In “Virtual Dialogue” with the Somali Community: The Value of Electronic Media for Research amongst Refugee Diasporas

Cindy Horst


This article illustrates the methodological potential of electronic media such as the Internet and e-mail for research amongst refugee diasporas. It will first describe research amongst Somalis in Kenyan refugee camps, which demonstrated the importance of transnational networks in the survival of refugees in the camps. The intention of the research set-up was to provide an alternative approach to common depictions of refugees, which often ignore their agency. A focus on agency, referring to every individual’s level of choice and power, is as much a methodological decision as a theoretical or epistemological assumption, since people’s agency clearly manifests itself in knowledge creation. After describing the possible dialogical nature of academic knowledge creation, the article moves on to illustrate how electronic media can play an important role in this. There are a number of apparent advantages to the methodological use of the Internet and e-mail in research, though at the same time pitfalls should not be underestimated. Nevertheless, when studying refugee communities that are dispersed across the globe and make active use of electronic media, “virtual dialogues” provide fascinating new insights.

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