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Refugees and Diasporas

Summary and Keywords

Refugees and diasporas are part and parcel of today’s accelerating global diversity and domestic diversity changes that we encounter in social interactions. These terms conjure up images in our mind of individuals who belong to certain social groups in host environments. Basically, their social identities define who they are and how they are treated by others in social interactions. While there is extensive research on refugees and diasporas in three separate but interrelated domains—refugee studies, diaspora studies, and immigrant studies, less scholarly attention has been paid to the conceptual distinctions between refugees and diasporas, among other things. The complexity of refugees and diasporas is explored along with some implications. Most studies are atheoretical in nature, and an intergroup perspective can provide insights into how they engage in identity negotiation and intergroup communication adaptation to host environments. Thus, a theoretical discussion is provided of how refugees and diasporas face the challenges to preserve, maintain, and further their distinctive social identities, and also adapt to the new environment by way of negotiating their social identity complexity using intergroup communication strategies.

Keywords: acculturation, diasporas, refugees, social identity, intergroup communication, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations, UNHCR, Tibet


In present day, we live in a very interdependent and interconnected world never seen before due to globalization and technological advancement. With accelerated changes in global economy, transportation system, and communication network, the world has become a global family. Everyday tens and thousands of people easily travel across the world for pleasure, business, and other reasons. Millions more cross intergroup boundaries via virtual reality and social media (Fortunati, Pertierra, & Vincent, 2012). Studies show the global diversity trends and the domestic diversity trends have increased (Global Trends Relocation Survey, 2010; Passel & Cohn, 2008), and the pervasive social interactions have necessitated negotiating distinctive social identities that influence our communication. The importance and relevance of intergroup communication have become visible and fact of life. An intergroup communication perspective entails individuals from these global and domestic diversity backgrounds interacting with each other in terms of their perceived social-cultural group memberships. For example, based on both avowed and ascribed social identities, refugees and diasporas largely experience intergroup interactions with others, including host members, often at the expense of interpersonal interaction determined by individuality or individual idiosyncrasies. More than 70% of what is generally considered interpersonal interaction is actually intergroup in nature (Giles, 2012) due to the salience and influence of social group memberships. Refugees and diasporas are no exception to this trend, but, surprisingly, an intergroup perspective on understanding refugees and diasporas is lacking in the relevant literatures.

While there exists a huge body of research on refugees and diasporas in three separate, but interrelated domains of study: refugee studies, diaspora studies, and immigrant studies, the former two domains extensively dealt with macro issues (e.g., history, politics, and policies) and micro issues (e.g., health and education) and the latter domain largely focused on intercultural adjustment and acculturation/assimilation issues. Often scholars have used refugees and diasporas interchangeably and paid minimal scholarly attention to the conceptual distinctions between refugees and diasporas. Most studies are atheoretical in nature, and an intergroup perspective can provide insights into the social identity complexity of refugees and diasporas and intergroup communication strategies they use for identity negotiation and acculturation (Dorjee, Giles, & Barker, 2011; Ting-Toomey & Dorjee, 2015). Thus, this narrative chapter attempts to address these gaps and issues in the relevant literatures in the following sections.

Understanding the Complexity of Refugees and Diasporas

An extensive literature exists on refugees and diasporas from multidisciplinary perspectives. A wide range of topics related to refugees received attention from scholars. However, most of them have addressed issues such as history, health, policies, and identity of refugees and diasporas from different regions such as Asians in the Americas, Latin America, and others, but not the conceptual issues related to them (e.g., Anderson & Lee, 2005; Devkota et al., 2013; Lidert, Ehrenstein, Priebe, Mielck, & Brahler, 2009; Malkki, 1992; Marfleet, 2013; Robinson, Anderson, & Musterd, 2003). These studies also did not specifically examine how refugees and diasporic members negotiated their social identities and communicative distance. In this regard, first, an attempt is made to attend to redefining refugees and conceptual distinctions between refugees and diasporas for theoretical and practical understanding of their identity issues and challenges. Second, an intergroup perspective is offered to discuss their intergroup dynamics and communicative strategies.


Refugees received much scholarly attention, however, an inclusive definition is lacking in the literatures. A Google Scholar searches on refugees generated about 1,110,000 hits (November 30, 2016, at 10:10 a.m.), and The Journal of Refugee Studies is dedicated to understanding different aspects of refugees. According to UNHCR Global Trends Report (2015), 65.3 million people have forcibly been displaced from their homes by conflicts and persecution, and the globe witnessed recently the largest number of new Syrian refugees (over 1 million) forced to flee their country. Among the definitions of refugees, perhaps the one that is legally accepted across the globe is provided in the Convention and Protocol: Relating to the Status of Refugees ( by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Amending the geographic and temporal limitations set forth in the definition of refuges in the 1951 Convention, the revised protocol of 1969 offered a single definition of the term “refugee,” in Article 1 as follows: A refugee, according to the Convention, is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion (p. 3).

In this definition, the key phrases defining refugees are well-founded fear of persecution based on social group memberships, and unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin. This UNHCR’s definition of refugees recognizes the connection between refugees and their country of origin and also a sociopolitical context for their displacement or de-territorialization. If refugee agencies mindfully attend to this definition of refugees, they could not misunderstand the nature of refugees’ displacement as Malkki (1992) pointed out in his critique. That said, the above definition of refugees excludes millions more people forcibly displaced from their homes due to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of tribe, faith, a particular social group membership, or political opinion, but living within their countries. These are referred to as internally displaced people.

According to the UNHCR’s Global Trends Report of 2015, 40.8 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes by war and persecution but they live within the confines of their countries such as Columbia and Syria. UNHCR’s Global Trends Report (2015) classifies forcibly displaced people into refugees, internally displaced people, and asylum-seekers. These categorizations inform UNHCR’s policy approach toward them on a global level. In light of the facts and evidence, the first two categories involve people forcibly displaced from their homes (country or locality) due to war and persecution. Arguably, they both are refugees with similar fate and experiences except for the social-cultural environments in which they are located (i.e., outside and inside one’s country). If the UNHCR does not consider internally displaced people as refugees, then actual refugees are much smaller in numbers (see Global Trends Report, 2015).

Critically, stated, there is a need for an inclusive definition of refugees for conceptual clarity and comprehensive policy formulation. Today, refugees include millions of people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes not by war and persecution, but by natural calamities. For example, approximately 25 million people have been classified as environmental refugees (Bates, 2002; According to Chung, Bemark, & Kudo Grabosky, 2011), global warming and environmental racism have caused an increase in environmental refugees, and the Friends of the Earth (2007) estimates that by 2050, we will see 200 million environmental refugees. These environmental refugees are not included in the three categories of forcibly displaced people according to the UNHCR’s Global Trends Report (2015). The UNHCR and United Nations Environment Program can team up to redefine refugees inclusively given the sociopolitical and environmental changes. Perhaps, a refugee can be inclusively defined as the following:

A refugee is someone forcibly displaced from his or her home or country of origin by conflict, war, persecution, or environmental disaster, and is unable or unwilling to return to home or country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion and environmental insecurity.

A clear and inclusive definition of refugee has many benefits: One, the United Nations (UN) can have a clear conceptual map guide to regulate international relations concerning refugees and their issues. Two, based on such a definition, the UN can formulate a comprehensive policy to guide their refugee projects consistently across the globe. Last but not least, scholars on refugee studies will have a clear and inclusive definition guiding cross-situational, consistent programmatic research grounded in interdisciplinary theoretical foundations. Interestingly, diaspora is defined broadly that also includes refugees.


Diasporas are international migrants who live in a country other than where they were born. According to new UN statistics from 2015, there are 244 million international migrants or diasporic members, but these also include refugees. Relatively, diasporas received less scholarly attention than refugees. A Google Scholar search on diasporas generated about 85,400 hits (November 30, 2016, at 10:26 a.m.) and the journal Diaspora is dedicated to studying transnational migrants. Scholars defined diaspora variously focusing on a particular diaspora (e.g., Jewish Diaspora, or African Diaspora) or a similar category of diasporas (e.g., European Diasporas or Asian Diasporas). However, across the body of literature on diasporas, scholars recognized some common defining characteristics of diaspora such as: dispersal of people from the original homeland to two or more different territorial locations, collective memory of their heritage, exchanges between members of diaspora and members of their homeland, and the wish to return to their original homeland (Butler, 2001). Interestingly, these defining characteristics could be easily applied to refugees as well and thus blur the conceptual distinctions between diasporas and refugees.

For example, Tibetan refugees originated in India, Nepal, and Bhutan due to Communist China’s military invasion of Tibet in 1959, and Tibetans commemorate March 10, 1959, as their Uprising Day annually across the globe. Today, Tibetan refugees are dispersed outside Asia and into the West (Europe and North America). Tibetans in diasporas East and West (Dorjee et al., 2011) strongly maintain a collective memory of their unique Tibetan civilization through the setup of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Monastic Institutions, Tibetan language and cultural curriculum in Tibetan schools, homeland narratives, community and organizational building, and other means for the said purpose of returning to Tibet—their homeland (Dorjee et al., 2011). With the advent of the social media world, now Tibetans dispersed across the world and even within Tibet (despite the firewall of China) are able to connect with each other to network (e.g., Facebook, Skype, We Chat, and WhatsApps and others) and support initiatives keeping alive the collective memory of Tibetan heritage and returning to home someday. In general Tibetans’ wish to return to Tibet someday is clearly indicated by the two conflicting positions within the Tibetan diaspora: CTA seeking a genuine autonomy for all of Tibet within the Constitutional Framework of the Federation of China through the Middle Way Policy (Key Issues on and the Tibetan Youth Congress—the largest body of Tibetan NGO—seeking Tibetan Independence ( Regardless of these positional differences, both bodies keep alive the hope of one day Tibetans returning to their country of origin—Tibet. Other refugees such as Palestinian refugees, and, more recently, Syrian refugees, may also share the common characteristics of diasporas. Given the conceptual overlap between refugees and diasporas, often in studies these two terms have been used interchangeably. Mostly, refugees and diasporas are international migrants residing in a host environment outside the country of their origin.

However, diasporas are not necessarily and forcibly displaced from their original home or country by conflicts and persecution and environmental disasters. As a matter of fact, many diasporas are formed due to economic imperatives and individual choices such as the Indian Diaspora, Italian Diaspora, or other diasporas in the United States. In many cases, they can return to their country of origin if they choose to without the fear of being persecuted. Taken together, definitions of refugees and diasporas suggest multiple dimensions such as spatial-temporal dimension, identity-affective dimension, communication dimension, and nostalgic dimension. This chapter focuses mostly on the identity-affective dimension and communication dimension of refugees and diasporas for theoretical significance. In this regard, an intergroup perspective is invoked to provide rich insights into the identity complexity of refugees and diasporas, and their communication practices.

An Intergroup Perspective on Refugees and Diasporas

Social identity complexity is central to understanding refugees and diasporas because how they see themselves (avowed identity) and how others (especially, host group members) see them (ascribed identity) as well as identity crisis (mismatched avowed and ascribed identities) will influence social interactions. Acculturation contexts and social contexts within which refugees and diasporas are located and interacting, by definition, are contexts for intergroup communication (Giles, 2012). Largely, scholarship on refugees and diasporas in this regard focused on two main themes—uprootedness and affective connection to their original or native homeland. However, as early as in the 1990s, scholars debated about the notions of “de-territorialization” and “home” related with refugees (e.g., see Kibreab, 1999; Malkki, 1992). Malkki (1992) criticized the emphasis on refugees’ national identity tied up with a territory due to which refugee agencies misunderstood the nature of their displacement without considering the sociopolitical contexts of refugees. In his critique, Kibreab (1999) pointed out that de-emphasizing refugees’ identity connection with their homeland, Malkki’s argument endangered refugees’ positions on their claim to homeland. Presumably, both territorial-based identity and sociopolitical context are important to understanding refugees and diaspora. As stated earlier, UNHCR’s definition of a refugee recognizes both the identity-affective connection with their homeland and also the sociopolitical context. Refugees and diasporas represent distinctive social identities in host environments facing identity negotiation and intergroup adaptation challenges. The following sections will discuss sequentially social identity complexity, ethnolinguistic vitality, and intergroup communication strategies to understand and further research on refugees and diasporas grounded in a theoretical framework.

Social Identity Complexity

As stated in the introduction, studies on refugees and diasporas largely focus on issues such as refugees and policy and not much on the relationships among their social group memberships and communication. In everyday interactions, people tend to relate to each other as individuals and/or as members of social groups. According to social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), every individual has two types of identity: personal identity (individuality or individual uniqueness) and social identity (group membership/s). These identities change the dynamics of interaction from interpersonal to intergroup communication and vice versa (Ting-Toomey & Dorjee, 2014). While communicating with each other in terms of personal identities constitutes interpersonal interaction, communicating with each other in terms of perceived social identities constitutes intergroup interaction. Arguably, refugees and diasporas are likely to engage more in intergroup interaction than interpersonal interaction because their group memberships largely define who they are and how they relate to others and vice versa. These groups involve markers of identity such as physical makers, social markers, and cultural markers. Thus, understanding their social identity complexity is central to research on identity-affective and communication dimension of refugees and diasporas.

Social identity complexity indicates that an individual’s social identity is multidimensional and it has at least four dimensions: dominance, intersection, compartmentalization, and merger (Brewer, 2010). It can provide deep understanding of refugees and diasporas and their social interactions. Dominance refers to an individual adopting one major social identity (or master social identity) from among their multiple social group memberships. Refugee and diaspora are social categories and these pretty much become major social identities of refugees and diasporas. For example, refugee is the dominant social identity for new Syrian refugees given their dire situation and how the UNHCR, host countries and the world relates to them. Refugee is also the dominant social identity for even long-time refugees such as Tibetans in India (living there over five decades). Even the third-generation Tibetans there often say: We have “R” (as in Refugee) invisibly inscribed on our forehead. Similarly, diaspora is the dominant social identity of diasporic members such as an Indian diaspora or Jewish diaspora and others in the United States. For example, many diasporas proudly uphold their dominant social identity celebrating events such as Indian Independence Day, Lunar New Year, Hanukah, March 10th Tibetan Uprising Day, and others. The dominance social identities of refugees and diasporas provide them with social identity distinctiveness. Overall, an extensive research on refugees and diasporas cited earlier are focused on the dominance dimension of their social identity complexity. However, intersection takes into account multiple social identities.

Intersection refers to an intersectional social identity formed by two or more social group memberships. Like any individuals, refugees and diasporas also belong to multiple social group memberships. Many refugees and diasporas have intersectional social identity formed by multiple group memberships including gender, profession, leadership, activism, age, and organizational memberships. For example, women and men refugees and diasporas serving their communities in different leadership positions have their gender, age, and leadership positions forming their intersection dimension. They play vital roles such as bridging cultural gaps and promoting communication connections between members of their own groups and host members. Unlike intersection, Compartmentalization refers to how individuals shift from one social identity to another one in different situations. For examples, refugees and diasporas enact different social identity roles such as parents at home, professionals at work, volunteers at events, leaders at conferences, and so on. Through these roles they make significant contributions to their own communities and also host community. Lastly, Merger refers to being aware of one’s cross-cutting social identity memberships (say, three or more perhaps). Refugees and diasporas may enact merger social identity. Perhaps the most famous refugee is His Holiness the Dalai Lama who until recently served as both political and secular leader of Tibet and Tibetans. As early as 1960s, His Holiness stressed repeatedly that Tibetans need an elected leader to whom he can devolve power and finally in 2011, he was able to do that with Dr. Lobsang Sangay as elected Sikyong (Political Leadership or President) by Tibetans outside Tibet participating in a democratic election. His Holiness is known to the world for his merger social identity: The Dalai Lama of Tibet—a simple Buddhist monk, a Tibetan Refugee, the Spiritual Head of Tibetan Buddhism, and a Nobel Peace Laureate. Each of these descriptors represents a social identity and together forms his merger social identity. Another excellent example of merger identity is that of Malala Yousafzai. She is known to the world for her merger identity constituted by the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate, a Muslim girl, and an activist for girls’ education. These dimensions of social identity differ in terms of cognitive complexity.

According to Brewer (2010), while dominance and intersection are low in social identity complexity, compartmentalization and merger are high in social identity complexity. There is little research on how intersection, compartmentalization, and merger social identities of refugees and diasporas as well as their influence on identity negotiation and communication with others. Informed by social identity complexity, scholars can examine how refugees and diasporas enact different social identities in their interaction with others, especially host members, to preserve their unique social identity distinctiveness and also adapt to the new situations and host environment. Among factors that influence their identity preservation and host adaptation are ethnolinguistic vitality.

Ethnolinguistic Vitality of Refugees and Diasporas

Ethnolinguistic vitality is pertinent to understanding refugees and diasporas and their intercultural adaptation. According to ethnolinguistic vitality theory (Giles, Bourhis, & Taylor, 1977), a group’s vitality can be determined by three dimensional variables, namely—demography, institutional support, and status. The higher the group vitality of refugees and diasporas on these dimensions, the higher the chances for them to survive and also thrive. Demography includes size of population, birth rate, death rate, immigration, and emigration. Institutional support includes federal and local government supports, institutional policy support, institutional resources support, and host organizational support. Status includes social and economic status and prestige. This framework provides useful insights into the plight and struggles of refugees and diasporas. Group vitality in essence refers to both the strength of and identification with a group. According to Bourhis, Giles, and Rosenthal (1981), group vitality can be measured both objectively and subjectively. In other words, group vitalities of refugees and diasporas can be measured both objectively along the three dimensions of demography, institutional support, and status, and subjectively in terms of their group identification and the extent to which refugees and diasporas perceive group vitality along the three dimensions. In the case of refugees and diasporas, their perceived group vitality may be as important as their objective group vitality. That said, an overall assessment of a group’s vitality should be based on both subjective vitality and objective vitality along with demography, institutional support, and status.

Understandably, refugees and diasporas with strong ethnolinguistic vitality may thrive in a host environment as compared to refugees and diasporas with weak ethnolinguistic vitality. For example, due to strong objective vitality and subjective vitality, Vietnamese refugees and diasporas are overall thriving in the United States, especially in Orange County in California with over 250, 000 Vietnamese Americans and Little Saigon as the hub of the Vietnamese Community. Similarly, other diasporas such as Indian and Chinese diasporas are thriving in the United States, given their strong objective vitality and subjective vitality especially in California with Little India and China Towns—the hubs of their communities. These diasporic communities have established schools, immigration offices, business centers, and separate communities among other things that contributed to the preservation of their distinctive social identities and also providing education and resources to help their members to interculturally adapt to the host environment. In contrast, refugees and diasporas with low group vitality struggle to maintain their sociocultural identity and engage in intercultural adaptation. For example, Tibetan diaspora in the West, such as the United States and Canada, is very low on objective vitality (see Dorjee et al., 2011), and much of their efforts to preserve language, culture, and religion in the West is based on strong subjective vitality. Mostly, unfunded Tibetan Sunday schools, for example, in North America established by local Tibetan Associations are primarily shouldering the responsibility to transmit Tibetan language, culture, and religion to the new generation of Tibetan Americans and Tibetan Canadians. Due to low objective vitality, many new generation Tibetans have difficulty even speaking Tibetan, let alone reading and writing Tibetan. In contrast, the Tibetan diaspora in India provides a different outlook.

Notably, the Tibetan diaspora in India provides an alternative viewpoint on group vitality and its relationship to maintenance of social group membership and intercultural adaptation. If high institutional support is combined with high subjective vitality, a refugee or diaspora with a low demography may not only survive but even thrive in a host environment. India is the second most populated nation on earth and will soon become the most populated nation, overcoming China. Compared to the host population, about 100,000 Tibetans in India pales in terms of demographic vitality and status. However, the Central Government of India and State Governments, such as the Karnataka State Government, provided maximum institutional support to Tibetans in terms of rehabilitation resources, land lease, establishing separate Tibetan communities, and educational institutions. While Tibetans have a low demographic vitality and low socioeconomic status, they have been able to preserve and maintain Tibetan identity, language, culture, and religion better in exile than in Tibet—their homeland. Inside Tibet, Communist China has dominated all aspects of Tibetan life, including language and religion. Tibetans are educated largely in the Chinese language medium and monasteries are heavily restricted. The latest case is destruction of Larung Gar—the largest Tibetan Buddhist Academy where over 10,000 of monks, nuns, and lay students, including many Chinese, studied Buddhism. Starting July 20, 2016, a large portion of Larung Gar was bulldozed and thousands of monks and nuns were expelled and forced to sign not to return to Larung Gar (See news report at;;; Tibetans and human rights advocates pleaded for China to stop the Larung Gar Academy demolition but in vain. In exile in India, Tibetans have established a democratic form of governance called Central Tibetan Administration, and Tibetan Parliament in Exile. Across India, Tibetans schools, monasteries, cultural institutions, and hospitals have significantly contributed to the maintenance and promotion of distinctive Tibetan sociocultural identity, language, and culture and also facilitated intercultural adaptation to the host environment. Younger generation Tibetans speak and write in three languages: Tibetan, English, and Hindi or regional Indian language (for details, see Dorjee et al., 2011). Almost all Tibetans speak Hindi and they feel a close affinity to Indian culture including values, food, music, and dance. While more intergroup communication studies need to be done on the Tibetan diaspora, this may provide a new model for saving small social groups from being extinct and also protecting them from being completely assimilated into a dominant culture. For identity preservation and intercultural adaptation, refugees and diasporas can use various intergroup communication strategies.

Intergroup Communication Strategies

Acculturation models and intergroup communication strategies can provide insight into the status and phenomenological experiences of refugees and diasporas. Acculturation can be defined as a process in which refugees, diasporas, and immigrants experience incremental identity-related changes in a new environment from a long-term perspective due to multiple factors, including systems-level factors such as a host country’s socioeconomic and immigration policy, individual-level factors such as voluntary and involuntary motivations for relocation and host language competency and interpersonal-level factors such as social network and interpersonal skills (see Kim, 2005). Refugees and diasporas struggle to maintain their social identity on the one hand, but also interculturally adapt to the new environment on the other hand. Berry’s acculturation model (1994) captures the essence of their identity struggles resulting in four identity types.

Refugees and diasporas who strongly identify with their respective sociocultural groups are likely to have an ethnic-oriented identity. They are likely to advocate for preserving the distinctive social group membership-based identity emphasizing the need to teach and learn native language, culture, religion, and culture-related communication practices. In contrast, refugees and diasporas who strongly identify with the host culture are likely to have an assimilated identity. They are likely to be proficient in host language competency, but may be deficient in knowledge and skills about their native culture and language. Unlike them, refugees and diasporas who strongly identify with both native and host cultures are likely have bicultural identity. Biculturalists are the ones who feel comfortable being a member of both social groups and they adopt integrative perspective on life and communication (Toomey, Dorjee, & Ting-Toomey, 2013). Lastly, refugees and diasporas who identify weakly with both native and host cultures tend to have marginal identity and they feel disconnected with both social groups. From an intergroup perspective, these four types of identity-based refugees and diasporas may communicate differently with members of their own groups versus members of other groups, including host members.

Ethnic-oriented refugees and diasporas will largely experience the dynamics of intergroup communication in everyday life with others for many reasons including strong in-group identification and deficiency in host language competency. While assimilated refugees and diasporas are likely to experience host receptivity and even acceptance, interestingly, they will experience more of the dynamics of intergroup communication with members of their own ethnic group. For example, many second- and third-generation Americans such as Latino Americans feel excluded from their ethnic groups primarily for lack of native language competency. They feel treated as out-group members or even worse in some cases perceived as traitors or deviants by their ethnic members. Unlike both, these two types of refugees and diasporas, biculturalists are the ones who are able to negotiate identity well while code switching and cultural frame switching in their interactions with ethnic members and host members (Toomey et al., 2013). Toomey and colleagues (2013) found that Asian Caucasian biculturalists were able to switch cultural frames and codes in communicating with members of Asian and Caucasian groups. As for the refugees and diasporas with marginal identity, they are likely to relate to their ethnic as well as host members interpersonally. While Berry’s (1994) acculturation model provides four possible identity options of immigrants that are applicable to refugees and diasporas also, it is important to consider acculturation process from the levels of cognitive, affective, behavioral, avowed, and ascribed levels in diverse social-cultural settings (Kim, 2009). Furthermore, social identity theory (SIT) (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) and communication accommodation theory (CAT) (Giles & Baker, 2008) provide insights into intergroup communication strategies used or possibly could be used by refugees and diasporas.

SIT (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) claims that an individual’s social identity is derived from his or her group membership based on social categorization of the world into us versus them or in-group versus out-group. In the case of refugees and diasporas, they are generally categorized as out-group members by host members and they too feel as such given their status and labels in the host environment. Acculturation contexts are intergroup contexts in which social identities tend to become salient and influential on identity negotiation and adaptation options. Based on the perceived permeability of the intergroup boundaries, refugees and diasporas could use different intergroup strategies to gain or maintain positive social identity and status in their host environment. These strategies are social mobility, social creativity, and social competition. Social mobility refers to how individuals can choose to move from one group to another group provided that intergroup boundary is permeable. For example, many refugees and diasporas have changed their status into citizenship and thus, gained the status and rights of being citizens of different countries such as Germany, the United States, Canada, and France. While social mobility strategy has improved these individual refugees and diasporas’ status, the status of their refugee and diaspora groups usually remains unchanged. On the other hand, if the intergroup boundary is impermeable, refugees and diasporas can use social creativity and social competition strategies.

Social creativity strategy consists of multiple tactics such as redefinition, finding a new referent for social comparison, and recategorization. For example, refugees and diasporas can redefine their social identities in terms of certain positive social dimensions such as “most successful refugees” in the case of Tibetan refugees in India and “the most affluent diaspora” in the case of the Jewish diaspora in the United States. Alternatively, based on differential group vitality, Nepali and Bhutanese diasporas in the United States can claim positive distinctiveness compared to the Tibetan diaspora in the country. Moreover, Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepali, and Bhutanese diasporas can de-emphasize their nationalities and recategorize themselves in terms of a superordinate category such as South East Asian Diaspora for high-status recognition and resource collaboration. Last but not least, refugees and diasporas can use social competition strategy to gain high status and positive distinctiveness. Social competition strategy consists of multiple tactics such as protest, campaign, fight, and advocacy. Refugees and diasporas can take to streets and protest for better living conditions and rights. For example, Tibetan diasporas have set up an annual Tibet Lobby Day (usually in March) on Capitol Hill for Tibet advocacy and support. Unlike social mobility strategy, the two other strategies are meant for maintaining or gaining positive social identity for a group. Refugees can also send petitions and promote advocacy for recognition, status, and rights to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Interestingly, in the context of intergroup conflict, Dorjee (2013) argued that Tibetan diasporas employed social creativity and social competition strategies to resolve Sino Tibetan issues based on nonviolence and middle way approaches. Refugees and diasporas can also use a variety of accommodative strategies.

From a CAT (Giles & Baker, 2008) perspective, refugees and diasporas can use three communicative strategies to negotiate intergroup relations and communication in the host environment. These are convergence, divergence, and maintenance. Convergence strategy involves verbal and nonverbal behaviors that accord with or are similar to the communication expectations of the host members, and it includes code switching and high or low communication contexts switching. Divergence strategy involves verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are nonaccommodative to or dissimilar with the communicative expectations of the host members and it includes speaking the native language and sticking to one’s own communication context—low or high. Maintenance strategy involves employing one’s usual style of verbal and nonverbal communication in a social context and it is perceived as similar to divergence from a receiver’s vantage point. Studies have indicated that positive social identity distinctiveness and social approval motivation drive the use of these communication strategies (Harwood & Giles, 2005). In light of these, refugees and diasporas are likely to use a convergence strategy if they want to be socially approved by the host members and also for improving their status. For example, refugees and diasporas who have invested time, resources, and energy into higher education and become professionals such as doctors, engineers, nurses, professors, and lawyers have acquired the ability to competently communicate with the host members in both interpersonal and workplace situations using convergence strategy. On the other hand, refugees and diasporas are likely to use divergence and maintenance strategies if they are motivated to preserve and promote the distinctiveness of their social identities and also resist cultural assimilation into the host culture. For example, refugees and diasporas may diverge in their interaction with host members by speaking Ebonic English, Spanglish, Pidgin, and other forms of English such as Indian English or even speak their native tongues for distinctive social identity maintenance and resistance.

In summary, an extensive interdisciplinary research exists on refugees and diasporas in three separate, but interrelated domains: refugee studies, diaspora studies, and immigrant studies. However, scholarly attention is needed for an inclusive definition of refugees for theoretical and policy formulation and implementation and conceptual distinctions between refugees and diasporas. This chapter attempted to fill in this and atheoretical gaps in the relevant literature. As such, an intergroup communication perspective has been provided using the lens of social identity complexity, ethnolinguistic vitality, and intergroup communication strategies to explore and deeply understand refugees and diasporas. Much of what has been discussed in this chapter needs future research.

Future Direction

Refugees and diasporas as nomenclature indicate social group memberships but surprisingly, an intergroup perspective is lacking in the relevant literatures to understand them. A couple of research directions are suggested based on the above discussion.

One, based on Berry’s model (1994), studies are needed to investigate what kind of intergroup communication strategies are employed by ethnic-oriented refugees and diasporas, assimilationist refugees and diasporas, bicultural (as well as multicultural) refugees and diasporas, and marginalist refugees and diasporas, and why? It is contended that ethnic-oriented refugees and diasporas are likely to employ intergroup strategies such as social creativity, social competition, communicative divergence, and maintenance in their interaction with host members. Relatedly, while assimilationist refugees and diasporas are likely to employ intergroup strategies such as social mobility and communicative convergence, marginalist refugees and diasporas are likely to employ interpersonal convergence and divergence depending upon situational factors. Notably, bicultural refugees and diasporas are likely to employ a repertoire of intergroup strategies such as culture frame switching and code switching depending upon who they are communicating with, and why?

Two, based on Brewer’s (2010) social identity complexity theory, scholars should investigate further how refugees and diasporas negotiate their social identity complexity with host and other group members. Research questions that needed responses include How do they socially construct dominance social identity for their benefits, and why? And how do they respond to dominance social identity ascribed to them by others? What are the ways by which they use intersectional social identity to connect with host members for identity-affective connection and support? How do they compartmentalize their social identity in order to maintain distinctive social identity aspects and also adapt competently to socioculturally, diverse workplace situations? What fascinates host members about the merger identity of refugees and diasporas such as Malala and the Dalai Lama and connect with their merger social identity to promote social justice and interreligious harmony?

Three, based on Giles and colleagues’ (1977) ethnolinguistic vitality theory, future studies should explore and investigate the influence of group vitality on refugees and diasporas for the preservation of their unique social identity as well as for effective intercultural adaptation to their new environment. It is contended that the higher the group vitality of refugees and diasporas in their new environment, the greater chance for them to survive and thrive as compared to refugees and diasporas with low group vitality. However, as exemplified by the Tibetan diaspora in India, a host country’s institutional support can facilitate the preservation and promotion of refugees and diasporas’ sociocultural distinctiveness even if their group’s vitality is very low on demographics and status. Studies are needed to investigate the case story of the Tibetan diaspora in India in order to learn methods that could also be applied to other similar contexts.

Further Reading

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    Bowker, R. (2003). Palestinian refugees: Mythology, identity and search for peace. London: Lynne Reinner.Find this resource:

      Georgiou, M. (2006). Diaspora, identity, and the media: Diasporic transnationalism and mediated spatialities. New York: Hampton Press.Find this resource:

        Cohen, R. (2008). Global diasporas: An introduction. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

          Hyndman, J. (2000). Managing displacement: Refugees and the politics of humanitarianism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Find this resource:

            Kushner, T. (2006). Remembering refugees: Now and then. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press.Find this resource:

              Loescher, G., Betts, A., & Milner, J. (Eds.). (2008). The United Nations high commissioner for refugee (UNHCR): The politics and practice of refugee protection into the twenty first century. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

                Schwartz, S. J., Vignoles, V. L., Brown, R., & Zagefka, H. (2014). The identity dynamics of acculturation and multiculturalism: Situating acculturation in context. In V. Benet-Martinez & Y. Hong (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of multicultural identity (pp. 57–93). New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                  Sheffer, G. (2003). Diaspora politics: At home abroad. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:


                    Anderson, W. W., & Lee, G. L. (Eds.). (2005). Displacement and diasporas: Asians in the Americas. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Find this resource:

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                        Berry, J. (1994). Acculturation and psychological adaptation. In A. Bouvy, F. van de Vijver, P. Boski, & P. Schmitz (Eds.), Journeys into cross-cultural psychology (pp. 129–141). Lisee, the Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.Find this resource:

                          Bourhis, R. Y., Giles, H., & Rosenthal, D. (1981). Notes on construction of a “subjective vitality questionnaire” for ethnolinguistic groups. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 2, 144–155.Find this resource:

                            Brewer, M. (2010). Social identity complexity and acceptance of diversity. In R. Crisp (Ed.), The psychology of social and cultural diversity (pp. 11–33). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Find this resource:

                              Butler, K. D. (2001). Defining diasporas, refining discourse. Diaspora, 10(2), 189–219.Find this resource:

                                Chung, R. C.-Y., Bemak, F., & Kudo Grabosky, T. (2011). Multicultural-social justice leadership strategies: Counseling and advocacy with immigrants. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 3(1), 86–102.Find this resource:

                                  Devkota, A., Devkota, B., Ghimire, J., Mahato, R. K., Gupta, R. P., & Hada, A. (2013). Involving diaspora and expatriates as human resources in the health sector in Nepal. Journal of Nepal Health Research Council, 11(24), 119–125.Find this resource:

                                    Dorjee, T. (2013). Intercultural and intergroup conflict resolution: Nonviolence and middle way approaches. In J. G. Oetzel & S. Ting-Toomey (Eds.), The Sage handbook of conflict resolution: Integrating theory, research, and practice (2d ed., pp. 687–712). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

                                      Dorjee, T., Giles, H., & Barker, V. (2011). Diasporic communication: Cultural deviance and accommodation among Tibetans in exiles in India. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 32(4), 343–359.Find this resource:

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                                            Giles, H., & Baker, S. (2008). Communication accommodation theory. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The international encyclopedia of communication (Vol. 2, pp. 645–648). Malden, MA: Blackwell.Find this resource:

                                              Giles, H., Bourhis, R. Y., & Taylor, D. M. (1977). Towards a theory of language in ethnic group relations. In H. Giles (Ed.), Language, ethnicity and intergroup relations (pp. 307–343). London: Academic Press.Find this resource:

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                                                                Ragazzi, F. (2014). A comparative analysis of diaspora policies. Political Geography, 41, 74–89.Find this resource:

                                                                  Robinson, V., Anderson, R., & Musterd, S. (2003). Spreading the burden? A review of policies to disperse asylum seekers and refugees. Bristol: The Policy Press.Find this resource:

                                                                    Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.Find this resource:

                                                                      Ting-Toomey, S., & Dorjee, T. (2014). Language, identity, and culture: Multiple identity-based perspectives. In T. M. Holtgraves (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of language and social psychology (pp. 27–45). New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                        Ting-Toomey, S., & Dorjee, T. (2015). Intercultural and intergroup communication competence: Toward an integrative perspective. In A. F. Hannawa & B. H. Spitzberg (Eds.), The handbook of communication science: Communication competence (Vol. 2, pp. 503–538). Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Find this resource:

                                                                          Toomey, A., Dorjee, T., & Ting-Toomey, S. (2013). Bicultural identity negotiation, conflicts, and intergroup communication strategies. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 42(2), 112–134.Find this resource:

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