Communication ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 5-17-2017


The purpose of this study is to examine how former African women refugees negotiate their identity, sense of belonging, and home in the context of transnational displacement. To explore this topic, I conducted in-depth interviews, participant observation, and focus group interviews with African women who came to the United States as refugees and who now live in two cities in the Southwestern and Midwestern United States. The resulting data was analyzed using both thematic and narrative analysis.

For this study, I recruited through a snowball/network sampling strategy a total of 20 former African women refugees and conducted 15 in-depth interviews, three focus groups, and participant observation. I sought to know how they articulated identity frames and negotiated identity gaps in the process of transnational displacement. The analysis yielded a total of six themes that speak to their identity negotiation post-resettlement: being Othered while working to join the American dream; maintaining traditional gender roles as well as gender role fluidity postresettlement; resisting U.S. cultural practices while affirming African cultural practices; remembering imagined homes while grappling with the future postresettlement; duty to family while attending to the harsh reality of life in the United States; and, social fluidity in home countries versus social conservatism postresettlement.

Results from this study point to how the narratives of the former African women refugees reveal identity maintenance, transformation, and resistance as they make sense of the tensions and contradictions of their fragmented, gendered selves. These narratives thus illustrate the fluidity and adaptability of their identity positions post-resettlement. Additionally, the participants’ narratives suggest that former African women refugees maintain a connection to a remembered home and seek to recreate the sense of communal identity they experienced by enacting particular cultural activities here in the United States. In this process, there is a negotiation of identity along fractured geographical, affective, and cultural spaces they navigate.

This study contributes to current bodies of knowledge by offering an intercultural communication focused interrogation of the lived experiences of former African women refugees resettled in non-gateway immigrant cities. It also extends scholarship that applies the communication theory of identity’s (CTI) identity frames and gap to elucidate the fragmentation of identity experienced during transnational displacement by underscoring the interpenetration of personal, enacted, relational, and communal frames in identity negotiation. Overall, this study advances a better understanding of African women refugees’ lives, offering an in-depth look into how their personal, enacted, relational, and communal identities are influenced by transnationalism.




Identity negotiation, African women, Refugees, Resettlement, Identity frames and gaps, Transnational displacement

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Committee Member (Chair)

Ilia Rodríguez Nazario

Second Committee Member

Karen A. Foss

Third Committee Member

Mary Jane Collier

Fourth Committee Member

Eddah Mutua