Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

“We Kiss Everyone’s Hands to Get a Permanent Job, but Where Is It?”: The Failure of the Social Inclusion Narrative for Refugees

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Abstract:  Humanitarian migrants, while required to prove their vulnerability to gain entry to a country of settlement, rapidly become subject to an integration narrative where self‐sufficiency is the primary aim. In the integration narrative, language learning is conceptualised as an individual endeavour that will inevitably lead to employment, while linguistic fluency and social inclusion tend to be presented as the inevitable outcomes of engagement in the labour market. Lack of success is attributed to individual failures and is typically addressed through policies designed to incentivise the individual to try harder. Drawing on a qualitative study involving refugees, language teachers and settlement brokers in New Zealand and Sweden, this article critiques the integration narrative by contrasting it with the voices of those who have sought to conform to the ideal narrative yet failed to reach the idealised outcomes. Using M. M. Bakhtin’s notions of monologue and epic dis‐ courses, it challenges the view of language learning and integration as “a test of virtuosity” (Sullivan, 2012, p. 49) which the deserving are guaranteed to pass. Instead, it argues that a range of exclusions prevents successful language acquisition, labour market entry, and social engagement and that incentives, while potentially increasing the individual’s desire for success, are insufficient unless structural inequalities are addressed.

Keywords:  dialogism; employment; language learning; refugees; social inclusion



© Hanna Svensson. 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.