The ability to collaborate with others has been a central factor in researching the complex social issues that surround asylum seekers and refugees. Thus, during the last group task, it was very insightful to have each member bring their individual knowledge and perspectives to our discussions. It seems as though every meeting, we all have new insights to present as we have been looking at new information, new issues and new actors.
These new findings may also emerge from the notion that complex issues are not stagnant but rather always changing. In ‘Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory‘, Latour suggests that the actors are constantly in the process of (re)assembling, (re)associating and (dis)agreeing. Thus, it is our role as the researcher to trace these actors and their movements.
During this weeks exercises, it was good to exchange these various avenues that we have been researching as it provided a wholesome perspective of the issue at large. In the first map, we focused on my problem regarding ‘attitudes towards refugees’. Despite focusing on individual problems, I found that all group members were able to confidently contribute to this open discourse. As opposed to previous mind maps, we found that this task was much more successful as we were able to quickly and naturally fill the entire page with various intuitive ideas. This was perhapsbecause we focused on a more specific topic as opposed to the larger maps. In previous maps, we found it difficult to start as there was an overload of information which we didn’t know how to organise.
Not only did I find mapping out my problem to be helpful, but I also gained some perspective about other problems surrounding the asylum seeker issue. We created a map that addressed how refugees experience trauma in detention. We explored disturbing experiences that refugees often endure and how this effects themselves, their family and the community. We also looked at who or what is responsible for inflicting this trauma and proposed ideas about how it is/should be handled.
A definite weakness about this process however was that we felt pressured to already have some ideas for Assignment 3. For the last few weeks, we have not yet had individual discussions with tutors and thus found it difficult to transition from the research stage to the responding stage. I also felt a little overwhelmed with the idea that we had to start proposing concepts as there’s still so much that I don’t know about emergent areas.
Since the beginning of this subject, I have been engaging in a number of different class tasks that have provided a deeper insight and understanding of my topic of interest, Asylum seekers and refugees. Last weeks tasks encouraged myself to become more engaged with others to discover how attitudes are swayed and/or formed by people from different demographics. During this research, I conducted an interview with two fellow students who had a basic understanding of asylum seekers and refugees.
I began the interview by asking what the interviewee believed to be legitimate reasons for someone seeking refuge. The response was interesting as they believed that a person may not necessarily be fleeing war or persecution — they could also be escaping economic instability, lack of educational resources, drugs and other severe situations that may occur in more developed countries.
The interview followed by questioning what they perceived to be the most ‘legal’ way of seeking refuge. One responder acknowledged that it is a difficult question as the issue is so complicated. There is a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy involved in claiming for refugee status, and too often, people in desperate situations don’t have the opportunity or time to do so the ‘proper’ way. The second interviewee also added that in many cases, asylum seekers aren’t aware of Australia’s current offshore processing policies — if they were aware, they wouldn’t have come.
The conversation then steered towards how asylum seekers may effect Australia and our economy, lifestyle, jobs, culture, community etc. The respondent answered that Sydney is becoming a really expensive posh area that is not economically diverse. There are new CBDs popping up, such as the inner west and Parramatta where populations and new jobs are increasing. I mentioned an article I read about a 2nd generation immigrant explaining that Australia has so much land and so many resources; he called it the land of plenty. The interviewees replied that indeed Australia has a vast amount of land that is unused, however a lot of it is harsh uninhabitable. However, they added that if we used this land more effectively, we would have a lot more give. It was also mentioned that the reason why refugees may affect the community negatively is because of tension caused by fear. This ‘fear’ seems to make a predictable pattern and is more apparent when large numbers of migrants resettle to form ethnic communities within Australia. I asked if this is a bad thing. The interviewee responded that it definitely is not a bad thing, but rather very beneficial — different races bring new insights, cultural traditions, cuisines and celebrations that we can all enjoy. Multiculturalism is what makes Australia so great.
I then focused on one of my areas of interest, which examines what factors influence attitudes and opinions. The interviewee stated that obviously the media plays a massive role in influencing how the public think by what they show, and interestingly what they do not show. At all of the asylum seeker detention centres, there are strict no photography/filming policies, which makes you wonder what they don’t what people to see. Perhaps if people could see the conditions and treatment of these refugees, then they might be more sympathetic. It was interesting when the interviewee also mentioned that language and discourse plays a vital role in representing refugees. The increasing number of migrants is often seen as potentially dangerous and something to be cautious, particularly when words such as ‘swarm’, ‘epidemic’, ‘influx’ and ‘tide’ are used.
To follow up with this interview, I asked the interviewees to participate in a probing task, where they would collect a weeks worth of data in the context of their everyday social media activities. The probe (which I now realise is probably the same as 95% of everyone else researching asylum seekers/refugees) was to save any social media posts relating to asylum seekers and screenshot the comments that respond to it. Despite the lack of originality of my probe, it focuses my area of interest (which now that I think about it, most other students are probably focusing on this area too) — that is researching how attitudes and opinions are formed and/or swayed.
I found the one of the more interesting and conflicting comments were from a New York Times article, titled ‘After Paris Attacks, Vilifying Refugees’. People had not only commented on the article, but they also responded to other peoples commentary, sparking lengthy and open online debates. The vast majority of the comments were either strongly pro or anti refugee with little room for having a neutral stance. This often resulted in insults being hurled towards people with opposing views.
Similarly, on a youtube video titled ‘The Rise of ISIS and the Refugee Crisis’ by talk host John Oliver, I found the comments to be very intriguing, but also very exhausting to read (image below). Initially they were very insightful and I found myself wanting to join in on the conversation. However, the debate quickly turned into a heated exchange of insults (which was not surprising for Youtube), revealing more about the person behind the obscure username. I continued reading through the comments, though now I wasn’t sure if my motive was for research or because I just found it slightly humorous; that these people were arguing for hours with complete strangers with no possibility of changing each others obstinate views.
Informal pieces of text, such as simple comments to a video or news article, are a useful source of research to gather in terms of discovering underlying bias and pre-conceptions. As the exchange between NeulNeul Lee, Arnold and oasis fan continued, more was revealed about their attitudes and why they think that way about refugees. One individuals stance was heavily influenced by their empathy with refugees, and often defended how they are negatively portrayed by the media, politicians and in public discourse. Another commentator was as equally passionate about the issue, however they had a completely conflicting perspective and supported their argument with quotes, facts and statistics that negatively represented asylum seekers.
Another set of results from the probes were inspirational and empathetic stories about refugees. It was interesting to see the Facebook pages/groups that the participant for this task received her material from. The pages that we ‘like’ or follow on social media accounts determines what information we are exposed to and definitely influences our perspective on the topic.
From these tasks, I observed that people seem to be more vocal of their opinions on social media than in reality and daily conversations. I believe this is due to the anonymity of being online as well as having the time to articulate themselves through writing. Online conversations also grants instant access to the internet, which enables them to justify their opinions and quickly rebut.
I feel as though both interview and the probe provided a deeper insight of how attitudes and opinions are formed by people of different demographics. However, there is definitely room for improvement with my interviewing technique — I feel as though I was much too involved and often averted silences with my own personal input.
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