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”Internet Means Everything” - When Asylum Seekers Use the Internet

Here follows a short English abstract of my Danish bachelor thesis, which I defended last week at the Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen.

This paper presents a case study on how asylum seekers in Denmark use the Internet. Drawing on the empirical sociology of Bruno Latour, examples of ’grand theorizing’ on the subject are discussed and confronted with new data. Based on 14 qualitative interviews and participant observation in an asylum centre internet café and among the editorial staff of an asylum seeker newspaper, several concrete stories of Internet use are fleshed out and analyzed. The results are condensated into 7 types of Internet praxis among asylum seekers. They indicate that the Internet is of significant importance for the asylum seekers, who go online to improve their language and IT skills, explore Danish culture, stay in touch with family members and sometimes even inform their case. The paper also establish the existence of several barriers to the use of the Internet by asylum seekers, prominent examples of which are poor connectivity, lack of IT knowledge, rigid management systems and weak understanding of Danish and English. These barriers problematize the alleged potential of the Internet to break down national borders and be equally accessible to all. On the other hand, the demonstration of active engagement with the Internet challenges the notion of asylum seekers as passive captives of nation states.

During my preparation for the defence (which was less dramatic than it sounds - more of a constructive discussion), I incidentally came across a recently published Australian research project covering the same rarely investigated subject of internet-using asylum seekers. Perhaps we are witnessing the birth of a new research subfield?

The project also calls itself a pilot study and bears the full title: "Technology's Refuge - The Use of Technology by Asylum Seekers and Refugees". It is larger in scale than my study, but comes to many similar conclusions. The Australian report can be downloaded here.