everyday Karen Life in Mae La Refugee Camp

Hill, Charlotte. 2022. Mediating Encamped Identities and Belongings: An Ethnography of Everyday Karen Life in Mae La Refugee Camp. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The image of a refugee camp is often portrayed as a suspended space of exception, an inhospitable environment where refugees live in limbo-like states disconnected from the rest of the world. Acknowledging the exceptionality of camps, I argue that a top-down institutional approach only illuminates half the story and neglects the multi-faceted spatial dynamics of everyday refugee life. Through an ethnographic lens that draws from two years of fieldwork and includes the voices of 40 participants, I explore the everyday identities and belongings of encamped Karen living in protracted displacement along the Thai-Myanmar border. By examining refugee presence in the ‘lived’ material space and the ‘lived’ mediated space, I attempt to unpack themes of stuckness, transcendence, bare life, and ordinariness. To explore how offline life intertwines with online life, I take a socio-technical approach and ask: how, if at all, encamped Karen articulate their everyday lives, identities, and sense of belonging within the material space of Mae La? To what extent are media technologies used by inhabitants and their role in expressing everyday identities and belongings? To what extent, if at all, do new media technologies, mediated communication practices, and mediated environments interweave into everyday encamped life? In the context of Mae La, I found that refugees live in many different spaces where multiple identities coexist and circulate simultaneously. Although I recognise Mae La’s exceptionality, I observe that life is not only lived in a state of suspension but is rich with an abundance of stories, memories, contradictions, and ambiguity. Participants demonstrated resistance to their prolonged encampment through practices such as music, rituals, and selfies. Mae La is evolving, and contrary to the past, inhabitants with access to new media technologies and mediated spaces take control of their representation and offer an account of their lives.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00031475

Keywords:

Ethnography, encamped refugees, identities, belonging, refugee camp, Karenrefugees, everyday life, Myanmar

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies

Date:

31 January 2022

Item ID:

31475

Date Deposited:

18 Feb 2022 10:08

Last Modified:

21 Feb 2022 16:06

URI:

https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/31475

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