ABS163 - Using cultural-historical activity theory to explore trauma among refugee populations in Europe

3.5 Unit of analysis: historicity, context, and levels of analytic scale
11:40 AM, Thursday 31 Aug 2017 (20 minutes)
Midday Meal   12:00 PM to 01:30 PM (1 hour 30 minutes)
Europe is living through a refugee crisis of historic proportions which has now become one of the continent’s defining challenges of the early 21st century. Not least among the difficulties are the multiple traumas faced by this population, which constitute severe threats to human, social, cultural, and community development. The psychological impact of atrocities endured by refugees and asylum seekers populations is clear, with the literature reporting significantly high prevalence rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among this population. However, there have been significant concerns raised in the literature over the relevance and cross-cultural validity of PTSD as a diagnostic construct. Therefore, consistent with major Vygotskian principles of interactive individual–societal development via the creation of meaning in everyday activities, this paper presents the results of a qualitative investigation into experiences of trauma among refugees and asylum seekers. We will present the results of a 2-month research intervention with NGOs addressing the refugee crisis in Athens, Greece - which included both participant observation and qualitative, in-depth interviews with staff and beneficiaries guided by cultural-historical activity theory. The analytic focuses is on historicity and context as well as social and material environments in an attempt to go beyond an ‘atomistic’ or individualised framing of psychological difficulties – a particularly relevant consideration for understanding trauma among refugees and asylum seekers in light of the multiple and arguably ongoing environmental stressors with which they are faced as they negotiate material ecologies which both enable and constrain their human activity.
University of Neuchatel
University of Neuchatel

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