Apping Back to Life: Mobile Phone Mediations in Refugee-Constructed Narratives of Forced Displacement

Karina Stiles-Cox, Salve Regina University


According to the United Nations, we are currently witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. As of October 2022, the UNHCR website lists sixteen refugee-related emergencies at the global level. Specifically, the UNHCR and the United Nations Refugee Agency estimate that forced displacement has surpassed 89.3 million—a number that has doubled over the last ten years. In the cacophony of complications and challenges arising from this global crisis, a debate is unfolding regarding the growing presence of technology and technological artifacts among forcibly displaced populations. At the center of the discourse surrounding the refugee crisis is a troubling binary between helping refugees and protecting the host country’s citizens and resources, increasingly leaving displaced populations in an existential no man’s land—alive but not able to live in meaningful ways, e.g., socially, culturally, politically, or spiritually. Information and communication technologies are reshaping this ontological crisis. Through a postphenomenological lens, this study examines smartphone mediations in refugee-constructed narratives to consider how human-smartphone interactions materialize in two areas of forced displacement: in flight and in transitory spaces. Across refugee narratives this study examines mobile phone mediations as they amplify, reduce, invite, or inhibit different aspects of the refugee experience as they relate to communication and liaising, navigation and localization, archiving, and mental and emotional well-being. Anchored in the refugee voice, I argue that smartphones are transforming refugees’ ability to perceive and act in ways that protect and reinforce what it means to be human in places outside of normative citizenship and community, thereby transforming the refugee experience from a condition of merely existing to living in humanly meaningful ways.

Subject Area

Literature|Ethics|Philosophy of Science|Information Technology

Recommended Citation

Stiles-Cox, Karina, "Apping Back to Life: Mobile Phone Mediations in Refugee-Constructed Narratives of Forced Displacement" (2023). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI30524515.

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