Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2011


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Health Care Ethics


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Gerard Magill

Committee Member

Henk ten Have

Committee Member

Aaron Mackler


Catholic social teaching, Discourse, Foucault, Goffman, Mauss, Refugee


This project considers the ways in which the dominant discourse on refugees might reinforce the negative impacts or limit the positive impacts of aid. Care for refugees is a difficult task that takes place in a discourse that begins with numerical calculi, a language that expresses ambivalence about our obligations for this category of persons, fear of their collective identity, and a deep ceded notion of refugees as an object of concern, a worthy cause, a growing problem, and a burden that must be shared.

What we choose to do for and about refugees emerge from our present awareness (knowledge) as a process of deliberation predisposed and reinforced by the circulating and authoritative dominant discourse that has defined refugees and their relationship with larger society. Any attempts to affect the discourse on refugees therefore must begin with the re-evaluating what has gone before.

The theoretical and analytical tools for the task of problematizing the dominant discourse on refugees were: 1) Analysis of the contemporary discourses on refugees, 2) Foucault's archeology and genealogy of discourse, 3) Mauss' theory of gift-exchange in the third party setting, 4) Goffman's total institution theory on stigma and identity, and 5) moral perceptions created by a discourse based on agency, reciprocity, solidarity, and hope.

Discursive analysis affirms that the dominant discourse has historically been absent the refugee voice and lacking the agency to affect contingent changes in his or her life. It was shown that our reservoir of knowledge about refugees has been deposited in multiple layers of meaning, metaphor, media depictions, statistics, institutional dogma, and a political/ organizational superstructure. The dominant discourse on refugees was then challenged with a more inclusive approach that includes the themes of agency, reciprocity, solidarity, and hope giving primacy to the human connection between the refugee and aid rendered as a means of improving the care and outcome for refugees.

This project embraces the idea that the words we choose in dialogue about others, distant or near, can bring either hope or complacency, mercy or empty justice, compassion or apathy, life or death. We are called on to choose life.