An exploration of the ways in which Ethiopian refugee people living in the UK understand extreme adversity
Ethiopian refugee people living in the UK are typical of a wider population of people who, having fled significant hardship in their own country - including war, ethnic conflict, famine, political persecution and torture - have sought asylum here. Within published literature pertaining to the field of mental health1, the extreme adversity experienced by refugee people from all over the world (pre-, during and post-exile) has predominantly been understood in terms of “psychological trauma”; a construct which often confers consequent psychological detriment that may require clinical intervention to address. This study argues that the construct of psychological trauma, and the assumptions underpinning attempts to study it quantitatively, can, however, serve to overshadow and to subjugate other, perhaps non-pathological, accounts of extreme adversity, which may be adopted by refugee people. Taking a social constructionist epistemological position, this study explores, through the use of semi-structured interviews, the ways in which four Ethiopian refugee people living in the UK understand their experiences of extreme adversity. Dialogic narrative analysis is used to explore the narratives employed by each of the four participants individually, and to examine the multi-dimensional and context-contingent reasons not only for how, but also why, they might have thus narrated their experiences. This study concludes that the narratives employed by its participants construct their experiences - and responses to them - in various ways which differ from dominant trauma narratives. It is suggested that these are influenced by the social, political, religious and economic frameworks within which they had been invited to make sense of life, and thus are not necessarily compatible with narratives which have found utility in a more Western social setting. Implications of these conclusions are considered in terms of psychology theory, practice and policy, alongside suggestions for future research.
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