Tired Bodies and Traveling Women: Gender and Economy in the Bosnian Refugee Migration to the United States, 1992-2005

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Bosnian women war refugees are not only trauma survivors, but are actively engaged in economic and social practices that shape their American sites of relocation. These economic activities--wage labor, and unremunerated volunteer and kin labor--are embedded in a moral framework of mutual obligation rooted in the concept veze / connections, and in householding practices in which women's work is prominent and valued. Refugees entered the United States during the end of the Cold War and the global rise in neoliberal approaches to governance both in formerly communist Europe and in America. Economic strategies cultivated during the socialist era prove useful in this new context characterized by refugee interactions with neoliberalizing state and faith-based institutions that posit a moral frame hinged on the figures of the Bosnian victim and American savior, who together enact a culture of dependency wherein women's work is not recognized. These figures travel as iconic images in popular media, but also are embodied in everyday interactions among American caseworkers and volunteers, and Bosnian refugees. I identify the tensions between peoples' sensibilities surrounding obligation and dependence through an ethnographic exploration of peoples' home, work, and cultural sites, and narrative depictions of war and refugee life. Here, the politics of representation is viewed as central to women's negotiations of postwar material life. American and European-produced television, theatre, film, and textual depictions of refugees circulate widely in Chicago and in "Southtown" Massachusetts. I find that Boniaks' distinct status as both white ethnics and Muslims is central to these storylines. Finally, war narratives reveal the impacts of large-scale economic shifts in formerly socialist Europe, and in late capitalist America on Bosnians' postwar lives. I engage scholars of neoliberal globalization, refugee studies, moral economy, and communication studies to investigate the circumstances under which women refugees are making do in America

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  • 06/26/2018
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