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Navigating a new life: Syrian refugees and their smartphones in Vienna

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Networked technologies are a key tool for today’s refugees; not only on the move but also upon arrival in their new surroundings. Where mobile Internet access is affordable and infrastructures are stable, as in Europe’s metropoles, refugees can use smartphones to cope with everyday challenges. The paper presents findings from a qualitative interview study with Syrian refugees who recently settled in Vienna, Austria. The study implemented a three-fold methodology, combining face-to-face interviews, WhatsApp chats, and participant research. Results are presented from a localized appropriation notion (the act of making use of local specific media environment when drawing a media technology into one’s life) identifying practices in the contexts of: place-making and geographical orientation; information access and self-help; language learning and translation; and ‘doing family’. Hence, refugees are both emotionally attached to and technically dependent on their devices. The article concludes that smartphones hold an untapped potential for integration processes.
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Keywords: Forced migration; appropriation; digital migration; information landscape; mobile methods; mobile technology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute for Comparative Media and Communication Studies (CMC), Vienna, Austria

Publication date: June 3, 2018

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