“This IS What You Want! This Is What You Signed Up for!”: How Agencies Responsibilize Resettling Refugees

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date



College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Sociology

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Virginia Husting


US refugee resettlement agencies face a daunting task; they are federally mandated to achieve resettlement within a severely restricted time frame and funding limit per refugee, all while creating integrated, “self-sufficient” US citizens. As a result, resettlement agencies must guide resettling refugees through a rigidly scheduled set of activities that are designed to expunge ‘dependency’ while finding resettling refugees jobs, homes, schools, and community belonging. Interviewing resettlement case workers and volunteers in a northwestern US city, I find that staff respond to this double bind by using informal tactics to transform the character of resettled refugees into good neoliberal ‘American’ subjects, such that economic self-sufficiency becomes a ‘sign’ of worthiness for US citizenship. Staff and volunteers responsibilize resettling refugees by redefining economic self-sufficiency as a mode of self-care and by encouraging refugees to adopt a strictly short-term cost-benefit rationality. These governmentalized tactics obscure the precarious positions of many resettling refugees and instead implement a new configuration of ‘barely making it,’ which is hidden by the invisible, unpaid labor of volunteers and caseworkers as they try to sustain refugees who have far too few resources.

This document is currently not available here.