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Keywords:

  • social representations;
  • Refugees;
  • Refugees from Africa;
  • core and peripheral elements;
  • Africa;
  • discourse

Abstract

This study investigated social understandings of refugees from Africa in a regional town in NSW, Australia. Drawing from Social Representations Theory (Moscovici, 1984), the study investigated whether place of origin (Africa) mediated understandings held about refugees. Two studies were conducted. In the first study, a between-subjects manipulation using word association tasks revealed that the super-ordinate term Refugees, and Refugees from Africa shared a common core of elements (poor, war). Although sharing a core, these representations were differentiated by peripheral elements which concurred with social understanding of Africa (e.g. disease), and media portrayal of refugees/asylum seekers (e.g. boat). The salience of these meanings in the community was further explored using a self-report questionnaire. Results suggested that place of origin, manifested as peripheral representational elements, may play an important role in differentiating, orientating and linking specific refugee groups to particular socio-political contexts. Further, we contend that place of origin may be understood as a discursive resource, deployed for rhetorical ends. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.