Transnational Refugees: The Transformative Role of Art?


  • Maggie O'Neill Durham University



ethno-mimesis, narrative, biography, transnational identities, asylum-migration nexus, performative praxis


This paper focuses upon the transfor­m­ative role of art and the methodological approach of working with artists to conduct ethnographic research with refugees and asylum seekers. In exploring the space or hyphen between ethnog­raphy (sociology) and arts based practice (photos, in­stallations, textual practice) I suggest that the combination of biography/narrative (ethnography) and art (mimesis) becomes a "potential space" for transformative possibilities. More specifically, draw­ing upon Walter BENJAMIN's (1992) The Story­teller I will discuss the methodological contribution of combining biography/narrative with art forms (ethno-mimesis) in creating a "potential space", a reflective/safe space for dialogue and narratives to emerge around the themes of transnational identities, home and belonging. The importance of renewing methodologies for the work we do within the area of forced migration, humiliation, "egaliza­tion" and human rights (LINDNER, 2006), the role of the arts in processes of social inclusion, and the vital importance for creating spaces for dialogue and performative praxis through participatory methodologies are also discussed. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0802590


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Author Biography

Maggie O'Neill, Durham University

My interdisciplinary research career over the last two decades has developed at the inter-sections of cultural, critical and feminist theory; renewed methodologies for socio-cultural research—including arts based methodologies (ethno-mimesis); and praxis through participatory action research (PAR) as an outcome of scholarly activity. I have a longstanding interest and engagement in collaborating with artists through ethnographic research (specifically biographical narrative research) as well as through participatory action research and participatory arts. Two key strands of research activity have been undertaken focusing upon prostitution/sex work/ the sex industry and the asylum-migration nexus. Both contribute to the fields of Cultural Criminology/Cultural Sociology. For more information see: Making the Connections: arts migration and DIaspora regional network (, Safety Soap Box (, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Global network (




How to Cite

O’Neill, M. (2008). Transnational Refugees: The Transformative Role of Art?. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(2).