Dr. Katherine E. Hoffman (Northwestern University) will undertake anthropological field research on the role of ethnicity in the integration of populations displaced by political violence into the country of first asylum, and the ways in which transnational ethnic identity may facilitate refugee assimilation in refugee situations. This project considers the effects of the Arab Spring revolutions on minority populations, taking as a case study the Amazigh (Berber) populations of Libya and Tunisia. The urgency associated with this RAPID proposal results from the immediacy of the displacement of the Libyan Berbers and the unknowns about how soon the situation may change. The project focuses on the women and the elderly who are central, albeit overlooked, actors in the construction and maintenance of local and transnational ethnic identities. The informal settlement of Libyan refugees into Tunisia - in rural community-volunteered housing and private Tunisian homes - means that laypeople rather than aid workers are managing much of the integration of this displaced population. Refugees from western Libya and their southern Tunisian hosts are Imazighen (Berbers), speaking the Tamazight language and sharing both customs and longstanding discrimination by their respective states.
Whereas scholarship on indigenous people such as North Africa's Imazighen has long focused on their rootedness in ancestral lands, this project asks instead how indigenous groups transform in contexts of displacement. The research will focus on the everyday material and discursive practices in the work and socializing of women and the elderly. Data collection in southern Tunisia will include life histories, participant observation, interviews, and discourse analysis to document over time the shifts in strategies used by refugees to organize their economic and social lives in exile and to mark similarity with and distinctiveness from their hosts. This qualitative study of individuals and families will be complemented by data collection from the UNHCR and relief agencies and will be useful to relief organizations, policymakers, and scholars.