Diversity and Integration

/Diversity and Integration
Diversity and Integration2022-10-05T17:19:25+02:00

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How do refugee women respond to labour market integration challenges during crises? Experiences by women in Austria

Almina Bešic & Petra Aigner| Johannes Kepler University (JKU) Linz, Austria

Almost half of all refugees worldwide are women (UNHCR, 2021). Still, women tend not to be a core target group of integration measures, particularly when it comes to the labour market. Employment is, however, one of the key factors influencing refugees’ participation in society, because it is related to their economic independence, health and wellbeing.

All refugees experience LMI challenges, however, these are even more pronounced for refugee women. Various conditions such as gendered immobility, patriarchal roles, discrimination, missing childcare facilities and de-qualification processes limit their access to the labour markets and support for employment (e.g. Pallmann et al., 2019).

While all these barriers are well known to scholars, developments surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic have led to additional challenges in the host country labour markets. Women have been specifically affected by the pandemic – often dropping out of the workforce to care for children – and have had difficulty finding work during this time (e.g. Yavorsky et al., 2021).

Assessing the challenges for refugee women in the Austrian labour market during the pandemic

In our study, we address the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic on the labour market integration (LMI) of refugee women and their response to the changes resulting from the pandemic.

Our analysis occurs in the context of Austria since it is one of the European Union (EU) countries with a large refugee population offering institutionalised support. But just like many other countries, Austria has been heavily affected by the pandemic, and it has used furloughs and shut-downs frequently in the first phases of the pandemic in 2020 until early 2021, when measures were relaxed.

We adopted a qualitative approach and conducted semi-structured interviews with the women. Our results reveal three kinds of responses, which we label action, reaction and resignation.

Action towards digital literacy

The largest change by far was the spotlight on digital literacy. Participation in society is increasingly tied to digital skills, also for marginalised groups, who face a digital divide (see Alam and Imran, 2015). Thus, while issues of digital literacy and employment have been visible before the pandemic, the fact that the world (including Austria) ‘went online’ overnight, profoundly influenced the responses by women. When the pandemic hit, the women often found themselves without basic infrastructure, but had to nonetheless navigate the integration requirements. Here we identify that the women have taken ‘action’ to educate themselves and develop their digital skills. This, however, seems to be situated in the family sphere with children being a main source of support. In a recent article, the BBC pointedly reports that digital skills are a requirement for everyone in the workforce (BBC, 2022). Thus, there is a need for skills development professionally, for example through upskilling (including training and development courses).

Reaction to changing requirements during the pandemic and resignation in the labour market

Besides the focus on digital skills development, the women have also reacted to changes in regulations during the pandemic. This became clear with care obligations, as interestingly these became less pressing during the pandemic. While in 2020 most women reported difficulties with LMI due to care obligations, this changed from mid-2021 onwards when the government lifted restrictions and schools mostly reopened. Thus, the women reacted differently throughout the pandemic – while initially they put their job search on hold, during 2021 many resumed the search. Still, school closures and inconsistent opening times during the pandemic have limited the flexibility of women at the labour market, making it difficult to find and hold down a job.

Finally, we identify ‘resignation’ by some women who put off important career-related developments for later, also risking that, with time, the likelihood of employment in a profession they were educated for might decrease creating a lockdown effect. This could have important implications for the vulnerability of these women, as skills atrophy might make them even more vulnerable in a changed labour market after the pandemic.


In this study, we show how the pandemic has highlighted the need for digital literacy for refugee women and that the pandemic has exacerbated existing difficulties for the women. We see three types of responses towards these changes, foremost ‘action’ by the refugee women towards digital skills development. We also see ‘reaction’ regarding issues with care obligations. Finally, some women have ‘resigned’ to underemployment, due to limited job-prospects during the pandemic.

While some of our results might seem unsurprising, tangible solutions are missing. Austria can be seen as exemplary across many other (EU) countries. Although ‘integration’ is being propagated as the main goal, currently LMI policy is one of exclusion. We thus call for a progressive LMI policy (see Bešić et al., 2022) in Austria that would enable refugee women to focus on necessary digital skills development. This means more investment in digital skills development and retraining for those people that might not get a job in a changed labour market after the pandemic. Digital skills are becoming ever more a necessity across all sectors and job types. As our results show, even those at the lowest level of job hierarchy need to be able to apply for jobs online or interact with online systems when accessing support

While women are not the main priority of integration policies across the EU, recent refugee movements from Ukraine towards EU countries include mainly women with children. The longer-term consequences of such movements are difficult to project. Still, policy makers and practitioners in Austria and across the EU are claiming to support quick LMI of these women. Hence, the challenges and responses around digital literacy, underemployment, and once again the importance of care work are crucial to enable these women access to the host country labour markets. Policy makers and support organisations should thus use their experiences from the pandemic in developing support measures that enable them to get sustainable employment, not just a ‘survival job’.

October 2022

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Fragile Alliance – struggles of migration in Innsbruck in the 1974 “ÖAD-Protest”

Marcel Amoser | PhD Candidate, Department of Contemporary History, University of Innsbruck

Protest by and for migrants has long been a niche topic, at least in German-speaking movement research. This is even more astonishing since international solidarity was and still is written in capital letters, especially in the new left. In many cases, however, the concerns of migrants were considered only as side contradictions and were subordinated to the worldwide anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist struggle. Therefore, the solidarization with the concerns of migrants remained fragile. This was also the case in the protests against the Austrian Foreign Student Service in 1974. Using the example of the protests in Innsbruck, I will focus on the relationship between the Communist Group Innsbruck (KGI) and the foreign students, to discuss the limits of solidarity towards migrants in this specific case. The KGIs interpretation of the protests and their understanding of international solidarity are of particular interest here, because they were in some way symptomatic for dogmatic left groups during this period. But first things first. What was the ÖAD and what was its problem?

The Austrian Service for Foreign Students and its problems

The Austrian Foreign Student Service (ÖAD) was founded in 1961 by the Austrian Student Union and the Austrian Rectors’ Association. The founding of the ÖAD was a reaction to the increasing number of foreign students at Austrian universities. Students from developing countries were of particular interest from the 1960s onwards. Not only the two superpowers, but also Austria – albeit on a more modest scale – tried to expand their own economic and political influence with development aid. In this context the ÖAD fulfilled an ambivalent function. It helped students to find their way around in Austria, advised them on study matters and helped them find work and accommodation. At the same time, it was also an instrument of the dominant development policy logic.

Potential for conflict lay above all in the University Preparation Programs, which were obligatory for all foreign students whose school-leaving certificate was not considered “equivalent” by the responsible dean’s office. These courses had to be attended primarily by students from developing countries and socialist states. This unequal treatment, but also the long duration of the course (up to one and a half years) and the abundance of obligatory courses that were not adapted to the later subject of study met with criticism. Especially the subject “European Studies” was in many cases perceived as unnecessary harassment, the primary aim of which was to convey a good picture of Europe.

Another problem was the power of the Lecturers of confidence, who acted as contact persons for foreign students. And. At the end of the 1960s, the Ministry of Interior sought a direct line to the university to obtain information on the progress of foreign students, because “quasi-students” were considered a security policy problem. Between 1967 and 1974, an agreement between the Federal Police Directorates and the ÖAD existed. From then on, letters of recommendation from Lecturers of confidence formed the basis for extending residence permits. This meant an enormous concentration of power and the possibility of monitoring and disciplining foreign students. In addition, the ÖAD also maintained contacts with foreign embassies, which seemed highly suspicious, especially to students from countries like Iran or Greece.

The protests, the KGI and foreign students

For the above-mentioned reasons, foreign students at the University Preparation Programs in Innsbruck went on strike in April 1974. Previously, protests had already taken place in Vienna and Graz. They demanded an unlimited residence permit for the duration of their studies, the abolition of the University Preparation Programs, the ÖAD and the system of Lecturers of confidence, as well as social and legal equality between Austrian and foreigners. To inform the public about the situation and the goals, leaflets were distributed teach-ins were organized and a petition was set up, which reached 1,000 signatures. The strike ended in June 1974 with partial successes. A decree of the Ministry of the Interior rescinded the existing agreement with the Lecturers of confidence, the University Preparation Programs were reformed and the subject of European studies abolished. However, in some areas the changes were only cosmetic in nature, the large number of courses remained, the start of studies was delayed for some foreign students and the ÖAD resumed its activities after a short time.

The protests were partially successful because they were supported by a broad alliance. Among the supporting groups in Innsbruck were the associations of Arab, Greek and Iranian Students and the Communist Group Innsbruck. The KGI, one of the many Maoist organizations that flourished in Europe in the first half of the 1970s, was particularly exposed in the protests. In their view, the ÖAD stood for imperialism, which was interpreted with dogmatic reference to Lenin as the highest level of capitalism. This provided a generalizable framework of interpretation that combined anti-colonial liberation struggles with solidarity actions for foreign students. It vanished the most diverse causes of conflict under the umbrella of a main contradiction. Iran, Vietnam, Austria and here the ÖAD were all models of one and the same destructive logic. The foreign students were thus addressed as victims of imperialism who, after an anti-capitalist awakening, would have begun to fight back. In doing so, the KGI built up a dichotomy between “the reactionaries” (university leadership, ministry, “ÖH bonzes”) and the progressive minority (underdog), who recognized the “true” situation and showed solidarity in the anti-capitalist struggle.

In this juxtaposition, the idea of a “united anti-capitalist struggle front” took on a special meaning. With it, the KGI formulated a bracket for the various groupings that showed solidarity with the foreign students. However, it also universalized the position of the KGI, which granted itself the power of interpretation over the “actual” conditions, objectives, and solutions, and declared itself the mouthpiece of the strikers. The “united front” demanded subordination for the sake of a higher goal, anything that did not correspond to the “party line” was considered a problematic attempt of splitting. This also led to the interpretation that the strike had been ended not only because of the “attempts at division” by the external enemies, but also because of the splitters within the strike committee. Ironically, the scapegoat was a student from Greece.

The postulated solidarity with the “foreign colleagues” began to crumble as early as May when a protest resolution was worked out. The KGI introduced a proposal based on the Viennese model. However, the expanded socio-political demands met with little approval in the audience. The strikers were primarily interested in improving their situation at the university and not in the world revolution. The KGI was therefore disappointed to note that “the level of the movement in Vienna was much higher than [in Innsbruck]”. Afterwards, a leaflet was published, which, on behalf of the strikers, resisted political attempts at appropriation by the supporting groups and firmly emphasized that this was not a political strike. It was published by the above-mentioned student from Greece, who had lived in Innsbruck since the early 1960s and now held Austrian citizenship, which was necessary for publishing printed works and register political assemblies. With his actions he fell out of favor with the KGI. When he then sought dialogue with the authorities on behalf of the strike committee, he was stylized as a “reactionary” strikebreaker who had acted without a mandate. This interpretation of the events is peculiar, especially since the student in question was also a foreigners’ representative of the ÖH. At that time, almost exclusively Greek students were in the University Preparation Programs. The Foreigners’ Representative was critical towards the regime of the colonels and active in the Association of Greek Students, which was an important support especially for newcomers to Innsbruck. It can therefore be assumed that he enjoyed the trust of the students in the University Preparation Programs, even though he too was in a privileged position and was not one of those directly affected. We know from postcolonial reflections, that there is no adequate representation. For sure the student from Greece had its own interests to join the protest and was not the “authentic voice” of all migrants, a particular culture, or a whole country. But his reconciliation with those responsible seemed to be in the interest of the strikers. They had already achieved partial successes and a continuation of the strike would have meant that they would not be able to begin their studies. In the worst case, their residence permits would not have been extended, which for some of the Greek students would have meant doing military service under the regime of the colonels. In the privileged position of the KGI the protest was on the other hand risk-free. It would therefore have preferred to continue the strike.

The conflict illustrates the struggles for interpretation and claims to power that could overlay alliances between Austrian and foreign students. While the strikers, at great risk, sought to improve their current situation, the KGI instrumentalized them for their anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist struggle. This shows also the different social positions and interests of foreign students and the KGI. Under the condition of existing power asymmetries solidarity was a privilege linked to terms given by a privileged group. The Alliance ended at the point where the revolutionary expectations were countered by the recipients of solidarity. When they – with the help from the student from Greece – started to defend themselves against a political instrumentalization and negotiated with the authorities. For the KGI, this was a problematic attempt at division under the auspices of a “united anti-capitalist struggle front”. Its understanding of international solidarity heard the voices of foreign students only selectively and in so far as they confirmed its own ideological view. It distorted the concerns of those affected, cemented existing hierarchies instead of weakening them and could even have been at the expense of some of the foreign students. Therefore, the alliance in the ÖAD-protests in Innsbruck remained fragile.

December 2020

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The integrating momentum of honour

Marie Victoria Luise Marten | PhD Candidate, Department of Philosophy, University of Innsbruck

Let us take a look at the results of the terror attack on November 2nd, 2020 in Vienna: the reaction of three people, who were involved, put them in the spotlight. The two MMA fighters Mikail Özen and Recep Tayyip Gültekin, as well as Osama Joda El Hosna, immediately provided help and thus exposed themselves to a dangerous situation. Their actions were probably not primarily aimed at earning honour, but merely aimed at their humanistic ideal of mutual assistance. Their selfless behaviour, however, gained recognition, which is also reflected in receiving honour.

In the contemporary discourse on motives for human agency honour is hardly cited as a cause or drive. However, their power, the associated opportunities, and their position in the community are so significant to people that they risk a lot for it. Honour plays a decisive role in our motives for action every day. Its components have remained structurally the same over the millennia, although honour has frequently adopted different social forms. Honour can be understood as a deserved claim to respect that has to be asserted again and again. That is why human actions, along with other motives, are based on ideas of honour that are recognized in a specific group. In this way, group members actions can be expected and thus contribute to social integration. Different sociological and philosophical authors have consistently viewed honour as a central means of integration and as a foundation of the community. In addition to that, this post aims to view honour as an integration factor in a pluralistic society.

Theoretical foundations

The sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and especially Georg Simmel worked out the connection between acts of honour and integration. Bourdieu, however, refers to groups in a national context in his habitus concept. He defines honour as symbolic capital. Even Simmel’s elaborations do not explicitly refer to the fact that social integration can also be made possible through acts of honour under the conditions of mobility and migration. Simmel’s formal approach regards social forms as patterns of social interaction that are characterized by a supra-individual character. That allows a theory of honour that existed independently of individual worlds of honour and their definitions. The specific contents of the honour requirements that are placed on a group are decisive for the whole group. However, his theory focuses on understanding the phenomenon of social interaction as such. Simmel’s bottom line is that honour is viewed as a normative control system and thus makes actions predicted. The fundamental question of social cohesion is what holds modern societies together beyond mere interest calculations and state regulations. Consequently, honour is regarded as an intermediate level of integration, which creates cohesion and provides control gently but not without obligation. However, in a pluralistic community, the control function of honour cannot work for the whole society, but only for individual groups. In Simmel’s theory, as in Bourdieu’s, honour is closely related to forms of lifestyle concerning certain groups. Honour becomes a medium of communication. In a pluralistic society, however, it needs clarification and acceptance of different honour requirements to function as an integrating factor.

How can honour function as an aspect of social integration in a pluralistic society that is characterized by migration?

Extension of the honour-concept

First of all, the thoughts by Kwame Antony Appiah are interesting. In his analysis of three historical examples (duel, tying feet in China, Atlantic slavery), Appiah explains that codes of honour can undoubtedly ask for immoral acts. In contrast, there is another kind of honour, namely the right to respect, when acting according to principles of morality. Appiah falls back on the classic distinction between recognition respect and appreciation respect, according to Stephen Darwall, and describes honour as a right to respect, or the right to be treated with respect. As with Simmel and Bourdieu, Appiah notes that codes of honour require people with a specific identity to behave in a certain way. Therefore, different identities often mean different requirements. As a result, actions between different groups are no longer predictable. The point is, however, that standard codes of honour can be recognized beyond morality, which goes beyond one’s own identity. It is about humanistic values ​​that are based on a shared conception of what is morally right and thus respected and valued. Morality also demands that everyone is equipped with dignity and that others behave accordingly. So, it needs a code of honour that is compatible with morality and affects all people – as long as people adhere to these demands of honour. Consequently, honour can again be a concept through which integration can succeed in a pluralistic society, which is characterized by mobility and migration.


Honour changes in that reflection. Even if Simmel already said that honour has a function of control and can thus contribute to social integration, Appiah is the first scholar to recognize the same potential in a pluralistic society that consists of different worlds of honour. Moreover, honour is conceivable as a momentum of integration, insofar as it functions as a driving force that causes people to take responsibility in a shared world seriously. Put another way, if honour motivates moral action, these actions are expectable by all people. They can, therefore, also be viewed as a control and integration factor in the sense of Simmel. On this account, honour can appeal to reason and free will to act in such a way that all people understand the act and would also expect an honourable appearance.

I want to draw a parallel again to the three men who immediately provided help during the terrorist attack in Vienna. No one would ask for what they did, but in a certain sense, their deeds can be expected according to a humanistic ideal. Beyond cultural ideas of how individual groups understand honour, they were honoured by different sides – from the Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, from the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Ambassador of the European Union in Turkey Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut and the Turkish Ambassador to Austria Ozan Ceyhun. The honouring shows that actions that conform to morality and follow a shared human responsibility can generate honour beyond mobility, migration and different honour worlds.

 December 2020

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Cultural integration through music? Musical Practice of Immigrant Musicians in Germany

Louisa Hutzler | PhD Candidate, University of Salzburg

The starting point of my research has been my impression of how the German society dealt with the number of migrating refugees that came to the country since 2015 – both politically and culturally. Simultaneously, current interaction processes between the immigrants and members of the host society are an important research area, based on the socio-political and cultural challenges that migration implies. Such challenges have been at the center of scientific discourses for some time.

When I started organising musical workshops and developed educational concerts for refugee children, I experienced that music and musical practice can nurture communication between people from different cultural backgrounds in a unique way.

Therefore, my study investigates the ensemble dynamic of immigrant musicians and musicians from the host society. To this end, two central subject areas will be addressed: On the one hand, the study observes the music – and non music related communication between the musicians. On the other hand, it focuses on analyzing and presenting communication and translation strategies between different musical systems. In this context I am interested in the extent to which language, musical education, various concepts of professionalism and different music theoretical knowledge influence a musical ensemble’s rehearsal process. It seems important to recognize how these cultural differences and peculiarities are constructed in processes of cultural interaction and what meaning they take on to determine their importance in this context.

At the center of my research are organizations and networks that perceive themselves as helpers for professional integration of immigrant musicians, such as “Klänge der Hoffnung“ (Leipzig) and “Bridges“ (Frankfurt). Both organizations invite musicians to take part in ensemble projects dedicated to foster dialogue between musicians with and without migratory background who practice diverse musical styles and genres. As well as organizing those projects, they provide a network of musicians and organizers who support immigrant musicians in continuing their professional careers. The contexts in which those organizations operate open up fields of social interaction. My study is based on the assumption that those “social spaces of music making“ (cf. M. Hara: Sustaining the assemblage (2007)) are critical to the self-perception and external image of musicians with a migration background. A basic understanding of these spaces and how the musicians and organizers interact in them will be essential to comprehend their strategies of communication and therefore integration. The examination of the discursive embedding and justification of these initiatives in the public sphere and the generation of cultural capital will be of great interest to the study. Questions concerning the distribution of agency and participation on the part of migrants as well as the actors in the host society are issues the projects raise pertain to: Who determines the concepts, who distributes the roles, who has the ‘sovereignty of interpretation‘?

The methodological approaches of this study evolve around ethnomusicology and musicology as I examine the rehearsals and concerts as a participatory observer and the musical translation strategies e.g. in notation or arrangement. In addition, interviews with the actors will form an important part of the methodological tools to gain additional information on the situations of musical practice within the ensembles. Since the interviews are intended to provide specific information, such as on communication within the ensemble, cultural identity and the self-image as a professional musician, they are based on a guideline. When conducting those interviews, I often explore the various roles and responsibilities I have as a researcher. Social, moral and ethical dimensions that can shape musical action beyond an artistic aesthetic are fascinating in developing an understanding of (musical) communication and strongly influencing the observing perspective (cf. Dwight Conquerwood: Performing as a Moral Act (2003)). The same applies to the clarification and delimitation of different terminologies that are established in the field of migration research especially in terms of post-colonialism. The term ‘migrant‘ already shapes the self- and external perception of the immigrant musicians (cf. M. Parzer: Double Burden of representation (2020)). Realizing to what extent such terminologies are influenced by historical perspectives on migration and the significance of constant self – reflection towards „wellconceived cultural advocacy“ (cf. T. Cooley & G. Barz: Casting Shadows (2008) seems to be a big part of  the process and of great importance – especially in light of the prevalent populism in politics and the media in discussing the social and cultural meanings of immigration.

December 2020

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Analyzing Approaches to Conflict: Reactions to the Terror Attack in Vienna

Lena Drummer  | PhD Candidate, University of Innsbruck

In this post, I describe a number of reactions to the terror attack in Vienna that took place on November 2, 2020, and problematize their impact on social change from the perspective of conflict transformation theory. By doing so, I will outline the qualitative differences between conflict resolution, conflict management, and conflict transformation, arguing for a paradigm shift from exclusive to inclusive approaches to conflict.

The Episode: A Terror Attack in the Heart of Vienna

On the evening of November 2, 2020, a young, radicalized man sympathizing with ISIS, terrorized a countless number of people at Vienna’s nightlife area and beyond. He shot dead four people and injured twenty-two. Symbolically, I interpret this violation as an attack on all people who enjoy a liberal life model and on Austria’s modern nation state, which, according to ISIS, both are major threats to Islam (Lohlker 2016).

The reactions to this terror attack varied, but we can nevertheless notice a certain trend: The perception that Islamist terror attacks are phenomena that intrude from somewhere external, and that they need to be contained.

Pacifying the Situation

The Austrian government responded based on modern concepts of peace, which overemphasize security aspects. To pacify the situation, the perpetrator was killed by police nine minutes after he opened fire; at least fourteen of his acquaintances were arrested in the following days; a committee to analyze whether there had been mistakes on governmental levels has been implemented and questions of how to improve institutional and communication structures to prevent another brutal attack are being debated; as the attacker had a bi-national Austrian-North-Macedonian background, the prohibition of dual citizenship has once more become a subject of debate – proposing a correlation between the willingness of brutally attacking civilians and (foreign) nationalities.

The rhetoric of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz only strengthens such ideas. In his speech in response to the attack, he subtly draws a line between Austria as a “safe land” and the “world that is anything but safe.” He further says, that “our enemy” is “Islamist Extremism” and not “all members of a religious group”, or “all people, coming from a specific country.” If there hadn’t been this word “all” one could believe his ambition to unify the Austrian population. However, this little word implies that we must still be careful, as some of the people he describes are or might be dangerous. Even though he emphasizes that this would not be a battle between “Christians and Muslims”, “Austrians and Migrants”, his speech leaves an uncomfortably destructive echo on the relation between the members of those groups, which have been categorized by Kurz.

Such responses and debates not only lead to fast conclusions about right policies but also neglect the necessity to inquire systematically into the relational foundations of terrorizing violence. This constitutes a fundamental problem in many contemporary approaches to addressing conflicts.

Approaches to Conflict in Conflict Resolution and Management Theory

The implementation of the above-mentioned points and the discussion of the questions raised address only the surface of the problem. This makes sense in the logic of conflict resolution and management, as prescriptive approaches to conflict. They seek to end or prevent a situation that is not desired. Lederach (2014) points out that both concepts “attempt to get rid of conflict when people were raising important and legitimate issues” for real change. Such approaches solve the episode, which however, is only a visible expression of much deeper entanglements of conflictive relations. In this logic, whatever nourishes such violent escalation remains unaddressed and enmeshes the problem even further.

Eliminating the killer, having better control through more solid structures, and tightening the legal framework as a measurement of crime prevention, while the socio-structural and culturally violent circumstances remain the same, does not automatically mean that this will contain such radicalization. Quite the contrary, studies indicate that the containing and excluding measures provoke an increase in the number of those radicalized. Hence, we must understand that terror has not arrived here, as some people say. It has been nourished here.

However, instead of allowing the broadening of perspectives towards underlying dynamics to this intolerable, hideous attack, the rhetoric of President Alexander Van der Bellen draws a morally rejecting narration. In his statement right after the attack, Van der Bellen reduces the motivation of the perpetrator to nothing further than “hate” that shall “not fall onto fertile ground.” Rather than acknowledging that hate – if that was the motivation in the first place – had developed on Austrian soil, he generally rejects hate and highlights the values of “tolerance, respect, democracy, freedom and love.” If hate really was the emotionally intrinsic motivation for committing such a crime, I’d suggest to reflect this intra-perspective to the outer perspective and to question if the benefits of tolerance, respect, democracy and love are available to everyone living in Austria, a country that is characterized by diverse societal contexts.

Calls for exclusion apparently find broad resonance in society: “Schleich di, Du Oaschloch!” (English: “Piss of, asshole!”), a response to the attacker, became viral on social media. Indeed, it brought some lightness into the sad and heavy-felt situation and summarizes the debates about the hardly comprehensible incident in simple obscene language. However, this statement does not only reject the behavior and its deeper rooted ideological thought, but more so the person itself.

From my understanding, the way of dealing with such conflict episodes is part of the problem. Certainly, radicalization and its atrocious violent expressions should never be tolerated. Nonetheless, if we really want to change something about it, we must understand more about the relational aspects that nourish radicalized worldviews and the violent escalation of conflicting dynamics.

Looking Beyond the Visible: Conflict Transformation

In the obituary to her sister, one of the four victims shot dead, Irmgard P. remarks that her sister would have rejected aggressive responses to forms of aggression as she stood for inclusive approaches. By suggesting to rather say: “Not like this!”, and to offer support, she indicates that the violation can also be seen as a call for help with a much bigger problem.

In conflict transformation theory, the violent expression of conflict (the episode) echoes dysfunctional relationships on underlying inter- and intrapersonal layers. This deeper-rooted web of relational patterns is called the epicenter. If conflicts escalate, this is often the tip of the iceberg, a history of lived experiences from which several episodes and issues have emerged. Wolfgang Dietrich (2012) argues that if they remain unseen, those dysfunctional relationships can be expressed in such a way, that the original issue may no longer be recognizable.

Therefore, it becomes inevitable when we aim at understanding conflicts more comprehensively and developing strategies for their transformation, to focus not only on the episode but more carefully on the epicenter of conflict. From a conflict transformation perspective, the main sources for change are the participants to the conflict themselves, which includes radicalized people. Excluding them from the approach to conflict will always cause a blind spot where we actually most urgently require answers.

December 2020

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Hate speech knows no (language) boundaries – interpreting xenophobic discourse in the European Parliament

Barbara Hinterplattner | PhD Candidate, Department of Translation Studies, University of Graz

The rise of xenophobic discourses and their effect on EU legislation

Imagine you work as a simultaneous interpreter in a sound-proof booth in the European Parliament. Many members of the European Parliament (MEPs) rely on your service. In the last few years, however, you have had to interpret speeches about “vast flows of migration into Europe” or “huge numbers of people illegally coming into Europe”, ending with statements such as “we have to close our borders”. How would you render these statements into your native language in real time?

This scenario has become a reality for many interpreters over the past few years, as xenophobic discourses have become more and more predominant in politics. Discourse strategies used by speakers include, but are not limited to, denying the xenophobic content of their speeches by starting with a disclaimer saying they are not racist (van Dijk, 2000, pp. 542f.), or stoking fear of mass immigration (Wahl, 2018, p.23). Expressions such as “tidal waves of migrants” who “want to take over”, sadly, seem to have found their way into the mainstream political discourse.

Discourses, in turn, influence legislation. This applies especially to the European Parliament (EP), one of the key players in EU legislation. The ordinary legislative procedure, which covers areas such as immigration, gives the same weight to the European Parliament as to the European Council (European Parliament). Immigration laws negotiated in the European Parliament have a direct impact on the destiny of thousands of people coming to Europe.

What exactly is the role of the interpreters in this scenario?

These multilingual negotiations are interpreted by simultaneous interpreters who thus play a role in propagating discourses across language barriers. In the process, they have to choose how to render the ideas of the speaker. Yet, this choice is not always an easy one, especially if the content of the speech is xenophobic in nature. Debates among professional interpreters and translators on this topic have found their way into the media in the wake of Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign. Trump’s controversial, xenophobic statements left many interpreters struggling to find the right words (e.g. Spiegel Online, 2017).

In the debate that unfolded over the years that followed, various suggestions were made by interpreters themselves on how to render politically incorrect or racist statements. Some suggested mitigating if in doubt, in order to avoid making mistakes. After all, conference interpreters can be held liable for mistranslations, as one EP interpreter pointed out. Another seasoned EP interpreter said in an interview that he sometimes tended to overcompensate xenophobic statements “to prevent [his] own convictions from showing through” (Lins, 2004). One could also argue that interpreters contribute to the democratic debate precisely by rendering each and every point of view, even the ones they find unacceptable. This is illustrated by another example from the EP. When some interpreters expressed their wish not to interpret the members of the then newly elected Front National, they were told that they had to accept all assignments or else they would not be recruited anymore (Donovan, 2011, pp.118f.).

Translational norms stipulating the invisibility and impartiality of simultaneous interpreters are still endorsed by many interpreters in theory, as surveys have shown (Zwischenberger, 2015). In practice, on the other hand, things are different. Studies of simultaneous interpretation in the European Parliament have shown that, far from being invisible, EU interpreters are active agents in the communication process (Beaton, 2007). They employ strategies such as strengthening or mitigating face-threatening acts (Bartłomiejczyk, 2016), that is, remarks that MEPs use to embarrass or insult other MEPs. They also use varying strategies when interpreting statements to which the audience or the media reacted adversely (Bartłomiejczyk, 2019).

Ethical issues to be explored in the PhD project

The ethical issues this kind of speeches raise are manifold. One aspect considered here is values. The core values of the European Union are enshrined in its treaties. They are, among others, respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights, “including the rights of persons belonging to minorities” (Art. 2 TEU).

IATE, the EU terminology database, which is designed by EU terminologists and destined for use by EU interpreters, also has a role to play in this regard. It not only contains performance instructions for EU translators and interpreters which partly refer to the EU’s core values, but it also uses four tags to evaluate its entries: preferred, admitted, deprecated and obsolete. Preferred marks a term as most suitable for EU texts; admitted means a term is technically correct, but there are better synonyms; deprecated indicates that a term should not be used; and obsolete marks a term which was previously used but which is outdated (Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union, p. 21). If interpreters decide to use a term that is marked as deprecated or degrading in the EU’s terminology database, this can be considered a conscious decision, especially if IATE offers alternative solutions. Furthermore, the target language audience would likely also notice that the original speaker used a term that is degrading, since the interpreter chose a target language term that is publicly marked as degrading as well.

A preliminary study of eight Hungarian speeches and their interpretations into English and German showed that interpreters tend to follow the performance instructions found in IATE. Moreover, the study also suggests that the interpreters tend to strengthen xenophobic lines of argument more often than other lines of argument. This tendency warrants further study.

Other questions that will also be explored in the course of the PhD project are: Is there any evidence of conflicting values, and if so, which values do the interpreters prioritise in the spur of the moment? Which patterns can be found in the way interpreters render xenophobic discourses? Which ethical theories are useful in further defining the role and the possible influence of the simultaneous interpreter? The PhD project tries to answer these questions by analysing a corpus consisting of 100 EP speeches on the topic of migration in English, German, French and Hungarian, and their corresponding interpretations, totalling 400 texts.

December 2020

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Building Socio-cultural resilience for successful communication

Theresa Klinglmayr | PhD Candidate, Department of Transcultural Communication University of Salzburg

“We don’t want Chinatown, we don’t want Little Italy” – with these words, the Austrian federal minister for women and integration Susanne Raab emphasized the importance of opposing so-called ‘parallel societies’ when presenting the Integration Report 2020. In this ‘battle’, she considers the promotion of ‘cultural integration’ as crucial. Although this statement claims to refer to real social conflicts, it predominantly reflects prevalent political-media discourses and leading opinions of specific groups in Austria’s population. Major surveys show that negative attitudes towards migration and migrants, especially Muslims, are relatively prevalent in Austria.

The political discourse of integration is not only controversially discussed in public, but steeped in a rhetoric of problems and deficits on the side of immigrants. In my research, I propose to open up a new perspective, which focuses on resources and potentials instead of shortcomings and failures, especially when it comes to the integration of so called ‘cultural others’. One of the pressing concerns of Austria’s ‘immigration society’ therefore is: How can we communicate successfully in order to promote a respectful and caring society and a good life for all? I argue that socio-cultural resilience is a necessary precondition for successful communication in culturally diverse environments and needs to be developed and supported at various levels of society.

  • Minds make Society

The philosopher and cognitive scientist Paul Thagard criticizes contemporary social sciences for neglecting mental processes of individuals and therefore failing to explain social change. Given the popularity of postmodernist theories, it has become common to assume that “everything is constructed on the basis of social relations such as power, with no inkling that these relations are mediated how people think about each other”. In contrast, Thagard’s social cognitivism emphasizes that “[s]ocial change comes from the combination of communicative interactions among people and their individual cognitive-emotional processes”. Thus, “social scientists who have ignored what happens in individual minds” could explain social change more sophistically by integrating psychological and neuronal theories. By referring to the concept of socio-cultural resilience, we are able to meet this demand.

  • Resilience and Communication

Resilience serves “as an overarching cipher for dealing with risks, hazards and incalculable events of disruptive change” and combines concepts such as “robustness, immunity, adaptivity and coping”. From the perspective of developmental psychology, resilience describes “resistance to stressful circumstances and events” and refers to “patterns of positive adaptation during or following significant adversity or risk”.

Socio-cultural resilience is built at the individual level, while simultaneously being linked to contextual factors and social environments. Patrice M. Buzzanell argues that communication science can contribute significantly to resilience research by emphasizing the genuinely communicative character of resilience building: “human resilience is constituted in and through communicative processes that enhance people’s abilities to create new normalcies”. Resilience is fundamentally anchored in messages, discourses and narratives and is formed through five processes: 1) crafting normalcy, 2) affirming identity anchors, 3) maintaining and using communication networks, 4) putting alternative logics to work, 5) downplaying negative feelings while foregrounding positive emotions. Resilience as a “relationship construct” is formed in a “dynamic, transactional process” between an individual and its environment.

  • Socio-cultural Resilience

Socio-cultural resilience generally refers to an individual’s capacity to deal with cultural diversity. It is more a “competence” bundled from various “individual abilities” in dealing with different everyday situations and development tasks rather than a matter of higher-than-expected coping with a risk situation. Resilience as a variable process of adaptation is actively constructed through change and is more than just surviving traumatic experiences unscathed: It consists of the “small triumphs of everyday life” and involves a permanent process of adaptation, resistance, resource activation and learning.

According to an integrated approach of individual cognition and social construction, building socio-cultural resilience means developing a mindset to deal constructively with culturally diverse situations and contexts. In order to build sociocultural-resilience and communicate successfully with people perceived as ‘culturally different’, I define, based on previous literature research, three key constructs: cultural expertise, resonance, and empowerment.

  • Cultural Expertise

Intercultural communication, in a narrow sense, occurs “whenever at least one of the participants changes his/her mindset by critically reflecting on the representations, value orientations and action dispositions held by his/ her group […]”. The main actors in such communication processes are individuals who have acquired “intercultural competence” and have integrated cultural otherness in their mindsets. Intercultural competence, or cultural expertise, as a concept infused by interculturality, cannot be limited to a set of skills, certain knowledge or ‘learned’ attitudes, but rather evolves from the continuous interplay of perception, affect, cognition and action. Based on the connections between mental processes and social interactions, individuals develop cultural expertise, which contributes to the building of sociocultural resilience.

  • Resonance

Referring to Hartmut Rosa, I consider the relationship between individual and environment as an important factor for successful communication and the development of socio-cultural resilience. Resonance refers to a mode of world-relationship, which allows subject and world to “reach” each other, resulting in a “response relationship” with transformative effects. The term resonance covers feelings of self-perception, self-efficacy and a sense of coherence, which are considered as important aspects for developing resilience in individuals.

  • Empowerment

The process of empowerment, as Jo Rowlands understands it, is about „bringing people who are outside the decision-making process into it“. More precise, empowerment describes “processes by which people become aware of their own interests and how those relate to the interests of others, in order both to participate from a position of greater strength in decision-making and actually to influence such decisions”. Naila Kabeer distinguishes three dimensions of empowerment: resources (conditions), agency (process) and achievements (outcomes). While resources and agency together, as she argues, constitute what Amartya Sen calls capabilities as a form of “potential that people have for living the lives they want […]”, empowerment goes one step further and also includes the realised achievements (or failures). Empowerment as a process of promoting decision-making competences and finding one’s own voice is a key element in the development of sociocultural resilience.

  • Conclusion

The concept of sociocultural resilience offers a perspective that goes beyond traditional approaches of integration or intercultural dialogue. By taking into account the interrelatedness of individual cognition and social processes, this account considers the development of sociocultural resilience essential for successful communication in culturally diverse environments. How the three defined key constructs – cultural expertise, resonance and empowerment – contribute to this process will be investigated in further theoretical and empirical analyses.

December 2020

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The role of youth work for integration – challenges for data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic

Manfred Zentner | PhD Candidate, Danube University Krems, Austria

There is a life beyond work and family, at least some claim, there is a concept like leisure time. The third place, described by Oldenburg 1989 as the non-structured sphere beside home and family (first place) and work (second place), is of high importance for leisure. It is a place you visit voluntarily, a place, where you can be without obligations. For the process of socialisation of children and youth, we can draw parallels here with Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, where family, kindergarten, school, church and leisure activities are situated in the same microsystem surrounding the individual and influencing human development. Youth work provides such a third place in the microsystem of a young person and therefore is often seen as the third agent of socialisation beside family and school. Thus, youth work in Austria is a main actor in supporting and promoting integration and inclusion in society. The definition of youth work in Austria follows on the one hand European and international concepts and principles of youth work, on the other hand, obeys to a Federal logic of funding. Youth work is youth-centred, participatory and – most of all – voluntary. An additional element is the concept of non-formal and informal learning in youth work. On the other hand, it can be segregated following organisational structures in Austria:

  1. verbandliche Jugendarbeit” is based on membership of young people in NGOs – often lead by youth themselves (e.g. Scouts, voluntary fire brigades);
  2. offene Jugendarbeit” is characterised by low-threshold offers to young people without any membership (e.g. in youth clubs and youth centres), and
  3. Jugendinformation” offers information important for young people in a youth friendly way.

During the last decades, the profile of young people who visited youth centres, youth clubs or youth organisations changed due and parallel to the changes in population in general. The percentage of non-Austrian citizens in the age of 10 to 24 years (roughly the age group of youth work users) increased between 2002 and 2019 from 10% to 18.3%. Simultaneous, the ratio of foreign-born young people in Austria grew in this age group from 10.9% to 15.9%.

These developments indicate an ongoing change in the composition of the primary target group of youth work in Austria. One might expect massive effects on orientation of youth work itself and its approaches, but recent research proves different.

In my ongoing research project on “The role of youth work for integration”, I applied a mixed-method approach to identify the understanding of integration among youth workers from different fields and regions in Austria.  I planned to compare this with experience of users from youth work with and without a migrant background. In the first step, qualitative interviews with youth workers and youth work experts coming from the different institutional and regional background were conducted to collect the different perceptions of integration and integration work in extra-curricular youth work in Austria.

Interesting enough, the interviews with experienced youth workers point to the fact that the methods and approaches used in youth work did not change thoroughly. Nevertheless, youth work is seen as a major contributor to the successful integration and inclusion of young persons with migrant background in the Austrian society in the past providing them with space for self-development and allowing intercultural exchange. This was furthermore attested in an online survey among more than one hundred organisations and institutions offering youth work.

One further step of the research would have been the data collection among young people using youth work offers. It was planned to have discussion rounds with young people in youth work during weekly group meetings in NGOs like scouts, but also in youth centres or even in parks. This qualitative approach needs the support of youth workers, since the topic of integration and inclusion in youth work – and eventually in society – is sensitive. Talking about sensitive topics like mutual respect in the group, the reality of inter-cultural exchange and its potential effect, individual experiences of discrimination, about individual expectations, wishes, and disappointments needs trust. Trust not only among the debaters but also between the participants and the researcher. In the setting of youth work, the main trust relation is between the young person and the youth worker / youth leader. In qualitative research in youth work, this trust relation can be transferred to the researcher; especially if she/he has experience in youth work/pedagogy and if the youth worker trusts the researcher.

Focus groups and real groups are a promising approach to gain usable research results. These group discussions are successfully used in youth research based on a certain understanding of principles of qualitative research: Qualitative research describes social phenomena as they occur naturally. As we know, theoretically, no attempt is made to manipulate the situation under study as is the case with experimental quantitative research. An understanding of a situation is gained through a holistic perspective. In this case, the holistic perspective has to focus on the setting of youth work.

The third place is always visited on a voluntary basis; one can leave any time they want. This creates a challenge whenever doing qualitative research with a group of young people in the setting of youth work. Young people in youth work are participating voluntarily – especially in open youth work, they decide in every situation if they want to stay inside or change the situation. The composition of participants in a group discussion in youth centres or in parks might even change during the discussion – especially if the relationship between interviewer and group is challenged by different influences. To keep the discussion going among the same participants is already a daring task in “normal” times, but in the setting of “new normality” during the COVID 19 pandemic it turned to a real problem. Here are the main reasons for this:

  1. Youth work offers and youth centres were closed: To stay in contact with the users was challenging already for youth workers. To allow other people to use the newly established ways of communication (e.g. online group meetings) was declined in most cases.
  2. Even in the one case where we were allowed to participate in the group meeting, no trust relation could be established – since the transference of trust from youth worker/youth leader to researcher could not be established.
  3. Online discussions are not the setting of young people meeting in youth work offers. Therefore, this approach is an experiment and not even a model of the real situation. This setting promotes young people with more experience in online meetings and favours those with higher communication skills.
  4. Also, other group discussions show the latter tendency, but off-line real meetings enable trained moderators / researchers to react on non-verbal signals of participants and to support their input into the debate.

And maybe in this special case most important:

  1. The pandemic and the measures taken (lockdown, distance, mask) had a significant influence on the lives of young people. Many young people, especially from more vulnerable groups we often find in youth centres, are severely impacted by COVID-19: increased psychological challenges, anxieties, loss of social contacts, unemployment are overshadowing other aspects of their lives. Covid 19 and the lockdown are influencing any discussion on other topics, be it on environmental issues, discrimination, or gender equality, and these issues are debated focussing on the impact of Covid on them.

December 2020

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The Apprentice. Experiencing migration and multilingualism in the Austrian language discourse

Daniel Marcher| PhD Candidate, University of Innsbruck

What’s it like, to do an apprenticeship training as a non-native German speaker in Austria?

Since the 1990s, the acquisition of the German language has become a more and more central aspect of the Austrian discourse on migration and integration. It’s a basic requirement for membership and social or political participation. Whether in Austria somebody is considered “well integrated” is often determined by their way of speaking or by an ascribed knowledge of the German language. Language tests are being institutionalized and installed to regulate migration. They function as obstacles for access to social benefits, citizenship jobs and the housing market. This issues became even more central with the legal introduction of the Integration Agreement (Integrationsvereinbarung) and the National Action Plan for Integration (Nationaler Aktionsplan für Integration) in 2011 (Netzwerk SprachenRechte – press conference 2011). Language related factors makes it difficult for some migrants and refugees to build up a life in Austria, as I had to find out again and again during my profession as a teacher for German as a second language. And it is becoming increasingly clear that these developments are barely targeting the acquisition of language or communication skills. Rather, the German language represents an acceptable and seemingly harmless surrogate (substitute category) for other categories – categories of exclusion that have become problematic, such as place of origin, religion or ethnicity. In my opinion, this circumstance should be questioned critically from both a linguistic and a social perspective, which is why I examine the effects of such linguistic and political processes more closely by focussing on the language-experiencing individual. This way it is possible to understand how discourses about linguistic power and belonging influence interactions as well as the social effects they can have as a result. For far too long the discussion about language acquisition and integration in Austria has been conducted mostly over the heads of the actual speakers concerned – so I want to ask.

I am specifically interested in the ways in which the Austrian monolingual discourse manifests in interactions of learning and work. I would particularly like to find out more about the connections between language acquisition and the positioning on the job and education market. A place of interest which is ideal for a research like this is the Austrian apprenticeship program. On the one hand an apprenticeship enables to gain access to financial and social security by entering employment and training to become a skilled worker. Furthermore, 2019 the vocational training of apprentices in the context of flight or migration came into focus of a political debate in Austria about asylum procedures, (labour market) integration and a lack of skilled workers Austrian Parliament Correspondence 11.12.2019). One aspect is that people in asylum proceedings in Austria can be granted a postponement of deportation for the duration of an apprenticeship, which makes the vocational education system even more relevant to this debate. It’s also interesting methodologically. The Austrian apprenticeship training system is dual structured – takes place simultaneously in two institutions (vocational school and workplace). Comparable linguistic spaces of work and learning open up, which are interrelated and closely interwoven with each other. At the same time, however, they bring different interactional and contextual conditions with them. In terms of communicative requirements and language management, disparities are likely to arise. These could be perceived and experienced both as relief and as an additional obstacle, which has a direct influence on situational learning and understanding processes.

In order to investigate my considerations, a mixed-method approach will be applied to a sociolinguistic study on interaction. Three apprentices who have acquired German as a second language in Austria in connection to flight or migration participate in the study as main subjects. The central part are subjective perspectives on experiencing language in social contexts (Brigitta Busch – PPT on lived language experience 2016). The experiences are compared with ethnographic observations and video recordings of interactions at work or at the vocational school. The data collection takes about 6 months and is divided into three phases. At first, the perspectives of the multilingual apprentices are collected through interviews. The results – the central linguistic issues addressed and interpreted by the interview partners – then form a guideline for an ethnographic observation study. The study participants are accompanied for three days each to the company they work at and three days each to the vocational school they are attending. Interactions with work colleagues, classmates, trainers and customers are observed specifically on the categories developed in the first phase. At the end of each working day, selected interactions noted in the observation protocol are reflected in short interviews (approx. 25 min) with the main subjects in order to compare the observed with the subjectively experience. In the vocational school, additional questionnaires are handed out to the classmates and at the end of the second day a group discussion with the main subject and five other classmates takes place. By this a wider data sample is produced. The interviews and the group discussion are recorded on audio. The last days of school and work are recorded on video which will then become the data for the interactional analysis. Phase 3 concludes with a second interview with the main participants, in which the previous training year is reflected and the gained insights will be discussed again together. Parallel to all three phases, me and the participants will study together in regular intervals, which will give me a better insight into language-specific requirements and problems for multilingual apprentices.

At the end of the data collection, the corpus consists of twelve observation protocols, audio recordings of six main interviews, nine short interviews and three group discussions, and approximately 25 hours of video material – all centrally guided by the subjects’ perspective. The video material will be pre-selected according to the categories and codes developed by the subjective perspective and observations in phases 1 and 2. Through the combination of the different material it is intended to create a data corpus that is intertwined within itself on several levels. The observed and selected interaction sequences are based on the categories experienced centrally by the multilingual apprentices, the observation protocols are then re-discussed with the research participants, and at the end the meta-lingual interviews can be used to search for interpretations and evaluations by the participants themselves regarding specific language practise in the recorded interaction sequences. Furthermore, possible linguistic disadvantages for a successful completion of apprenticeship training as well as (non-)linguistic counteracts and -strategies can be identified. By this, it’s possible to understand the effects of linguistic differences in the apprenticeship training in a migration context better – starting from the perspective of the individual experiencing language.

So I want to ask which linguistic aspects are central to young migrants for a successful professional education and which aren’t. What opportunities and problems arise from multilingualism in vocational training and what counter-strategies are applied? I want to understand linguistic differences between the workplace and vocational school and how they influence learning e.g. can practical or professional learning alleviate linguistic problems? So I want to ask: What’s it like, to do an apprenticeship training as a non-native German speaker in Austria?

December 2020

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The effect of social integration on the mental well-being of young Syrian refugees in Austria

♯Mental Well-being ♯Social Integration ♯Sense of Belonging ♯Young Refugees #Austria

Christina Khoury| PhD Candidate, Department for Migration and Globalization, Danube University Krems


Studies have shown that migrants who flee war and persecution in their home countries report high rates of pre-migration trauma and mental health problems (Stenmark et al, 2013). The traumatic events that refugees experience during their migratory journey, such as violence, housing and food insecurity, which makes them prone to psychological distress and mental health problems, are also well-documented in the literature (Shafer & Walsh, 2018; Giordano et al, 2019). Furthermore, scholars have underlined how post-migration challenges, such as socio-economic and cultural inequalities, significantly influence the health status and well-being of young refugees, in particular their mental health (Liamputtong & Kurban, 2018; Kohlenberger et al., 2018).

The findings of several of these studies also demonstrate that support and a positive social environment for establishing a sense of belonging of refugees to their new home is essential for their mental well-being. As Brun and Fàbos (2015) convincingly argue, refugees are not only displaced and “out of place” in a territorial sense when they resettle in a new country (separated from the physical place they call home), but also in a relational and emotional way. They also leave behind their social, economic and cultural realities to which they have strong social, psychological and emotional attachments (Brun & Fàbos, 2015). Following, “home-making” in terms of recovering and constructing a social context and sense of belonging to their new home country becomes key for their mental health and well-being.

Questions and purpose

Establishing social capital and a sense of belonging  is especially important for the well-being and overall integration of the young refugees, whom often rely on social connections and community support to deal with the stress they go through upon arrival in a foreign country (Joyce & Liamputtong, 2017; Brough et al., 2003). In my paper, I aim to investigate this issue further, looking particularly at the link between feelings of belonging and the mental well-being of young Syrian refugees in their new settings in Austria, and the role various actors, such as the local government and the civil society, play in influencing this relationship.

By drawing on Ager & Strang’s conceptual framework on integration (2008) and Correa-Velez, Gifford & Barnett’s (2010) model on well-being, my paper will analyse the impact of key factors related to social contexts of family, own ethnic community, host community and broader society (social bonds, social links and social bridges), known as strongly associated with well-being outcomes among young refugees. The questions I set out to answer are: How does young Syrian refugees’ social integration into society affect their mental well-being? How does their mental well-being impact their social integration?

Refugee mental health overall, and mental health related issues of young refugees in particular, is an understudied area for various reasons. First, this lack of academic attention can partly be explained by the existing language barrier (Zipfel et al., 2019). While many young refugees in Europe have acquired a good knowledge of the host country language, it is crucial to communicate with them in their mother tongue to fully understand their concerns and to conduct meaningful research. As professional interpretation/translation services for this purpose requires a large research budget, it may not always be possible. Second, a cultural barrier also poses an obstacle to meaningful research in the field. Generally, there is a widespread stigma around mental health issues in the Middle East, which naturally makes Middle Eastern youth less receptive to discussing these issues (Mohammadzadeh et al 2020; Gearing et al, 2015).  These challenges may, at least to some extent, explain why limited research has been conducted thus far concerning the mental well-being of young Syrian refugees in Europe, including in Austria.

Following, my overall aim is to contribute to filling this gap, by presenting the voices of young Syrians (between 18 and 29 years old, who have recently settled in Austria as refugees (between 2016 – 2019) on these issues. The hope is that these findings then can help inform better integration policy and practices conducive to young refugees’ mental wellbeing, both as regards enabling environments (such as living conditions) as well as specific measures of support in acute situations (such as psychological support).


My hypothesis drawing on previous research in the field is as follows: increased social capital and sense of belonging among young Syrian refugees in Austria have a positive impact on their mental well-being and in turn their overall integration into host societies. These domains are often referred to as key components and indicators for successful long-term integration of young refugees. Reversely, my negative expectation is the following: a lack of social capital and a sense of belonging among young Syrian refugees have a negative impact on their mental well-being and hinders their overall integration.

Naturally, the relationship between social participation and mental well-being may be bi-directional and mutually reinforcing to some extent. Therefore, I also expect to find that low levels of well-being among the young refugee cohort in this study reduces their ability to participate socially. For example, with depression, people tend to withdraw from their social environments, and then descend more deeply into depression, and vice versa.


The research paper will adopt mixed methods research design. Drawing on already existing data sets, data generated from the focus-group instrument will be used to corroborate and expand on previously collected data, and to help explain the survey’s findings (explanatory sequential). Other process would be an exploratory sequential design, where I will conduct focus groups and observe to provide context for survey data, plan and distribute surveys, carry out in-depth interviews with some of the participants (young refugees) as well as experts in the field. The results of the above methods will then be presented in the paper and integrated into the discussion section.

December 2020

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The Role of Translation and Interpreting in NGOs: Caritas Graz-Seckau as a multilingual workplace

Vanessa Steinkogler | PhD Candidate, University of Graz

Background of my Study and Rationale

In the summer of 2018, I had the chance to work in the administrative department of Caritas Graz-Seckau in Styria for two months. The NGO (non-governmental organisation) provides assistance to refugees, asylum seekers and local communities in emergency and crisis situations (Caritas Graz-Seckau 2015). During my work I soon noticed that every organisational unit of the NGO is inevitably confronted with foreign languages due to the NGO’s migration-related field of activity. When I asked Caritas employees how communication situations in foreign languages were managed, they often reacted perplexed; it seemed as if the permanent presence of and interactions in foreign languages constitute a somewhat invisible part of the employee’s daily working routine. It is precisely for this reason, why researching this organisation could be insightful in understanding multilingual working fields. It is the diversity of multilingual communication within Caritas I am particularly interested in as well as the different solutions used to meet communication needs in foreign languages. I would like to emphasise that I do not aim to evaluate the quality of interpreting and translation, but rather intend to increase the visibility of such language mediation activities in NGOs.

In today’s globalized economy and society, NGOs play various important roles: they represent new global workplaces (cf. Castells 2000), are global players that can regulate and influence global politics and provide humanitarian and development aid. NGOs differ fundamentally from other organisations working at an international level; not only in terms of their background but also considering different budgetary priorities and the motivations of their staff (Frantz/Martens 2006:). In all of the above-mentioned contexts, agents with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds come together, and providing language mediation often forms part of NGO’s day-to-day work. Since these organisations aim to negotiate and interact between agents, translation and interpreting form the crucial basis for the functioning of NGOs. Nevertheless, the role of multilingual communication within humanitarian aid organisations has so far been scarcely discussed in research in Translation and Interpreting Studies (TIS) and has only recently gained momentum (cf. Tesseur 2014 et passim; Footitt 2017; Delgado Luchner 2018).

Since NGOs are organisations with limited financial resources and have staff that mainly works on a voluntary basis (Frantz/Martens 2006:26, 32), I find it particularly worth taking a closer look at the role of so-called professional and so-called non-professional interpreting and translation from both a conceptual and an empirical point of view. The issue of professionalisation has been discussed in TIS for decades. TIS have long fought to establish themselves as an independent scientific discipline and in this context, it was particularly important to promote the professionalisation of the translation and interpreting profession (cf. Grbić/Kujamäki 2019). As a result of the different discourses on professionalisation (cf. e.g. Paloposki 2016), a sharp boundary is often drawn in translation and interpreting theory between so-called professional and non-professional written and oral translational activities. The question arises whether such a clear categorical differentiation adequately reflects practice and whether this differentiation makes sense when used as an analytic concept in research. Although the majority of all interpreting and translation work is done by so-called “non-professionals”, the research field Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT) still belongs to a peripheral area of translation and interpreting studies (cf. Pérez-González/Susam-Saraeva 2012). Indeed, it appears that the work of people without specific training is still considered a threat to the professional status of translators and interpreters (cf. Grbić/Kujamäki 2019).

Purpose of my PhD Project

In my PhD project I aim to provide insights into the diverse translational practices as well as perception and action patterns in NGOs using the example of the Catholic welfare organisation Caritas Graz-Seckau. In particular, I examine the role of language, cultural knowledge and translation at Caritas Graz-Seckau and look into the translation and interpreting needs that arise, how these needs are met, which actors are involved in translational activities, how they interact with each other and their work environment, and how they perceive translational activities. Based on the fact that translation and interpreting at Caritas Graz-Seckau take place in many different contexts and organisational departments and are carried out by different actors with different professional backgrounds, it is hypothesised that diverging and also conflicting opinions regarding translation and interpreting as well as translational expertise exist and no common understanding is shared within the organisation of what translation and interpreting comprise. Based on this assumption, the concepts of multi-professionalism, i.e. the idea of holding more than one profession (Pym 1998), and competing professionalisms, the existence of alternative and dominant forms of professions that determine the work and status of the same (Footitt/Tesseur 2019), are of particular relevance for the dissertation project. I assume that the visibility of translation, the linguistic and cultural knowledge, and the translators and interpreters at Caritas Graz-Seckau is almost non-existent and that this invisibility of translation is accompanied by a lack of structured and organised translational practices. As a consequence, it is possible that Caritas Graz-Seckau does not fully take advantage of the translational potential. This could mean that despite a trend towards professionalisation in TIS, translational work of so-called non-professionals and volunteers in NGOs continues to play a significant role.

Research Methodology and Theoretical Framework

Data for the PhD project is collected by means of semi-structured interviews, and aims to render visible the complexity and diversity of written and oral translational activities within NGOs. Moreover, the findings will at best uncover multidimensional and hybrid identities of translators and interpreters and as a consequence question traditional discourses on translational professionalism – especially those that postulate professionalism as an all-or-nothing concept. After transcribing the interviews and preparing the field notes, the data is evaluated by means of qualitative content analysis (Gläser/Laudel 2010; Mayring 2008).

As a conceptual framework for my project I chose the theory of social worlds according to Anselm Strauss (1978; Clarke/Star 2008) as well as the concept of boundary work introduced by Thomas Gieryn (1983). Strauss understands a social world as an agglomeration of people who are jointly committed to a certain activity and who share and use resources and technologies to achieve a common goal. The theory of social worlds is particularly well suited for the research project, since it focuses on the relationships and interactions as well as the resulting conflicts and actions of actors within the social world and various subworlds. Drawing on Thomas Gieryn’s concept of boundary work, I aim to analyse the creation, maintenance, blurring, bridging, and dissolution of boundaries between these subworlds. Particular attention is paid to what characteristics and qualifications a group attributes to itself in order to be called “professional”, to distinguish itself from other social groups and to claim expertise in a particular field.

Even though NGOs are drawing and strongly relying on staff’s language skills to make their projects a success, it seems that NGOs give little institutional recognition to interpreting and translating as a profession for which training and guidance are needed. Hence, the recognition of the value that translation, language and cultural skills may add to development work and building relationships, has yet to take place.

December 2020

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Cultural Barriers in the Classroom: How Education Can Cut the First Sod for A Diverse Society

Dagmar Wallenstorfer | PhD Candidate, University of Graz

“The teachers assumed, that he was somehow cheeky or aggressive, although that was just his accent and he did not mean it like that at all. And he was scolded regularly for things he didn´t mean.”

Culturally Diverse Identities in the Austrian AHS Classroom: A Case Study

The quote above is taken from an interview I conducted with a group of students in an AHS in Austria. The topic was the multicultural classroom, and in which areas the students experience positive and negative effects of cultural diversity in their schools. The students then told me the story of a former classmate, let´s call him Lucas, who came to Austria at a young age, German not being his mother tongue. He then learned German, and became fluent in the language, however, had a strong accent; an accent that has lead to his teachers thinking everything he says is meant aggressively. As the students said, even when he suggested that he could clean the blackboard, the teachers thought he was ironic and provoking trouble. The student then quit school, the students told me, they do not know what he is doing now if he attends a different school or has a job.

Stories like that are not a rarity: miscommunication, false interpretation of utterances and wrong ideas about students and classmates, are a recurring issue in the culturally diverse classroom. The other, or everything different and not familiar, is often interpreted as wrong, while behaviour that is strange for me often stems from a background that is unknown to me. Going back to the story of Lucas – how can his environment, mainly his teachers and classmates – be made aware of the issue being his accent and not his attitude? How can society be made aware of the fact that what we see of a person is just the surface, but we cannot know what lies underneath and affects this person´s actions?

The What: Challenges of the Diverse Classroom

The research question of my thesis is: How can teachers and educators be supported in teaching the students how to become members with cultural awareness and cultural competence of our society? However, in order to get to the How, the WHAT needs to be asked first. Hence, the empirical part of my research focused on the What by interviewing teachers in Austrian AHS as well as students on their perception of the multicultural Austrian classroom. While, according to the teachers and students interviewed, students who attend culturally diverse classrooms tend to be more open-minded, have a higher tolerance towards individuality, and are more culturally aware, the interviewees highlighted a number of issues that need tackling. In the interviews, numerous issues were addressed, such as prejudgment of students based on their lack of German language skills as less intelligent, assumptions that students with a history of migration do show more behavioral problems, as well as directions of suppression of cultural practices in the school context. In a society where diversity gains more and more importance due to the increasing numbers of immigration to our country, mutual understanding is the key to successful coexistence. Instead of parallel societies that seemingly do not understand each other and have nothing in common, an entanglement of experiences, of thoughts and ideas has to be promoted. Discourse is the key to understanding, and understanding is the key to acceptance and opening up towards what is new and different.

The How: Teaching Cultural Awareness

Turning to the EFL/ESL classroom, the HOW gains center stage again. How can we support our students in understanding, in comprehending, in developing? Turning to Foss (2002), the identity intersection is crucial for a basic understanding of diversity. According to the author, understanding the complexity of identity, and in that cultural identity and diversity itself, is the comprehension of ones´ own identity and diversity. Identity intersections visualize the complexity of individual identity and the impossibility of reducing a person to one of the many components it contains. As Fuss (2002) claims, components of an individual can be age, race, gender, nationality, level of education, religion, class, sexuality, language, ethnicity, physical ability, urban/suburban/rural background, family structure, geographical/regional association, to only name a few. Including this theory in teaching, and making it visible by including the students´ very own identities, can create a broader understanding of these issues.

However, a project can not stop there. Having completed the first step, being triggering understanding for the complexity of individual identity, and the problematic nature of the reduction of a person to one of its identity components. The reading and analyzing of American Young Adult Literature texts addressing issues of young Americans who have a history of migration, the discourse of the topic of belonging and acceptance will be opened up. In that, the novels will lead to the students firstly seeing the issue through the eyes of a fictional character, and then comparing these characters to their own experiences. The narratives triggered in that process will ultimately be processed in the final step of the project: The creation of digital stories.

Digital storytelling is a methodology that has been found to positively affect skills such as problem-solving, argumentation, decision-making and cooperation among students by Niemi and Multisilta (2016). Wu and Chen (2020) defined eight outcomes of the usage of digital stories for students, among which they rank affective outcomes such as empathy, cognitive outcomes such as critical thinking, conceptual outcomes such as understanding and critiquing concepts, and ontological outcomes, such as self-awareness and intercultural awareness. The creation of digital stories will thus not only lead to a self-reflection of the students and their own identities but by sharing the stories with their classmates, with the society, they create a discourse apart from professional media, as Hartley (2009) states. Students can make their voices be heard, becoming part of a broader discourse, and in that create an intimate public, as according to Berlant (2008).


The field of diversity teaching is a broad one, and numerous scholars and educators are constantly working on improvement. What the teachers need, is a hands-on guideline, project material that can be used in the classroom and that tackles specifically the issues in the Austrian classrooms. The aim of this research project is precisely that. In doing so, this PhD project will contribute to the field and open up the discourse in the Austrian classroom alike, and in that in society itself.

December 2020

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Interpreting for Children
Multilingual Primary Schools as Translation Zones

Marlene Fheodoroff| PhD Candidate, University of Graz

Introductory Remarks and the Current State of Research

Being affiliated with the main research area Translation and Migration of our department, it was clear to me that I wanted to research Community Interpreting (CI) in my PhD thesis. As the name suggests, CI is often performed by people from the same community for family members, friends, neighbours or strangers. Consequently, research on CI is, in many cases, research on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT), a relatively new branch of Translation Studies (TS). NPIT has been under-researched by scholars and shunned by translation practitioners for decades, as translation scholars, as well as translators and interpreters have respectively focused on establishing TS as an academic discipline and on the professionalisation of translating and interpreting.

Within the context of migration, children may act as interpreters in a variety of settings, e.g. at school, in public-service or medical settings as well as at home, interpreting the news or translating the mail. In the 1970s, the Canadian translation scholar Brian Harris, unlike most of his colleagues at the time, already conducted research on non-professional interpreters, particularly children. Harris introduced the concept of Natural Translation (NT) and defined it as “[t]he translating done in everyday circumstances by people who have had no special training for it” (Harris/Sherwood 1978:155). Harris’s research was long overlooked since it did neither promote the establishment of TS as academic discipline nor the professionalisation of the translation industry. Current research in TS, however, paints a comprehensive but controversial picture of children as interpreters (cf. e.g. Cirillo/Torresi 2013, Angelelli 2010, Ahamer 2013).

In a world where globalisation and migration have placed unprecedented pressure on people to communicate across linguistic borders and cultures, children may also be in need of linguistic support. This chain of thoughts led me to look closer into the matter of interpreting for children, and I found that it is highly under-researched. One reason for this could be that settings where interpreting is provided for children, such as asylum, police or court hearings (cf. e.g. Keselman/Cederborg/Lamb/Dahlström 2008 and 2010, Keselman/Cederborg/Linell 2010, Salaets/Balogh 2015 and 2017, Böser/LaRooy 2018, Matthias/Zaal 2002), are highly sensitive, confidential and potentially traumatizing.

Further settings in which interpreting for children occurs are educational contexts (cf. e.g. Baraldi 2016, Foulquié Rubio/Martí 2013). Schools seemed to be the best choice for my PhD project since many schools in Graz are multilingual spaces given the demographic composition of the city. Furthermore, schools are spaces familiar to the children: they attend their classes, play with schoolmates, some have lunch there and stay the afternoon. So the presence of an unfamiliar adult may not or – as I can report from my first two participant observations – did not unsettle or bother them much. I myself have experienced rather monolingual primary school years in rural Carinthia, which is another reason why I wanted to venture into the multilingual school life in Graz. I was and still am excited to learn how children perceive their everyday life and the various forms of interpreting that may emerge at school due to the many different languages spoken by children and adults in that space.

Conceptual Framework: The Translation Zone

As translation is strongly influenced by the space in which it occurs but also affects said space in return (Simon 2013:182), space is a key aspect in my PhD project. I conceptualise multilingual schools as Translation Zones, a concept which has, thus far, mainly been applied to cities (Simon 2012). Translation Zones are “areas of intense interactions across languages, spaces defined by an acute consciousness of cultural negotiations and often host to the kinds of polymorphous translation practices characteristic of multilingual milieus” (Cronin/Simon 2014:119f.). With regard to multilingual schools, the concept of Translation Zones allows me to “situate translational activity within clearly delimited geographies which are not framed by the nation” (Simon 2013:182). Although Cronin and Simon (2014:119), as well as Simon (2012:1) highlight the importance of spoken language, they emphasise written text in their research. In my PhD project, I take into account not only written text but also focus on spoken text and non-verbal forms of communication, thereby considering all kinds of polymorphous translation practices.

My PhD Project

My PhD project seeks to conceive multilingual primary schools as Translation Zones as well as to explore the children’s perspective on interpreting and the perspective attributed to them by adults in said potential Translation Zone. To do so, I focus on the following three main research questions:

  • In what ways can multilingual primary schools be conceptualised as Translation Zones?
  • What does interpreting mean to children in said Translation Zone (perspective of the children)?
  • What does interpreting mean to children in the eyes of the adults (teachers, lay interpreters) in said Translation Zone (perspective of the adults)?

The limited number of studies which have examined interpreting for children mostly ignored the children’s perspective. In order to address this research gap, I draw on results of New Childhood Studies, which have set themselves the task of recording and exploring the views of children while also understanding childhood as a separate phase of life (cf. Heinzel 2012:9f.). In doing so, New Childhood Studies dissociate themselves from the long-prevailing view of childhood as a transitional period (cf. Rosenberger 2005:43). In New Childhood Studies, children are perceived as competent actors whose everyday actions and environment are of special research interest. Therefore, data will be collected by means of participant observation as well as qualitative interviews not only with adult but also with children. The data will then be evaluated using Qualitative Content Analysis; the evaluation will be conducted software-aided (MAXQDA).

Exploring both the perspective of children on interpreting as well as the perspective attributed to them by adults, my research expands the concept of interpreting and contributes to the still under-researched field of interpreting for children. Furthermore, by conceptualising primary schools as potential Translation Zones and by considering a large variety of translation practices, my PhD project contributes to two fields of research which are flourishing at the moment: translation and space as well as NPIT.

The expected results of the PhD project are also socio-politically relevant. Interpreting for children will gain in importance due to ongoing migration movements. Unaccompanied minors will continue to be in need of linguistic support in the future when arriving in a foreign country. Furthermore, the PhD project aims to illustrate that there is a demand for interpreting services for children in everyday settings such as multilingual primary schools where, at the moment, the right to “[e]ducation […] directed to the full development of the human personality” (United Nations 1948) is not entirely met.

December 2020

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Integration difficult without support:

Experiences of female refugees in Austria

Gudrun Biffl | Department for Migration and Globalization, Danube University Krems

Female refugees are a particularly vulnerable group. They have fled from their countries of origin, either on their own or with family members, or they have joined their family members who have already successfully reached Austria. The majority of them are with underaged children in Austria. They have fled from war or terrorism, from sexual violence, forced marriage, trafficking, honor killings etc. Their escape and flight are marked by violence, fear and lack of resources to adequately care for themselves and their children. Upon arrival they often suffer from traumata, which are rarely adequately addressed, not least because of barriers of communication, be they objective (language) or subjective (carry shameful connotations in the origin culture) (Sansonetti, 2016).

The interviews with refugee women in Austria indicate a pronounced motivation to participate in the Austrian society. There are, however, various factors which make this objective hard to achieve, e.g. health problems and lack of therapy, inadequate housing, limited access to child care services to facilitate the attendance of language courses. But even if child care services are available, the educational attainment level of women are often so limited that it is hard to learn a foreign language, let alone read and write in another language. A large number of women is in need of basic skills acquisition in combination with language courses. But also women with medium to higher educational attainment face difficulties on the labor market. Their qualifications are rarely recognized which means that they will have to take up jobs below their skill levels – if they find jobs at all (BMEIA, 2018).

Accordingly, the unemployment rates of refugee women are high, with Syrian women taking the lead with 80% unemployed; the lowest unemployment rates are seen in women from Somalia with 59% and from Afghanistan with 55%. But this does not mean that Syrian women have the greatest problems entering the labor market. Just the contrary. They have the highest labor force participation rates of all the refugee women, which means that they have managed to surface as unemployed at the labor market service – where almost 50% receive further education and training. This is not the case with the other women, who are invisible to labor market institutions and have therefore no access to active labor market policy measures (BMEIA, 2018).

It is the various factors mentioned above that account for the isolation of some of the refugee women, in particular, often a lack of adequate health service provision, especially psychotherapy (Barbière, 2016).

September 2018