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Getting out of the seclusion trap? Work as meaningful occupation for the subjective well-being of asylum seekers in South Tyrol, Italy

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This study explicitly links social aspects of the subjective well-being of asylum seekers and the lack of valued and meaningful occupation during the asylum application process. In bringing subjective personal experiences together with the structural level, the paper addresses the opportunities asylum seekers must have in order to develop their occupational potential. Snowball sampling of 25 asylum seekers in South Tyrol, Italy was completed between April 2016 and March 2017. Data were collected via narrative interviews, informal discussions and semi-structured interviews. Data analysis was based on the grounded theory coding processes described by Strauss and Corbin and involved three levels of analysis: open coding, axial coding and selective coding. As the results show, in the everyday context of asylum seekers, work is not merely a rational and economic activity but a human occupation. It improves the subjective well-being of asylum seekers by contributing peace of mind, a broader sphere of action and the development of identity, thus overcoming their socially and spatially isolated position in society. Having nothing to do forces people to reflect not only on their past but also on their present, leading to what is described as a state of personal uselessness that diminishes physical and psychological well-being.
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Getting out of the seclusion trap? Work as
meaningful occupation for the subjective well-
being of asylum seekers in South Tyrol, Italy
Claudia Lintner & Susanne Elsen
To cite this article: Claudia Lintner & Susanne Elsen (2017): Getting out of the seclusion trap?
Work as meaningful occupation for the subjective well-being of asylum seekers in South Tyrol, Italy,
Journal of Occupational Science, DOI: 10.1080/14427591.2017.1373256
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14427591.2017.1373256
Published online: 16 Sep 2017.
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Getting out of the seclusion trap? Work as meaningful occupation
for the subjective well-being of asylum seekers in South Tyrol, Italy
Claudia Lintner & Susanne Elsen
Faculty of Education, Free University of Bolzano, Brixen, Italy
ABSTRACT
This study explicitly links social aspects of the subjective well-being of
asylum seekers and the lack of valued and meaningful occupation
during the asylum application process. In bringing subjective personal
experiences together with the structural level, the paper addresses the
opportunities asylum seekers must have in order to develop their
occupational potential. Snowball sampling of 25 asylum seekers in South
Tyrol, Italy was completed between April 2016 and March 2017. Data
were collected via narrative interviews, informal discussions and semi-
structured interviews. Data analysis was based on the grounded theory
coding processes described by Strauss and Corbin and involved three
levels of analysis: open coding, axial coding and selective coding. As the
results show, in the everyday context of asylum seekers, work is not
merely a rational and economic activity but a human occupation. It
improves the subjective well-being of asylum seekers by contributing
peace of mind, a broader sphere of action and the development of
identity, thus overcoming their socially and spatially isolated position in
society. Having nothing to do forces people to reflect not only on their
past but also on their present, leading to what is described as a state
of personal uselessness that diminishes physical and psychological
well-being.
KEYWORDS
Asylum seekers; Social and
spatial isolation; Subjective
well-being; Social
integration; Work;
Meaningful occupation;
Structural environment
The effects of insufficient meaningful occu-
pation on health and well-being have been
studied by various scholars in occupational
science (Burchett & Matheson, 2010; Coffey,
Kaplan, Tucci, & Sampson, 2010). However,
only a small number of studies link the lack
of valued occupation to the particular situation
of asylum seekers and their subjective well-
being (Horghagen & Josephsson, 2010; Wil-
cock, 1998). Rather, most occupational science
research with asylum seekers concentrates on
how this particular social group deals with
the lack of meaningful occupation in their
everyday life (Burchett & Matheson, 2010;
Horghagen & Josephsson, 2010; Morville &
Erlandsson, 2013; Steindl et al., 2008;
Whiteford, 2005). In this paper, we connect
the lack of valued and meaningful occupation
during the asylum application process to the
subjective well-being of asylum seekers by giv-
ing emphasis to the social dimension of well-
being. In doing so, we discuss not only the
subjective level of personal experiences (White-
ford, 2005) but also the importance of the
structural level, and thus the opportunities asy-
lum seekers must have in order to develop
their occupational potential. This thematic
link responds to occupational scientistsrecog-
nition that, to understand and develop struc-
tural environments, all members of a society
must be able to develop and use their
capacities (Yerxa, 2000).
© 2017 The Journal of Occupational Science Incorporated
CONTACT Claudia Lintner claudia.lintner2@unibz.it; Susanne Elsen susanne.elsen@unibz.it
JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL SCIENCE, 2017
https://doi.org/10.1080/14427591.2017.1373256
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Theoretical Background
The importance of the social dimension of
well-being
In dealing with refugees and asylum seekers,
European countries often concentrate primarily
on the psychological aspects of well-being and
thus on the traumatic and stressful events that
cause them to flee their home countries (Doná,
2002). European policy programs, in the context
of forced migration, have [often] moved away
from viewing refugees as healthy productive
individuals towards treating them as dependent
and traumatized (sick) persons leading to their
marginalization in countries of resettlement
and negatively affecting their well-being
(Doná, 2010, p. 37). However, focusing on
understanding the psychological dimension of
refugeesand asylum seekerswell-being risks
reducing well-being to a framework of health
and illness, rather than being embedded in a
more holistic perspective (Eastmond, 1998).
In contrast, the World Health Organizations
(1948) concept of well-being is understood as an
integrative concept that embraces not only men-
tal and physical, but also social dimensions.
Hence, in outlining an integrative understanding
of the subjective well-being of asylum seekers,
we argue for a more conscious inclusion of the
social dimension, and thus the social correlates
of well-being (Helliwell & Putnam, 2004). In
this way, understandings of well-being can be
extended to focus not only on individuals, but
also on their relationship to society. Defined for-
mally, social well-being refers to the extent to
which a person feels a sense of belonging and
being socially integrated into society. Following
Keyes (1998), social integration is therefore
seen as one of the most important elements in
the constitution of social well-being.
From a sociological perspective, Durkheim
(1984), as one of the first sociologists, discussed
the concept of social integration. In doing so, he
argued that societal norms, beliefs and values
generate a collective consciousness, which in
turn binds individuals together and creates
social integration. Furthermore, as Durkheim
(1988) showed in his classical study of suicide,
social integration is an essential element in pro-
moting the subjective well-being of individuals.
In other words, family bonds, social relation-
ships and religious practices, as well as integrat-
ing institutions, can be seen as fundamental
sources for generating social solidarity, binding
individuals into a society and offering them a
sense of belonging and meaning (Gupta, 2012;
Stroebe, Stroebe, Abakoumkin, & Schut, 1995).
Accordingly, social solidarity provides individ-
uals with social capital (Coleman, 1988), which
in turn offers them resources that can be used
to realize their interests. In the context of
migration, people often have less access to social
capital resources, in particular because of social
and linguistic isolation (Kao & Taggart Ruther-
ford, 2007). In addition, asylum seekers often
find themselves in socially and spatially isolated
situations that prevent them from developing
integrative strategies (Essed & Wesenbeek,
2004).
Refugee camps or houses can therefore be
seen as the quintessential zone of indistinction
(Sanyal, 2013) and the only places where refu-
gees and asylum seekers are legitimately allowed
to be. Täubig (2009) defined such spatially and
socially isolating contexts as places of organized
disintegration, referring to the well-known con-
cept of the total institution(Goffman, 1961).
Such total institutions forestall opportunities
for developing identity and feeling socially
accepted (De Wall & Bushman, 2011). In con-
trast, as Honneth (1995) argued, the opportunity
to act as an autonomous and individuated per-
son, and hence the opportunity to be able to
develop an identity, is strictly related to the
development of self-esteem, self-respect and
self-confidence.
Work as valued and meaningful
occupation
Within occupational science, occupation has
been defined as what humans do when they
act as agents of their own intentions in order
to achieve a goodness of fit with their environ-
ments(Yerxa, 2000, p. 91). From this perspec-
tive, work is interpreted as one category of
occupation (Yerxa, 2000). It is argued that in
the context of occupational deprivation, work
can be seen as a crucial element for overcoming
social isolation and thus developing a sense of
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belonging (Burchett & Matheson, 2010). Work is
seen not only as a simple opportunity to make
money, intended solely as a productive, rational
and instrumental occupation, but has to be
understood in a broader sense as a human
activity (Arendt, 2001). Positive experience of
work from this perspective contributes not
only to economic self-dependence but also to
individual self-worth. Work, as Feather (1990)
pointed out, provides not only time structure,
the extension of social interaction and a sense
of participation, but also the assignment of sta-
tus and identity by virtue of employment and
being required and having a regular occupation.
As different studies show, worklessness leads to
a state of apathy in which the victims do not uti-
lize any longer even the few opportunities left to
them(Jahoda, Lazardsfeld, & Zeisel, 1974,
p. xxxi). Worklessness can also be seen as highly
stressful, as it involves the diminishment of
social resources, social acceptance and social
contribution. Consequently, as scholars under-
line (Meer van der, 2012), worklessness is a
stressor that clearly leads to physical and mental
distress.
From a social well-being perspective, not only
is the individuals perception of well-being (sub-
jective well-being) of great importance, but also
the availability of and access to resources like
food and water, education, housing, employ-
ment and care (objective well-being). Following
this line of argument, the capability approach
developed by Sen (2005) views human life as
a set of doings and beings’–we may call them
functionings’–and it relates the evaluation of
the quality of life to the assessment of the capa-
bility to function(p. 41). Capabilities, from
Sens perspective, are described as an individ-
uals opportunities to generate outcomes/func-
tionings. Central to this understanding is the
persons freedom to achieve. Nussbaum (2010)
extended Sens work, discussing the capability
approach in relation to social justice, social
inclusion and citizenship. To a greater extent
than Sen, Nussbaum focused on facilitating a
structural environment that would promote
well-being and secure dignity for all members
of society. As Doná (2002) asserted in relation
to refugees and asylum seekers, re-settlement
policies have an impact on how refugees adapt
to host countries, how they are perceived by
mainstream society and what opportunities
they are given after their arrival in Europe
(p. 45). Accordingly, institutionalized social dis-
integration through isolated accommodation
and long-term reliance on welfare systems, with-
out real long-term opportunities for social inte-
gration or valued and meaningful occupation
during the asylum application process, will
most likely result in occupational deprivation,
defined as a state in which a person or group
of people are unable to do what is necessary
and meaningful in their lives due to external
restrictions(Whiteford, 2000, p. 200).
Methodology
The setting
In 2015, due to the growing numbers of refugees
and asylum seekers, Italy decided to pursue a
more balanced distribution within its territory
(Italian Ministry of the Interior, 2017). Asylum
seekers are now distributed according to a
national calculation based on the population of
each province as a proportion of the total Italian
population. As a result, the province of South
Tyrol receives 0.9 per cent of all asylum seekers
in Italy and more than 1,400 are currently wait-
ing in South Tyrol for a response to their appli-
cation for asylum (Autonome Provinz BZ &
EURAC Research, 2017). Accommodation pol-
icy in South Tyrol tends to focus on opening
smaller houses in small villages, a strategy
which is part of the national SPRAR-program
(The Protection System for Asylum Seekers
and Refugees) in order to facilitate their social
integration. Most asylum seekers in South
Tyrol come from Central and Western Africa
(Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and
Ivory Coast), while a smaller number come
from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangla-
desh. Humanitarian protection in Italy gives
them the right of residence and the right to
work 3 months after their application for
asylum.
Research design
The study was based on two questions: 1) What
role does the social dimension of well-being play
in the context of asylum seekers? 2) In what ways
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is work as a meaningful occupation seen as a key
element of social integration? Interviews were
carried out with asylum seekers to collect their
personal insights and perspectives. Such data
can provide information on how to develop
effective policy programs that do not generate
dependent, traumatized and sick people but pro-
mote healthy, productive and active individuals.
Participants
From April 2016 to March 2017, 25 interviews
were carried out with asylum seekers in two
refugee houses in South Tyrol. All interviewees
had reached Italy by boat. Fifteen came from
Nigeria, five from Gambia and five from Soma-
lia. All had requested asylum in Italy and were
currently waiting for a decision on their asylum
application. The interviewees were between 22
and 38 years old and had fled from their home-
land because of different forms of persecution:
10 for religious/political persecution, 5 for sexual
persecution, and 15 to escape from family/tra-
ditional obligations. Interviewees were recruited
by snowball sampling. Following this sampling
strategy, the researchers first contacted the
supervisors of two refugee houses asking to be
put in contact with asylum seekers who might
be willing to participate in the study. Those par-
ticipants then suggested others.
Ethics
All interviewees participated voluntary. They
were informed about the purpose of the study,
the data collection process and how the data
would be treated. Before the data collection
started, all interviewees gave their written
informed consent to participate. Furthermore, it
was made clear from the beginning that they
could withdraw from the study at any time.
Finally, all participants agreed that the interviews
would be recorded, transcribed and used in aca-
demic publications. In the presentation of the
findings, the name of the participants have been
removed and replaced by pseudonyms.
Data collection
The study is based on a qualitative research
approach. For the data collection, different
qualitative methods were used: narrative inter-
views, informal discussions and semi- structured
interviews, all of which were conducted in Eng-
lish. In the first research phase, 15 narrative
interviews were conducted as well as eight infor-
mal discussions. Both approaches helped to
encourage the interviewees to talk about their
experiences and how they organize their every-
day life within the asylum application process.
Importance was given to the idea of reconstruct-
ing individual life experiences from the point of
view of informants. The narrative interviews
served as the basis for the semi-structured inter-
views, where the most important issues pertain-
ing to the research focus that arose from the
narratives were examined in more depth. The
narratives and the semi-structured interviews
lasted from 60 to 120 minutes each. All inter-
views were recorded and transcribed by the
interviewers. Afterwards, the dataset was
imported to MAXQDA, a software package
that allows data to be collected, organized, ana-
lyzed and visualized electronically. The primary
use of MAXQDA was to organize the data more
efficiently.
Data analysis
Data collection and analysis occurred simul-
taneously for the duration of the study. The
analysis was based on the coding processes
described by Corbin and Strauss (2008), which
involves three levels of analysis: open coding,
axial coding and selective coding. During the
open coding phase, the researchers constantly
compared interview transcriptions and the ques-
tions asked. In this first phase, different cat-
egories were developed, the properties and
dimensions of which were recorded in document
memos. During axial coding, parts of interviews
of note were pieced together in new ways, which
allowed new issues and perspectives to come
into the process of analysis. Finally, during selec-
tive coding, core categories were defined and
connected to other categories by looking for
similarities and relationships between the
categories.
The findings of this paper focus on the fol-
lowing core categories: place(social isolation /
subjective well-being), nothing to do(lack of
occupation / subjective well-being), meaningful
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occupation(work / subjective well-being) and
structural environment(opportunities / hin-
dering and enabling structures). Use of direct
quotes allows the intervieweessubjective per-
spectives on their experiences during the asylum
application process to be clearly reported. The
quotations are integrated into the interpretations
of the authors as well as into specific theoretical
concepts and theories.
Findings
Spatial isolation and its impact on well-
being
Occupational science is based on the idea of homo
occupacio, the occupational human (Yerxa,
2000). This concept assumes that individuals
are able to set goals, make choices and become
competent human beings. In order to do so,
they need opportunities and a structural environ-
ment that is able to promote motivation, self-
organization, self- responsibility and skills devel-
opment. However, the results from this study
indicate that refugee houses in South Tyrol,
Italy are not perceived by the asylum seekers as
promotors of such opportunities and hence of a
homo occupacio, but more as a place that limits
the autonomous actions of individuals. Intervie-
wees often compared their lives as asylum seekers
with how they organized their everyday lives in
their homelands: In Africa I had my own key.
If I go out any time I can open my door when I
come back(Z.F., 2017). In this quotation, the
keymentioned by the interviewee can be inter-
preted as a symbol of control and responsibility
over ones life. In contrast, the everyday experi-
ences of asylum seekers in the refugee houses
are characterized by the loss of this key and of
the freedom to act autonomously: In Africa,
you do what you like because you are free. In
your country. But here we are not free. You cant
do anything on your own(I.O., 2017). As noted
by Barmaki (2009), those assigned the status of
asylum seekers are obliged to give up parts of
their control over their everyday lives. Hence,
having requested asylum in Italy, asylum seekers
lose parts of their self-determination and become
dependent (politically, socially, personally and
economically) on an authority, as the next quota-
tion shows:
In Africa I could decide for myself, where to
go, what to do. Here I cannot someone
else is deciding everything. In the house I
have to report what I am doing, the police
and the state decide on my documents. I
cannot leave this territory, etc. I cannot
earn my own money because they do not
give me a job. (O.P., 2017)
It was within the refugee houses that the loss of
control over the organization of their own lives
was experienced most, as it related to the most
intimate and private parts of life: Here should
be home, but it is like I am in prison. Indoors
every day. It is a prison(E.I., 2017). Refugee
houses, as reflected in the previous quotation,
are perceived as places of surveillance. This is
also closely related to the reason for which the
first camps in Europe were built, namely for keep-
ing the (unwanted) guests under control (Agam-
ben, 1998). Similarly, the descriptions of the
interviewees constantly recall processes that
take place within the total institutionsdescribed
by Goffman (1961), in that the organization of
their everyday life is not arranged by the inhabi-
tants themselves, but by a set of authorities:
There are a lot of things I cant do. By 11
oclock the door is closed. So if you are outside
if you come back, entering is a problem .
Here they used to give us3 days to travel to see
some friends - thats all. We always have to
come back in the evening. (R.E., 2017)
As Whiteford (2000) described, such a
spatially organized disintegration reduces the
opportunity for occupation. In other words,
not having full control over how ones life is
organized represents a state of preclusion from
engagement in occupation of necessity and/or
meaning. Restricted opportunities and dimin-
ished capability to structure ones time autono-
mously leads to a state of enforced passivity
and hence to a reduced capacity for developing
adaptive responses to new environments
(Whiteford, 2000, p. 203).
Enforced passivity in the context of
asylum seekers
Environments that isolate socially and spatially,
as described above, do not support self-
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organization and empowerment; rather, this
seclusion leads to passivity. According to the
interview data, for most of the time the asylum
seekers spent in the refugee houses they were
not engaged in valued and meaningful occu-
pations: When you are here, you are only in the
house - doing nothing(A.I., 2017). In conjunc-
tion with the constraining character of these
institutions, this doing nothingor having noth-
ing to dohas negative consequences for the sub-
jective well-being of the asylum seekers: You
know, for now we are not doing anything. We
are always inside the house. Eating, reading our
books. So we dont have any challenges. Now,
because we are not doing anything. We are not
working. Spending most of their time inside
the houses without real challenges appears to
cause psychological stress, as the next quotation
shows: My mind cannot be at rest, I am always
thinking. I cannot stop(R.T., 2017). The verb
thinking, which was central to all the interviews,
refers to three different levels of reflection: the
past, the present and the future. In terms of think-
ing about the past, the interviewees frequently
mentioned important family bonds, social
relationships and the social networks that func-
tion as central orientation references in everyday
life, as the following quote emphasizes: In Africa
you dont think about that. You have your
families, you have your cousins, you have your
uncles. You can go to anyone to spend some
time. But here I dont know where to go
(E.R., 2017). There is a growing consensus in
the literature that social networks, and more pre-
cisely social capital, stands for the ability of
actors to secure benefits by virtue of membership
in social networks or other social structures
(Portes, 2008, p. 6). Thus, having fewer social
contacts provokes a sense of loneliness, under-
stood as a lack of people in the asylum seekers
everyday lives with whom they can share social
and emotional experiences. In other words,
there is a discrepancy between actual and desired
interactions with others.
Furthermore, as the interviews showed, hav-
ing nothing to do causes people to reflect not
only on their past but also on their present,
which in the interviews was described as a
state of personal uselessness that provoked
diminished physical and psychological well-
being:
You will be thinking and thinking and
thinking. Sometimes you lose your appetite
to eat. You cannot eat because of every-
thing in your head. Sometimes I feel sad.
Sometimes I am in the house just playing
music. Sometimes I dont sleep. I never
sleep. Sometimes I wake up at 4:00 oclock.
In my mind, I think that I am sleeping but I
am not sleeping. I am thinking. I am think-
ing about my life. (U.L., 2017)
Different studies (Doná, 2015; Gupta, 2013)
have demonstrated that there is a close link
between peoplessocial connectedness and
their physical and mental well-being. Hence, a
decreased feeling of vitality, reduced energy, feel-
ing tired more often, regular feelings of loneli-
ness and decreased levels of satisfaction with
life are only some of the known consequences
of being socially disconnected.
The verb thinkingfinally refers to uncertain-
ties and fears about their personal future, as the
next quotation shows:
We also think about our future here. When
we leave this house today, where will we go?
Where can we stay? What will we do?
Those things disturb us so much. Especially
me. I think so much about it. About tomor-
row. About the future. (T.P., 2017)
As El-Shaarawi (2015) highlighted, for
people unable to return home, unable to
build lives in host countries, and unable to tra-
vel elsewhere, long-term uncertainty about sol-
utions to their plight becomes part of the
lived experience of displacement and exile
(p. 40). Accordingly, uncertainty is an intrinsic
characteristic of refugeesand asylum seekers
experience. As El-Shaarawi (2015) concluded,
instability, uncertainty and fears about the
future necessarily make life problematic, with
consequences for asylum seekerspsychosocial
well-being. Furthermore, this uncertainty, as
the next interview quotation shows, also has
an impact on social relationship building within
refugee houses: You and they cannot stay for-
ever. Somebody may decide that he has to
leave. And you will not see the person who leaves
again(Z.O., 2017). As indicated in the follow-
ing quotation, personal relationships in refugee
houses are not described as sources of social
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capital but rather as a simple case of staying
together.
Everybody has their own life. Nobody
shares his problems with anyone. Nobody
can tell you anything. It is only greetings,
talking about some things and laughing,
but you cannot share anything with any-
body here. So you cannot share your pro-
blems. It is not your family. We are all
Africans, but from different cities,
countries, communities. So we see ourselves
as different. Is not anything you can tell
anybody here. (U.P., 2017)
Based on the analysis of Portes and Sensen-
brenner (1993) on the sources of social capital,
one would expect that a group sharing a com-
mon fate, such as the experience of being an asy-
lum seeker in a refugee house, would develop a
feeling of we-nessand belonging (bonded soli-
darity). The interviews, however, show the
opposite that is to say, that a low level of
self-disclosure is associated with low solidarity
relationships rather than with high solidarity
relationships (Wheeless, 1976). Restricted within
a situation of enforced passivity, asylum seekers
are prevented from demonstrating who they are
or what they want to be through their occu-
pation and hence of full participation in society
(Wilcock, 1993).
The meaning of work in the context of
asylum seekers
All of the asylum seekers who participated in this
study had permission to work. However, finding
a job seemed to be a significant challenge for
different reasons: language barriers, discrimi-
nation in the gainful employment market, a
lack of qualifications etc. The results of this
study suggest that social programs are needed
to provide asylum seekers with opportunities
for language learning, sensibilization, and the
development of skills and qualifications. The
findings of this study suggest that being engaged
in meaningful and socially valued occupations
helps to overcome passivity and social isolation,
and can help an individual to become active and
self-reliant. To improve subjective well-being in
their everyday lives, asylum seekers see work as
one of the key elements to achieve personal inde-
pendence and social integration. Having a job
not only helps to recreate a sense of normality,
but also a sense of control over ones life. Inter-
viewees described three main reasons why hav-
ing the opportunity to work helped to improve
subjective well-being. Firstly, it contributed to
peace of mind; secondly, it allowed a broadening
of the radius of action; and thirdly, it helped to
promote social integration. In the interviews,
work was described as a human occupation, mir-
roring Arendts(2001) analysis. From this per-
spective, work is not only perceived as the
opportunity to earn money, but also as an occu-
pation with concrete personal and social goals:
When I work, I feel relaxed. My mind will
relax. I focus on what I am doing. I dont think
too much(O.P., 2017). As the interview quota-
tion shows, work was primarily understood as an
opportunity for asylum seekers to distract them-
selves from their negative emigration experi-
ences and the pain of leaving their families
behind: Because all of us have big problems.
We think too much. When we are working we
dont think too much. Also, some of us, like me,
have children. My wife died(O.P., 2017). On
the other hand, work also provides an opportu-
nity to earn money and sustain families left
behind in the home country. As one interviewee
explained, sustaining their family financially was
the only possibility for them to have life(F.F.,
2017).
The interviews also showed that work gave
meaning and structure to asylum seekersevery-
day lives:
My life without work is nothing. When I
work, I know what to do. It is something
useful for me to do for others, I do not
just sit around and eat. I leave the house
and I come back, having done something.
(Z.P., 2017)
In this quotation, work represents the oppor-
tunity to do something useful, not only for the
asylum seeker personally, but also for others.
The sense of contributing something socially
improves personal and social acceptance
(Keyes, 1998) and also contributes to personal
and social well-being. In this regard, as the inter-
views clearly show, it is not the type of work that
JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL SCIENCE 7
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seems to be relevant, but the effect of the job on
organizing everyday life and improving subjec-
tive well-being.
If I dont have work in a restaurant and it is
the season for agriculture, I can do any job.
So when the season is over, maybe in the
winter there is no agricultural work and
maybe I can do a job in the restaurant.
Or in a hotel. I can also do this, just to
keep myself busy. (T.P., 2017)
In the interviews, having a job was equated with
personal independence.
You have to have something of your own.
Not to depend on anybody. You have to
do things for yourself. You have to do some-
thing. To have money for yourself. For you
to take care of yourself. You cannot just sit
at home doing nothing. You just have to
work. (T.F., 2017)
Work is also argued to be a bridging element to
the outside world and in particular an opportu-
nity to be socially connected. Building and main-
taining networks is important for well-being and
identity, and may play an important role in feel-
ings of belonging and social inclusion (Castles,
2003). There is evidence from the interview
data that social capital, dened as participating
in social networks and social occupations, is
benecial for subjective well-being (Helliwell &
Putnam, 2004): When you are working youll
gain more experience. You will be meeting foreign
people. You always go out. You always learn
more. You improve in a language. You improve
in a respect. You improve in a manner(T.E.,
2017). Human beings are social beings, whose
inner worlds and social environments inuence
each other. Hence, work, as the interviewees
emphasized, is associated with making contact
with other people, learning the language by
doing, and experiencing a different culture and
habits:
When you go to school, you think you will
not learn anything. This language is not
about going to school. Just for when you
go out. Like Ali. He started work, he can
speak Italian better than any other person
in this house now. (W.O., 2017)
Becoming connected to other people is one of
the central elements in social integration;
because my fellow Africans here cannot
advise me on what to do. They dont know
what to tell me. So I need people like you so
you can help me with what to do. To see if
there is anything that I can do. Associate
with people. To have friends. When you
have friends you are connected, you have
connections. (E.S., 2017)
As the interview shows, in order to overcome
their spatially and socially isolated status, there
is a great need for capabilities and opportunities
in order to act and make connections with
others. It is also clear that small houses are not
fully able to overcome social isolation, when
social connectedness and social integration are
not provided. As the next quotation underlines,
the asylum seekers felt that spending most of
their day within the accommodation houses
and waiting for employment possibilities pro-
voked sickness: Being in the houses is making
us sick. Being isolated in the house and having
nothing to do is making us sick. We are young,
we can work(U.O., 2017).
Policy programs need to concentrate on over-
coming social isolation by offering opportunities
to connect life in the houses with life in the
societal, cultural and economic environment:
We learn the language in the houses, but this
is not enough. If you want to learn the language
you have to go outside(T.D., 2017). Refugee
houses with no social outreach initiatives there-
fore appear to promote sick people instead of
promoting participative, active individuals who
are potentially able to contribute to society.
Accordingly, in order to contribute positively
to the subjective and objective well-being of
refugees, resettlement programs and integration
policies should aim to empower their potential
as productive human beings, rather than trans-
form them into institutionalized, dependent
individuals (Doná, 2002). As Ghorashi (2005)
argued, an active life in the early years of their
exile could help to put energy into building
a new life in the new country. An isolated
form of reception contributes to the situation
in which refugees can become prisoners of the
past(pp. 195196). Integration programs
8C. LINTNER & S. ELSEN
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should be based on the assumption of the Homo
occupacio, the occupational human, as Yerxa
(2000) defined it. From this perspective, humans
are characterized by their occupations, which
allow them to participate in society (Lakoff &
Johnson, 1999) and to take possession of his
or her world(Yerxa, 2000, p. 91).
Discussion
In this article, we have discussed lack of occu-
pation (in particular the lack of work as mean-
ingful and valued occupation) in relation to the
subjective well-being of asylum seekers in north-
ern Italy. In doing so, we argued for the existence
of a link between the subjective level of experi-
ences and the structural level of opportunities
that asylum seekers must have in society in
order to develop their capacities and become
active, occupied individuals.
The findings we report reveal a discrepancy
between the political intentions behind opening
small houses as shelter facilities for asylum see-
kers and the subjective perceptions of the
inhabitants: from a political point of view,
small realities should promote social integration
and social connectedness between refugees and
asylum seekers and the wider societal, cultural
and economic environment. However, from a
subjective perspective, the controlling character
of these institutions does not automatically sup-
port social inclusion; rather, it promotes the
experience of social seclusion. As the article
has shown, social isolation supported by the
spatial isolation experienced within the refugee
houses significantly increased a state of loneli-
ness, disclosure and mental fragility, with conse-
quences for the physical well-being of asylum
seekers.
As the findings show, opportunities to work
were perceived to be a central element in pro-
moting social integration. Work was considered
a valued and meaningful occupation that could
overcome situations of idleness and inactivity.
Hence, being engaged in something meaningful
would help asylum seekers to escape the trap
of being secluded. In this regard, it would be
helpful to broaden understandings of the econ-
omic integration of refugees and asylum seekers,
which is commonly limited to their integration
into the gainful employment market. Promoting
self-employment and supportive self-employ-
ment experiences among asylum seekers, for
example, could open up new perspectives. The
central goal should be to support long-term
measures with the potential to generate active
and independent individuals who are able to
shape their own lives, and hence to actively par-
ticipate in society by again becoming homo
occupacio.
Conclusion
The importance of the social dimension of well-
being in the context of seeking asylum is made
evident by the findings. The paper contributes
evidence for the close relationship between sub-
jective well-being, social and spatial isolation,
and the need to develop opportunities that clo-
sely relate to the subjective experiences of asy-
lum seekers, in order to sustain their
occupational potential in society. The study con-
centrated on the subjective perspective of well-
being of asylum seekers and the need for work
as valued and meaningful occupation in the asy-
lum application process. Further research is
required to understand better how adequate
work integration programs for asylum seekers
might be constructed and how the resulting sub-
jective well-being influences the social inte-
gration of asylum seekers.
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... Although these policies place individual and social economic aspects in focus (Björngren Cuadra & Carlzén, 2015;Östergren, 2015), work is also relevant from an occupational perspective (Yerxa, 2000) because it contributes to a conceptualisation of work as more than paid employment, as well as being seen as important for health and wellbeing (Jahoda, 1982;Simic et al., 2018;Waddell & Burton, 2006). In this study we build on a growing body of knowledge about the workrelated challenges faced by migrants and asylum seekers, as viewed from an occupational perspective (Bailliard, 2013;Berr et al., 2019;Burchett & Matheson, 2010;Huot et al., 2013;Huot & Laliberte Rudman, 2010;Kielsgaard et al., 2018;Lintner & Elsen, 2018;Mpofu & Hocking, 2013;Nayar & Sterling, 2013;Rivas-Quarneti et al., 2017) and contribute to understanding forced migration and work in a Swedish context. ...
... A core assumption of the capability approach is that having resources is not sufficient for achieving a good life for citizens, who also require real possibilities to transform resources into something of social and personal value and relevance (Sen, 1995). In order to transform resources, the structural environment needs to promote motivation, self-organisation, self-responsibility, and skills development (Lintner & Elsen, 2018). Capabilities have been proposed as part of the answer to questions such as, "what is the person able to do and to be?" (Nussbaum, 2013, p. 20). ...
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The United States (US), as a receiving country for immigrants, has had recent waves of people arriving from regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Leaving behind the familiar and encountering a new socio-cultural landscape, immigrants experience major disruptions in their daily lives. This study examined the link between occupation and the adjustment, integration and reconstruction of the lives of 13 immigrant women to the US. Results show that migration altered their experience of space, time, roles and meaning of occupations, which threatened their sense of identity and feelings of competency. The women were proactive in modifying their habits and routines to cope with these changes and availed themselves of new opportunities. A focus on occupation as the unit of analysis was the key to understanding the process of renegotiation of ways of doing, being and belonging in their new context.
Article
This special issue makes an original contribution to our understanding of the meaning of home by introducing the idea of the constellation of HOME-Home-home and homemaking practices where these are not necessarily foreseen, in contexts of displacement.In this article, I argue that we need to distinguish between humanitarian-driven understandings of "protracted refugee situations" and people-centred experiences of "prolonged conditions of displace-ment." I show how the papers in the special issue bring to the fore inconsistencies between state-centred perspectives and people-centred meanings of the "constellation of homes." Lastly, I examine the significance of other spaces where home may be made during prolonged displacements: The virtual space.I conclude by suggesting that we need to examine in greater depth the complex relationship between the dwelling, home, and homemaking practices when these occur in material and de-territorialized virtual spaces.
Article
While displacement has always involved the refiguring of space, scholars of forced migration have recently begun to consider how temporality might be crucial to an understanding of displacement. In this article, I consider the interplay of temporal and spatial uncertainty in the experience of exile for Iraqi refugees in metropolitan Cairo. By examining how Iraqis understand displacement as uncertain and how this uncertainty is a cause of significant distress, I show that an attunement to temporality can help us to understand refugees' experiences of displacement. Iraqi refugees spoke of exile in Cairo as 'living in transit'—a condition in which disjuncture between their expectations about exile and its realities contributed to an altered experience of time in which the future became particularly uncertain and life was experienced as unstable. One solution sought by refugees is resettlement, a process that often renders the future even more uncertain, at least in the short term.
Article
The proposal of five dimensions of social well-being, social integration, social contribution, social coherence, social actualization, and social acceptance, is theoretically substantiated. The theoretical structure, constructure, construct validity, and the social structural sources of the dimensions of social well-being are investigated in two studies. Item and confirmatory factor analyses in both studies corroborate the theoretical model of social well-being. The new scales correlate convergently with measures of anomie, generativity, perceived social constraints, community involvement and neighborhood quality. The new scales correlate discriminantly with measures of dysphoria, global well-being, physical health and optimism. Multivariate analyses in both studies substantiate the claim that social well-being is an achievement, facilitated by educational attainment and age. The state and direction of the study of adult functioning are discussed.
Book
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson take on the daunting task of rebuilding Western philosophy in alignment with three fundamental lessons from cognitive science: The mind is inherently embodied, thought is mostly unconscious, and abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. Why so daunting? "Cognitive science--the empirical study of the mind--calls upon us to create a new, empirically responsible philosophy, a philosophy consistent with empirical discoveries about the nature of mind," they write. "A serious appreciation of cognitive science requires us to rethink philosophy from the beginning, in a way that would put it more in touch with the reality of how we think." In other words, no Platonic forms, no Cartesian mind-body duality, no Kantian pure logic. Even Noam Chomsky's generative linguistics is revealed under scrutiny to have substantial problems. Parts of Philosophy in the Flesh retrace the ground covered in the authors' earlier Metaphors We Live By , which revealed how we deal with abstract concepts through metaphor. (The previous sentence, for example, relies on the metaphors "Knowledge is a place" and "Knowing is seeing" to make its point.) Here they reveal the metaphorical underpinnings of basic philosophical concepts like time, causality--even morality--demonstrating how these metaphors are rooted in our embodied experiences. They repropose philosophy as an attempt to perfect such conceptual metaphors so that we can understand how our thought processes shape our experience; they even make a tentative effort toward rescuing spirituality from the heavy blows dealt by the disproving of the disembodied mind or "soul" by reimagining "transcendence" as "imaginative empathetic projection." Their source list is helpfully arranged by subject matter, making it easier to follow up on their citations. If you enjoyed the mental workout from Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works , Lakoff and Johnson will, to pursue the "Learning is exercise" metaphor, take you to the next level of training. --Ron Hogan Two leading thinkers offer a blueprint for a new philosophy. "Their ambition is massive, their argument important.…The authors engage in a sort of metaphorical genome project, attempting to delineate the genetic code of human thought." -The New York Times Book Review "This book will be an instant academic best-seller." -Mark Turner, University of Maryland This is philosophy as it has never been seen before. Lakoff and Johnson show that a philosophy responsible to the science of the mind offers a radically new and detailed understandings of what a person is. After first describing the philosophical stance that must follow from taking cognitive science seriously, they re-examine the basic concepts of the mind, time, causation, morality, and the self; then they rethink a host of philosophical traditions, from the classical Greeks through Kantian morality through modern analytical philosophy.