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'We are Family': The Use of Family Tropes in Refugee/Advocate Talk

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This paper explores the ways in which the language of family is used to define the relationship between advocates and the refugees they are helping to settle. Using extracts from interviews with members of the community of Albany, a rural centre 400 kms south of Perth, the capital of Western Australia, terms such as 'child', 'the boys', and 'mother', are identified and their functions explored. The use of the terms simultaneously constructs and reproduces ideas about what 'family' should be, while making sense of an otherwise dominant/subordinate relationship between the advocates and refugees. As a corollary, the use of this language has a political function, signifying the possibilities for very close relationships between mainstream Australians and newcomers, which contrasts with widespread negative constructions of refugees as alien 'Others'. Using a broadly ethnomethodological approach, which utilizes Goffman's notion of framing and Sacks' 'membership categorization analysis', this paper focuses on the positive functions of the use of the language of family in a non-familial context.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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