Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Elementary, Middle & Secondary Teacher Education

Degree Program

Curriculum and Instruction, PhD

Committee Chair

Brydon-Miller, Mary

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Peteet, Julie

Committee Member

Peteet, Julie

Committee Member

George, Casey

Committee Member

Thomas, Shelley

Author's Keywords

Storytelling; displacement; refugee camps; community; relationships; counterstories


In academic and public discourse, narratives surrounding refugee camps and the conditions within them typically depict experiences of sorrow and hardship. And, although the stories of struggle are certainly a part of the refugee experience, they are not the only part. This dissertation is a critical ethnographic study with a participatory research lens that focuses on the life experiences and storytelling practices of women in a resettled Sudanese family. It investigates the action of storytelling within displaced groups, the link between stories and community, and the importance of materiality and relationships in storytelling. This dissertation finds that storytelling can be used as a strategy to create community, understand loss, and make sense of identity and relationships throughout the process of displacement and resettlement. In addition, this research offers a counter-story — rooted in community and freedom — to the academic and public perception of refugee camps. Due to the myriad protracted conflicts and climate disasters worldwide, which show no sign of abating, it is increasingly obvious that refugee camps — largely designed as temporary — are becoming much more permanent (Betts & Collier, 2017). Despite the fact that there are now entire generations growing up in camps, there are few studies that examine perceptions of refugee camps in the residents’ own words, and even fewer focusing on recollections of camps in resettlement; in particular, the memories of those who grew up in a refugee camp and view it as home. This dissertation aims to remedy that gap. It is theoretically grounded in postcolonial theory and critical pedagogy as a form of academic resistance to the essentializing discourse that often surrounds those that have been displaced. In the same vein, certain sections of this work are written in a narrative style for the dual purposes of highlighting the voice of the collaborators and increasing the accessibility of this research. Within this project, I committed to examining and deconstructing power, hegemony and bias throughout data collection and analysis, as well as within my own researcher positionality. This dissertation, which took place over the course of thirty-one months, illustrates the significance and effects of deep, personal relationships between researchers and collaborators in ethnographic research. Lastly, this research offers — and demonstrates the necessity of — a more nuanced story of refugee camps, displacement, resettlement, and refugees themselves.