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Research

Dao Tran, managing editor of Voice of Witness, helps lead a Virginia Tech workshop in oral history methodology.
Dao Tran, managing editor of Voice of Witness, helps lead a Virginia Tech workshop in oral history methodology.

For years, a number of Virginia Tech faculty members and students have been involved in research projects focused on the experiences of refugees, migrants, and displaced people. This work has been supported by a Virginia Tech Policy Strategic Growth Area planning grant; the Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention; the Virginia Tech Institute for Culture, Society, and the Environment; and the Voice of Witness Foundation.

Through “Resettlement Stories: Place, Identity, and Narrative as Evidence-based Data for Policy Change,” the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies explores integration experiences for refugees, migrants, and communities. Center members also work in partnership with the nonprofit Voice of Witness on “Resettled: Narratives of Beginning (Again) in Appalachia,” an oral history project that highlights stories of displacement and resettlement in the Appalachian region.

RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES


The Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies supports graduate student and faculty research through small grants. Contact Katrina Powell, director of the center, for more information.

RESEARCH PROJECTS


The Critical Carceral Studies Lab 

Though seemingly ubiquitous with the organization of human societies, prisons and large jails are a very recent invention in the grand scale of human history – barely 200 years old.  Not only do prisons now seem to be a “natural” disciplinary institution for large societies, “innovations” in penology have not only marketized incarceration but have also expanded the categories of criminalization to increase overall occupancy.  Over the past five decades, with the growing realization that incarceration is but one of many technologies of discipline birthed from the colonial imagination of the late 18th and 19th centuries, scholars critical of mass incarceration have gradually shifted the dialogue from prison reform to carceral abolition.  

The Critical Carceral Studies Lab is an abolitionist endeavor.  Its goal is to create a space for academics, activists, community advocacy organizations and the formerly incarcerated to reimagine society without prisons, jails, and police, and to collaborate on projects that help bring others into this imaginative space and make the goal of carceral abolition closer in reach.  How can we re-think and re-pattern society such that carcerality becomes unthinkable?

Members of the Critical Carceral Studies Lab will collaborate in theorizing, producing and filming an oral history project that documents life in select rural “prison communities.” The film project critically examines rural American efforts to rebuild itself through the expansion of incarceration and the compromises, tensions, and sacrifices that this pursuit engenders. It contrasts how the freedom for some to pursue life, liberty, and happiness is socially and materially dependent on the punishment of and privation of liberty for others. The film will explore these tensions by documenting the narratives and stories of rural residents in towns with large prisons and whose economic destinies have been tied, therefore, to the expansion of mass incarceration. In doing so, it aims to reflect the resilience, determination, and resignation of the rural poor, often migrants, who must continually fight for belonging and a right to live without threat of punishment or displacement, juxtaposed against the predicament of the dehumanized urban poor, and increasingly undocumented migrants, who make up the majority of persons incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons.

As a community of activist scholars, the Critical Carceral Studies Lab considers research, teaching, and activism as mutually informing and intersecting activities. To that end, the Lab seeks to align our knowledge production with grassroots social movements. The Critical Carceral Studies Lab is led by a joint effort between Dr. Rebecca Hester, associate director for the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies, and professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech; filmmaker and scholar Dr. Yehuda Sharim of the Global Arts Studies Program at the University of California Mercer; and Dr. Jason Glenn, professor of History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center. 

Resettlement Stories: Place, Identity, and Narrative as Evidence-Based Data for Policy Change

A guest attends an exhibition featuring artist Saba Taj's work at the Moss Arts Center
A guest attends an exhibition featuring artist Saba Taj's work at the Moss Arts Center in April, 2018. The exhibition was part of the Moss Art Center's project, "Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures." Image courtesy of Kelly Scarff

Refugee and migrant integration is traditionally analyzed through legal rights, self-sufficiency, and belonging using large, urban-area datasets. These approaches neither identify the complexities of refugee integration nor capture nuanced community challenges.

“Resettlement Stories: Place, Identity, and Narrative as Evidence-Based Data for Policy Change” studies integration experiences for refugees, migrants, and communities through what its leaders call “integration network analysis.” This novel method uses long-form oral history interview data from resettled families, volunteers, and service programs and complements the data with semantic network analysis to extract central concepts and themes. This approach can yield comparative analysis accounting for perspectives of the resettled, perspectives not captured in existing datasets, providing evidence-based recommendations for policy makers.

This research supports the International Refugee Research Project, an interdisciplinary, international collaboration among Virginia Tech, Bundeswehr University, and the University of Kent with the goal of informing refugee policy.

Funding for this project is provided by a Virginia Tech Policy Strategic Growth Area planning grant; the Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention; the Virginia Tech Institute for Culture, Society, and the Environment; and the nonprofit Voice of Witness.

Katrina M. Powell, Katherine Randall, and Rebecca Hester. “Refugee and Migrant Partnerships in Virginia: Fostering Connectivity and Reciprocity.” Vibrant Virginia: Engaging the Commonwealth to Expand Economic Vitality, ed. by Margaret Cowell and Sarah Lyon-Hill, Virginia Tech Publishing. Forthcoming.

Randall, Katherine, Katrina M. Powell, and Brett Shadle. “Resisting the Trauma Story: Ethical Concerns in the Oral History Archive.” Displaced Voices: A Journal of Archives, Migration and Cultural Heritage 1.2 (2020): 76-79.

Powell, Katrina M. and Katherine Randall. “Community Workshops and Rhetorics of Home in the Stories of Persons Seeking Refuge.” albeit: Journal of teaching and scholarship 5.1 (2018). Web.

Shadle, Brett L. “The ‘Problem’ of the Urban Refugee: The African Refugee Regime and the Joint Refugee Services of Kenya (1967-1982),” forthcoming in  Canadian Journal of African Studies.

Shadle, Brett L. “Reluctant humanitarians: British policy toward refugees in Kenya during the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1940,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 47 (2019): 167-86.

Shadle, Brett L.  “Refugees and Migration in African History,” in William Worger, Charles Ambler, and Nwando Achebe, eds., A Companion to African History (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2019).

Shadle, Brett L. “‘As if I were in Prison’: White Deportation and Exile from Early Colonial Kenya,” in Benjamin Lawrance and Nathan Carpenter, eds., Africans in Exile: Mobility, Law, and Identity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018).

Hester, R.J. (2014) Bodies in Translation: Public Health Promotion in Indigenous Mexican Migrant Communities in California, In: Alvarez, S., de Lima Costa, C., Feliú, F., Klahn, N., Hester, R.J., and Thayer, M. with Cruz C. Bueno, editors, Translocalities/Translocalidades: Feminist Politics of Translation in the Latin/a Américas Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Hester, R.J. (2015) Cultural Competency Training and Indigenous Cultural Politics in California, Latino Studies Vol. 13, No.3, pp.316-338.

Hester, R. J. (2012, December). The Promise and Paradox of Cultural Competence. In HEC Forum (Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 279-291).

Hester, R.J. (2016) Culture in Medicine: An Argument against Competence. Critical Medical Humanities Reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Hester, R.J., Jason E. Glenn, Erica Hua Fletcher, Brenda Wilson, Shannon Guillot-Wright (Hear Our Voice Collective), “Hear Our Voice: Studies of Struggles and Survival in Galveston.” Documentary Film.

Hester, R.J. “We are not better off” Commentary, Roanoke Times, November 21, 2018.

Hester, R.J. “Response to a Case Study, a Difficult Birth: Navigating Language and Cultural Differences. Internet publication, June 2008.

Pourchot, Georgeta. “The Global Compact on Migration: What Is and Is Not Working, The Case of Europe.” Global Compact on Migration: Is It Possible? Conference organized by Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, October 2019.

Cutler, Dawn and Georgeta Pourchot. “Refugee Integration in New EU Member States.” International Metropolis Conference, Ottawa, Canada, June 2019.

Pourchot, Georgeta. “Evidence for Smart Policy: International Refugee Research Project.” University Alliance for Refugees and At-Risk Migrants formal launch, July 2018, Rutgers University

Powell, Katrina M. and Katherine Randall. “Persons Seeking Refuge, Community Workshops, and Rhetorics of Place.” Rhetoric Society of America, Atlanta, GA, June 2018.

Powell, Katrina M. “Displacement.” Margins Conference Keynote Speaker, Clemson University, March 2018.

Powell, Katrina M. Khaled Hassouna, Katherine Randall. “Tools of Integration: A Case Study of the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership.” International Refugee Research Conference, Tutzing, Germany, March 2018.

Cutler, Dawn and Georgeta Pourchot. “Refugee Integration in New EU Member States.” International Refugee Research Project Conference, Tutsing, Germany, March 2018.

Panel: “Living Our Rhetoric: How Research Centers Can Bridge the Academic and Public Work of Rhetoric.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. Kansas City, MO, March 2018. Powell, Katrina M., “The labor of the public turn: research, engagement, and (the ethics of) transforming communities.” Katherine Randall, “Languaging at the Public Table: The Responsibility of Rhetoric Centers in Supporting Community Work.” Alexis Priestley, “Doing Rhetoric: Cultivating and Networking an Octologian Space.” Carolyn Commer, “An Octalogic Pedagogy for Graduate Education in Rhetoric & Composition.”

Powell, Katrina M. “Tent Cities, Resettlement Housing, & Rhetorical Constructions of Home in Narratives of Displacement.” Temple Univ. Humanities Center Invited Speaker, February 2018.

Powell, Katrina M. Khaled Hassouna, Brett Shadle, Jon Catherwood-Ginn, Laura McCarter, Katherine Randall, and Jane Wemhoener. “Refugee Integration.” International Refugee Research, Arlington Research Center, October 2017.

Powell, Katrina M. “Identity and Displacement.” Roanoke College Refugee Panel, October 2017.

Cutler, Dawn and Georgeta Pourchot. “Refugee Integration in New EU Member States.” International Refugee Research Project workshop, Virginia Tech Research Center, October 2017.

Resettled: Narratives of Beginning (Again) in Appalachia

A boy walks through the woods in Appalachia

An oral history project in partnership with Voice of WitnessResettled: Narratives of Beginning (Again) in Appalachia highlights stories of displacement and resettlement in the Appalachian region. This project aims to offer a counternarrative to the stereotypes about Appalachia as a homogenous place, while also exploring the unique place-based experience of resettlement in the area. Resettled will be published as an edited collection in the Voice of Witness series.

Funding for this project is provided by the Voice of Witness Foundation.

Powell, Katrina M. ed. Resettled: Narratives of Beginning (Again) in Appalachia. New York: Haymarket Books, forthcoming 2022.