The Evelyn Oldfield Unit’s Refugee Communities History Project (RCHP) has documented and publicised diverse contributions that people recognised as “refugees” in Britain between 1951 and 2006 have made to London’s culture and economy. Personal oral histories of over 150 adults from fifteen refugee communities in London have been permanently archived at the Museum of London. Elements of these RCHP interviews have featured in a high profile public museum exhibition (November 2006 - February 2007), on an RCHP website and in multimedia resources.
This investigation attempts to explore the various implications of this project (RCHP) (a) by focusing on the impact the interviews had on both the interviewing fieldworkers and interviewees and (b) by examining this phenomenon (i.e. interviewing refugees for community participatory projects) and locating it in its wider contexts. In doing so, this study endeavours to analyse the ways that refugee narratives are constructed (and co-constructed with other relevant inputs), the various parameters that affect the way refugees not only construct their own narratives but also, consequently, their own identity as refugees.
This study uses qualitative research methods, analysing RCHP oral history transcripts and comments on the exhibition and further interviews with RCHP participants about their experiences of the project.
Some of the themes that emerge from this analysis include: belonging (ambivalence of belonging, oppositional discourses of belonging), positioning, loss, trauma, grief, powerlessness.
As the thesis author was also an interviewing fieldworker in the RCHP, she offers a series of reflections of the experience of conducting the interviews and interacting with the refugee interviewees and their narratives. She explores the psychological complexities of her own responses as well as of the interview dynamics, including transference and counter-transference dimensions as well as various ways to defend against anxieties, including the process of othering.
The way that RCHP interviewees and fieldworkers may both collaborate with and push against each other to fulfil and frustrate desire for personal power and social belonging is explored.
At the end, it is argued that the findings of this research could inform future projects of this nature and tentative recommendations are advanced.