Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

“We Demand Better Ways to Communicate”: Pre-Digital Media Practices in Refugee Camps

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Abstract:  This article provides a historical perspective on media practices in refugee camps. Through an analysis of archival material emerging from refugee camps in Germany between 1945 and 2000, roles and functions of media practices in the camp experience among forced migrants are demonstrated. The refugee camp is conceptualized as a heterotopian space, where media practices took place in pre-digital media environments. The archival records show how media practices of refugees responded to the spatial constraints of the camp. At the same time, media practices emerged from the precarious power relations between refugees, administration, and activists. Opportunities, spaces, and access to media practices and technologies were provided, yet at the same time restricted, by the camp structure and administration, as well as created by refugees and volunteers. Media activist practices, such as the voicing of demands for the availability of media, demonstrate how access to media was fought for within the power structures and affordances of the analogue environment. While basic media infrastructure had to be fought for more than in the digital era and surveillance and control of media practices was more intense, the basic need for access to information and connectivity was similar in pre-digital times, resulting in media activism. This exploration of unconsidered technological environments in media and refugee studies can arguably nuance our understanding of the role of media technologies in “refugee crises”.

Keywords:  communication history; forced migration; Germany; media activism; media practices; refugee camp



© Philipp Seuferling. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.