Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Dr. Nancy Naples, Dr. Bandana Purkayastha, Dr. Manisha Desai

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Campus Access


Refugee resettlement in the United States is not only a highly politicized system of social and financial support, but a multi-country process through which identities are created and life courses are profoundly changed. Sociologists who study refugees in the United States tend to think of themselves as migration scholars and focus attention on integration into the host society with research on welfare and social policy encouraging us to question the systems that assist the marginalized and to critically evaluate the reliance on idioms of individual economic self-sufficiency, and international migration research raising questions about integration into US host societies. Looking to the study of “street–level bureaucrats” we can see the dilemma of case workers tasked with helping people and making decisions about them on the basis of individual cases, and how the structure of their jobs bound up in bureaucratic structures make this impossible. Studying refugee resettlement and the individuals tasked with providing their support leads to arguments that can bridge these debates. In the eyes of resettlement agencies (like other federal service agencies), success is measured as economic self-sufficiency, i.e. getting a job. Accordingly the organization of federal and state level resettlement efforts program around the achievement of this goal. This study aims to take a closer look at the impact these goals have on the individuals who are carrying our deadlines, striving towards quotas, and doing the face to face work with refugees required of such a task. In search of how success is defined within a resettlement agency this study shows through ethnographic analysis how case worker constructions and definitions of success play out in client worker interactions. The answer to the question of refugee success I argue is not in the numbers, it can be found in the interactions between refugees and the resettlement workers that guide them along the path to self-sufficiency and that fight on behalf of the refugee to challenge the bureaucratic roadblocks refugees encounter frequently on the path to “success.”

Major Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Holzer