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Dege, Yonca (2022) Economic Activities of Syrian Refugees in the Context of Turkey’s Volatile Political Landscape. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This dissertation seeks to reframe and question what it means to study the economic activities of refugees. Taking Syrian refugees in Turkey as its focus, it explores the way that the volatile context of Turkey situates refugees in a complex web of socio-economic, political, and other interactions. Based on a year-long period of qualitative field research (September 2016-17) in the Turkish host and transit city of Izmir, by a bi-lingual German-Turkish dual national, the thesis documents the challenges and opportunities associated with carrying out qualitative research with forced migrants and their networks in the constantly changing politico-economic context of Turkey. It employs a variety of embedded qualitative and ethnographic research methods, including participant observation and semi-structured interviews with Syrian refugees, Turkish hosts and key informants from the INGO, humanitarian, and refugee protection communities. These approaches reflect the extensive nature of the research activity, allowing for the following of linkages between areas of enquiry sometimes treated as discrete in narrower studies. The four intersecting empirical chapters focus on labour, social networks and refugee-host relationships, and the brokers on whom refugees depend in complex ways. They offer new perspectives on the nuanced narratives through which Syrian refugees report pursuing diverse forms of economic and survival activity, navigating a government strategically constructing uncertainty and precarity, finding ways to demonstrate their capacity and agency. A core aim of this project is to contribute to work challenging stereotypes in academic and policy discourse about the assumed ‘vulnerability’ and passivity of refugees who are only defined by their refugee status and have no agency beyond it. Building on the concept of uncertainty this research makes four key contributions: 1) it is necessary to take an inclusive and expansive approach to ‘economic activities’; taking into account the social and political, as well as the economy. 2) understand and integrate the context refugees operate in as an active part of the research agenda 3) understand that refugees are not separate from the ‘host’ society 4) refugees are more than their ‘refugee status’ and exercise distinct forms of autonomy that go beyond economic maximisation. The results provide new empirical contributions about Syrian refugees’ experiences and livelihoods in a volatile landscape and carry important implications for the ways studies about refugees’ economic activities are conducted.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Tania Kaiser
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2022 10:04

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