Refugee young people (re)forming identities: The role of social networks

Kiprono Langat, Jae Major Major, Jane Wilkinson


Educational contexts around the world are increasingly characterized by diversity, including a rise in students from refugee backgrounds. Much research has focused on the educational needs of these students and the particular struggles they experience in educational contexts. The increasing number of refugee and asylum-seeking children in Australia calls for rethinking approaches to enhance the acculturation process in ways that build on individuals’ prior knowledge and understanding of self.

This paper draws on data from a larger case study that focused on Sudanese young people in regional Australia and investigated their out-of-school activities, networks, and practices and how these contributed to their success across a range of contexts. Drawing on perspectives of identity and theories of social capital, we discuss the role of social networks in generating social capital and what this means in terms of the (re)formation of students’ identities in regional locations, and we consider how this can contribute to educational success. We suggest that the resources in regional areas present both a challenge and an opportunity for young former-refugee people in terms of repositioning themselves in new social, cultural, and educational contexts. The paper examines how the young people developed their own momentum, rationality, and legitimacy in their identity (re)formation, and suggests that educational settings need to connect with and understand young people’s out-of-school resources to avoid deficit narratives that lead to poor educational outcomes.


Identity; refugee young people; education; social capital; resettlement; success

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