Assembling research by listening to refugees’ emotions and stories

Ms Charishma Ratnam1

1UNSW Australia


In geography, the multiple approaches of conducting research has meant that emotions are given less attention. However, central to the remit of conducting/understanding our research involves a suite of embodied, verbal, non-verbal and emotional experiences that occur in place(s). As geographers, we have an interest in how people experience past, present and future places, and embedded (with)in these places are emotions. Thus, there is a need to focus on the emotional entanglements of people and place.

This paper investigates the emotional geographies of listening to difficult stories from Sri Lankan refugees. The interviews involved participants (re)telling stories of fleeing Sri Lanka, which were emotional, distressing and traumatic. I frame this paper within verbal and non-verbal methods of listening. I explain how participants (re)told their stories, how I listened to them and how emotions constructed these stories. Then, I discuss my own fieldwork experiences. This paper provides space for researchers undertaking sensitive research to discuss lessons learnt in the field.


Charishma Ratnam is a PhD candidate in geography at UNSW Australia. Her research focuses on the intersections of mobility, memory and identity among Sri Lankan refugees during their settlement in Australia. She is interested in how memories and identities are fostered, maintained and (re)created in private spaces, such as the home. Her ethnographic fieldwork focuses on the Sri Lankan refugee diaspora to analyse their home-building practices that contribute to building a wider sense of place.

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