This dissertation responds to Syrian nationals’ stories of displacement and settlement. Within these accounts, people contend with forced migration through language, personal networks, and technology. A sociomaterial theory of literacy recognizes the way in which these interviewees sought safety and belonging while accessing concrete systems in order to achieve material effects such as mobility and shelter. This dissertation’s case studies pertaining to mobile devices and refugee homes contribute to an infrastructural understanding of literacies as semiotic, social, affective, and material practices bearing an affordant and epistemically generative relation to physical infrastructures.
The project’s interviewees used 2G communication infrastructures while travelling from Syria to Iraq and generated political readings of the powerful actors curating these infrastructures. These literate practices were motivated by dynamic emotional investments, which I read through the concept of belonging, a process of felt affiliation to people, places, and identities. By viewing belonging in terms of trajectories, I aim to suggest the rise and fall of emotional connection amid processual time and shifts in location. Expressions of belonging revealed that the overwhelming majority of the project’s interview participants identify as Kurds, and that they anticipated feeling at home in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). They were generally welcomed, yet a combination of factors tended to introduce vicissitudes into this feeling of belonging, including tensions between the refugee and host communities.
The interviews gathered here suggest that many Kurdish-identifying interviewees experienced nuanced intersectional vulnerabilities co-constituted not only by Kurdish identity but also by language and dialect, social class, gender expression, Syrian origin, and documentary status. Situated intersectionality offers a framework for engaging non-Western categories of belonging and a social justice-oriented logic for articulating historical and political contexts with qualitative findings. Most importantly, it leads here to the disruption of mono-categorical claims about the community under discussion, including the Turkish state’s frequent justification of military aggression in the region through the reduction of all Kurds to the figure of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist. In this way, this dissertation cultivates an orientation of transnational solidarity with the Kurdish-identifying Syrian asylum seekers living in the KRI.