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Caught between norm and difference: narratives on refugees’ inclusion in organizations

Elena Ponzoni (Department of Sociology, The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Halleh Ghorashi (Department of Sociology, The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Sylvia van der Raad (Department of Sociology, The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 18 April 2017




In this study the authors show how discursive spaces both enable and constrain the inclusion of first-generation refugees. For this purpose the authors analyzed a triptych of narratives from first-generation refugees, employers, and mediators (mediating between organizations and job-seeking refugees). The authors adopted a critical studies approach, paying particular attention to the ways in which meanings are embedded within the normalizing discursive processes. The purpose of this paper is to show the maneuvering capacities of three different groups concerning the inclusion of first-generation refugees.


The data consist of a selected number of narratives from three groups of actors (refugees, mediators and employers) with the ambition of contrasting their discursive positionings. By including multiple positionings in the process, the authors aimed to reveal “the power effects of particular discursive formations,” which Alvesson et al. (2008) refer to as “positioning practices.” To investigate these patterns, the authors used in-depth interviews and employed an interpretive approach with the focus on the narrations of inclusion and exclusion.


The major constraint the authors discovered was that, in spite of the “good will” of all parties involved, the normalizing impact of the dominant discourses on migrants and refugees (discourse of lack) often works against other approaches (added value). This creates contradictory expectations toward refugees, limiting the possibilities of inclusion within organizations. The findings of this research show that diversity and inclusion can only be successful in conjunction with critical reflection that questions the taken-for-granted position of privileged groups as a norm reproduced by dominant societal discourses.

Research limitations/implications

In the light of growing urgency for the inclusion of refugees in the European context, it is crucial to rethink the notions of inclusion and exclusion from a critical perspective. The authors believe that the findings of the study could have implications which goes beyond the particular experiences presented in this study.


The authors conclude that diversity talk and practice which does not include reflection on the normalizing power of discourses of otherness does not have a chance of making a long-term impact on inclusion. Although there is a growing body of literature on this topic within critical organization studies, there has been no attention so far for the position of refugees in organizations which makes this paper both unique and urgent.



Ponzoni, E., Ghorashi, H. and van der Raad, S. (2017), "Caught between norm and difference: narratives on refugees’ inclusion in organizations", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 36 No. 3, pp. 222-237.



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