Disrupted becomings: The role of smartphones in Syrian refugees’ physical and existential journeys

Authors: Katherine V Gough*, Loughborough University, Hannah Anderson Gough, University of Copenhagen
Topics: Migration, Social Geography, Communication
Keywords: refugees, Syria, journey, Europe, smartphone
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Studio 4, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the physical and existential journeys of predominantly young, male Syrians following the onset of the civil war, placing particular focus on the role of the smartphone in facilitating these journeys. It makes an important contribution by filling a gap in the literature on the use of digital technologies by refugees in an age of mass migration. The paper draws on life story interviews conducted with eight informants all of whom have reached Denmark but are at different stages of the asylum process. It traces the multiple disruptions which the Syrian refugees have experienced and delves into the ways in which they are searching for a better life. Their smartphones are shown to be vital tools at all stages of their physical and existential journeys through Europe and whilst settling into Denmark in a myriad of ways including: aiding navigation, accessing the ‘online community’, contacting ‘smugglers’, taking and sharing photos, maintaining contact with family and friends, building transnational social relations, and facilitating existential grounding. The concept of ‘chronic disruption’ is introduced to capture the ways in which the refugees are constantly facing new hurdles in their lives.

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