The essentialized refugee: Representations of racialized ‘others’

Martha Augoustinos, Scott Hanson-Easey, Clemence Due

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The psychological and ideological processes of social categorization, differentiation and identification that adhere to how social groups negotiate and acquire identities for themselves, and those defined as different or ‘Other’, have been central to research in the social representations tradition (Augoustinos and Riggs, 2007; Chryssochoou, 2004; Duveen, 2001a; Howarth, 2006b; Moloney and Walker, 2007; Philogéne, 1999). In this chapter we seek to examine how representations of a new social group that has only recently settled in Australia – humanitarian refugees from Sudan – are represented and communicated in both formal and informal discourse by majority group members. We examine how essentialized traits are attributed to Sudanese refugees that position the group as not only problematic but also necessitating exclusion from Australian society. Our analysis suggests that these essentialized and indeed racialized representations are predicated on simplified representations of the African continent – a ‘war-torn’, dangerous place from which its displaced people should not be offered refuge due to their inherent social and psychological deficits. We use this very specific social and historical example to suggest that essentialized representations of the ‘Other’ have become reified and objectified ways of making sense of difference. Despite scientific and political challenges to the validity of essentialized categories such as ‘race’, such representations have remained resilient in everyday understandings of group difference. As Moscovici's theory of social representations (1984b, 1988) argues, such representations become so entrenched and objectified that their social and political origins become forgotten. People come to view essentialized representations of difference as ‘natural’ and common-sense ways of perceiving and understanding human variability and social diversity. Essentialism in psychological research In recent times in the field of psychology there has been a growing interest in the concept of psychological essentialism (Haslam, Rothschild and Ernst, 2000, 2002; Holtz and Wagner, 2009; Raudsepp and Wagner, 2012; Kashima et al., 2010; Rothbart and Taylor, 1992; Wagner et al., 2010; Yzerbyt, Rocher and Schadron, 1997).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Social Representations
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781107323650
ISBN (Print)9781107042001
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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