Date on Senior Honors Thesis

5-2018

Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name

B.A.

Department

Anthropology

Author's Keywords

Anthropology; Middle East; Culture; Displacement; Adaptation

Abstract

This thesis investigates child labor as an adaptive strategy among Syrian refugees living in urban host communities in the Middle East. While research has shown an increasing prevalence of child labor in these communities, an anthropological investigation into how it manifests and why it persists is valuable in elucidating the implications of systemic barriers to socioeconomic success and the dissonances in discourse regarding child labor between families and aid workers. Accordingly, this research is based on transnational, multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork conducted in an urban host community in Irbid, Jordan, humanitarian/government offices in Irbid and Amman, Jordan, and the resettled Syrian refugee community in Louisville, Kentucky. Using grounded theory, interviews with the families and aid workers were analyzed to search for patterns in the narratives that were provided. The emerging themes included the use of adaptive strategy through parental investment, discrepancies in discourse between families and aid workers, and the dynamic relationship between culture and displacement. The primary dissonance in discourse appeared in the aid workers’ culturalist explanations to child labor despite the absence of child labor in the cultural framework of the interviewed families. Nonetheless, the role of cultural conceptualizations of education in the decisions that led to child labor, in the case of one family, highlighted the disjointed and fragmented nature of culture itself. Through study of the relevant discourses and the various driving forces of child labor, this thesis stresses the crucial need for holistic strategies in child labor initiatives led by humanitarian organizations.

Lay Summary

This thesis investigates child labor as an adaptive strategy among Syrian refugees living in urban host communities in the Middle East. It is based on fieldwork conducted in an urban host community in Irbid, Jordan, humanitarian/government offices in Irbid and Amman, Jordan, and the resettled Syrian refugee community in Louisville, Kentucky. The emerging themes included the use of adaptive strategy through parental investment, discrepancies in discourse between families and aid workers, and the dynamic relationship between culture and displacement. The primary dissonance in discourse appeared in the aid workers’ culturalist explanations to child labor despite the absence of child labor in the cultural framework of the interviewed families. Nonetheless, the role of cultural conceptualizations of education in the decisions that led to child labor, in the case of one family, highlighted the disjointed and fragmented nature of culture itself. Through study of the relevant discourses and the various driving forces of child labor, this thesis stresses the crucial need for holistic strategies in child labor initiatives led by humanitarian organizations.

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