Refugee cosmopolitans: Disrupting narratives of dependency

Year: 2012

Author: Reid, Carol, Khalil, Ahmad Al, Najafi, Makki Al

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Historically, Australia has catered for the needs of migrants under its multicultural policy. Following on from assimilation and 'White Australia' this was a ground-breaking and culture shifting moment. We now find ourselves in different times. The movement of people has changed. Mass migration to Australia with permanent settlement as the aim is now only one pathway. Others come on short term work visas; while others come and go and return multiple times. This form of circulation migration is becoming more common (Hugo, 2006). The arrival of refugees in Australia is not new either but their relationship to Australia is different to the times when permanent settlement was the main aim. Now, processes of globalisation enable mobilities of ideas and people that serve to maintain and strengthen the continuation of ties to more than one place. Multiculturalism, with its focus on the nation, seems problematic when viewed through the lens of increasing diversities, mobilities and rapid social and cultural change. Understanding and explaining these conditions requires a complex framework, one that helps us understand what has been called a 'cosmopolitan condition' (Fine, 2007).  

This paper will be presented in three parts. First, we outline how cosmopolitan social theory might be useful when talking about the movement of people, such as refugees, in these globalizing times. This is to say that cosmopolitanism might become "a means whereby national and global cultures can be mediated" (Vertovec & Cohen, 2002, p.8).  Second, the legal meaning of the word 'refugee' and how people normally look at refugees from this perspective will be discussed. This will be compared with the perspectives of how refugees think about themselves as human subjects who want to live a normal life as others do. Since they are equal to others; they have goals in life to fulfil through using their life experience including professional and educational experiences. The third part of the paper concludes with a discussion about the relative merits of a cosmopolitan approach when working with and for refugees. The argument put forward draws strongly on four conceptual dimensions of a cosmopolitan imagination as outlined by Delanty (2009).