Beyond Borders: Representations of Refugees and Place in Clarkston, Georgia

Abstract

In the last thirty years, socio-political shifts within the city of Clarkston, Georgia, have led to an evolution in representations of the city and of its many refugee and immigrant populations. This dissertation examines the site-specific effects of the evolving policies and practices of refugee resettlement and integration within the city of Clarkston and the emerging immigrant gateway of the South. While the city itself has transformed, so have its representations of refugees, challenging imaginative geographies and complicating the mainstream dichotomic racial imaginative geographies and socio-political representation of the U.S. South. Using qualitative methods, I analyze materials from four years of research including city council minutes, media coverage, field visits, and interviews with key informants to examine the multiple representations of refugees and immigrants. Findings showcase the complicated nature of representations of refugees and immigrants within and around the city, as both assets and adversaries to local communities. Council members, resettlement organizations, and residents construct refugees as beneficial to the local economy and position their “diversity” as an economic advantage. Refugee reception has become increasingly institutionalized through stakeholders at the local scale, particularly through branding endeavors by the city government for economic gain and organizations with moral imperatives. In addition, council members use coded language to portray refugees as racialized victims and transgressors. Inherent in the city’s representation of refugees is a neoliberal multicultural representation of the city itself, which complicates our knowledge of the politics of scale and neoliberal multiculturalism at the local scale. Today, metro Atlanta’s vision for the region and its economic development are inclusive of the representation of immigrants, yet city policies are often created and implemented without the contribution of refugees and immigrants. To highlight the need for attention to immigrants’ voices, I draw on the lived experiences of refugees in Clarkston to demonstrate how identity and belonging are inextricably and mutually constructed through place and that place is constructed through lived experiences. This geographic research highlights the unique features of a gendered and racialized refugee community in the South and their interactions with the local state. These findings demonstrate the need to include the voices of marginalized communities within local decision-making and for more scholarly attention to the everyday experiences of refugees and immigrants

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This paper was published in University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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