For Refugees, the Road to Employment in the United States Is Paved With Workable Uncertainties and Controversies

Jill Koyama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Drawing on data—including survey responses, interviews, documents, and participant observation—collected during a 26-month ethnography of refugees in a northeastern U.S. city, I examine how recently arrived refugees create and access new employment opportunities. I utilize actor-network theory (ANT) to examine refugees' linkages as emerging, temporal, and fluid. I empirically trace the drawing together of, and interaction among, individual refugees, formal organizations, new cultural ideas, and a myriad of material objects. I examine the connections between the uncertainties about actors, action, and agency that point to the need to understand society as sociomaterial networks. I analyze the controversies that are deployed in an emerging assemblage as the refugees entered the paid workforce in the United States. I am guided by a broad question: How are meaning, knowledge, and facts that come to make up a network actually made, maintained, remade, and, sometimes, undone? I demonstrate that putting assemblage to work offers insights into the ways in which heterogeneous elements come together in often unanticipated ways to create stable, even if temporary, employment networks for refugees in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-521
Number of pages21
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • actor-network theory
  • employment
  • ethnography
  • material objects
  • meaning
  • refugees

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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