Social literacy practices of Afghan and Somali refugees in a transitional setting

Juliana Othman, Lim Jia Wei


The purpose of this paper is to explore the social literacy practices of Afghan and Somali refugees in a transitional context. Although refugees have been the subject of previous research in various domains, our understanding of their literacy practices in urban areas, particularly in Malaysia, is still limited. The lack of literacy research in this setting exposes a gap in the current literature aimed at better understanding refugee literacy practices in a transitional situation. Thus, this study examines urban refugee literacy experiences via the lens of literacy as a social practice. It was exploratory in nature and used a qualitative methodology. Face-to-face interviews with four refugees were conducted at two community centres to collect primary data. In addition, field notes based on community centre visits provided by the participants were used as a secondary data source in the study to understand the literacy experiences of the participants better. The findings indicated that participants enacted literacy practices in their transitional setting for three primary purposes: to increase their funds of knowledge, to enact personal agency, and for community building. These results challenge the stereotype that refugees are powerless and highlight avenues or ways in which refugee communities can be supported in a transitional context.


literacy practices; Malaysia; refugees; social practices; transitional context

Full Text:



Ahearn, L. M. (2001). Language and agency. Annual Review of Anthropology, 30(1), 109-137.

Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (1998). Local literacies: Reading and writing in one community. Routledge.

Barton, D., Hamilton, M., & Ivanič, R. (Eds.). (2000). Situated literacies: Reading and writing in context. Routledge.

Benezer, G., & Zetter, R. (2014). Searching for directions: Conceptual and methodological challenges in researching refugee journeys. Journal of Refugee Studies, 28(3), 297-318.

Capstick, T. (2020). Transnational literacies as social remittances: The role of language ideologies in shaping migrants’ online literacies. Applied Linguistics, 41(2), 301-319.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. Jossey-Bass.

Compton-Lilly, C. (2016). Transnational religious practices: Funds of knowledge for literacy learning. In R. D. Johnson, S. Vasinda, & S. Szabo (Eds.), Literacy educators and researchers: Making a different in our diverse communities (pp. 23-36). Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry and research design choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Cun, A. (2021). Transnational literacy practices of two Burmese families: An ethnographic study. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 16(3), 286-306.

Dabach, D., & Fones, A. (2016). Beyond the “English Learner” frame: Transnational funds of knowledge in social studies. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 18(1), 7-27.

Dekker, R., Engbersen, G., Klaver, J., & Vonk, H. (2018). Smart refugees: How Syrian asylum migrants use social media information in migration decision-making. Social Media + Society, 4(1).

Donà, G., & Godin, M. (2019). Mobile technologies and forced migration. In A. Bloch & G. Dona (Eds.), Forced migration: current issues and debates (pp. 126-144). Routledge.

Döringer, S. (2021). ‘The problem-centred expert interview’. Combining qualitative interviewing approaches for investigating implicit expert knowledge. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 24(3), 265-278,

Figures at a glance. (2022). UNHCR Malaysia.

Gee, J. (2004). Socio-cultural approaches to literacy (literacies). Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 12, 31-48.

Gilhooly, D., & Lee, E. (2014). The role of digital literacy practices on refugee resettlement: The case of three Karen brothers. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 57(5), 387-396.

Glesne, C. (2010). Becoming qualitative researchers (4th ed.). Longman.

Hoffstaedter, G. (2015). Urban refugees and UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur: Dependency, assistance, and survival. In K. Koizumi & G. Hoffstaedter (Eds.), Urban refugees: Challenges in protection, services and policy (1st ed., pp. 187-205). Routledge.

Kanji, Z., & Cameron, B. L. (2010). Exploring the experiences of resilience in Muslim Afghan refugee children. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 5(1), 22-40.

Kedra, J. (2021). Virtual proximity and transnational family hood: A case study of the digital communication practices of Poles living in Finland. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 42(5), 462-474.

Kim, S. (2018). “It was kind of a given that we were all multilingual”: Transnational youth identity work in digital translanguaging. Linguistics and Education, 43, 39-52. linged.2017.10.008

Kvale, S. (2007) Doing interviews. Sage Publications.

Lam, W. S. E., & Warriner, D. S. (2012). Transnationalism and literacy: Investigating the mobility of people, languages, texts, and practices in contexts of migration. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(2), 191-215.

Levitt, P. (2009). Roots and routes: Understanding the lives of the second generation transnationally. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35(7), 1225-1242.

Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2015). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. Jose Bass.

Nojumi, N. (2002). The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Palgrave Macmillan

Nursyazwani. (2020). Mobile refugee: Rohingya refugees’ practices of imaginary citizenship in Klang Valley, Malaysia. American Behavioral Scientist, 64(10), 1444-1457.

Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (4th ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.

Perry, K. H. (2012). What is literacy? A critical overview of sociocultural perspectives. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1), 50-71.

Perry, K. H. (2020). Sharing stories, linking lives: Literacy practices among Sudanese refugees. In V. Purcell-Gates (Ed.), Cultural practices of literacy (1st ed., pp.57-84). Routledge.

Pieloch, K. A., McCullough, M. B., & Marks, A. K. (2016). Resilience of children with refugee statuses: A research review. Canadian Psychology, 57(4), 330-339.

Purcell-Gates, V., Perry, K. H., & Briseño, A. (2011). Analyzing literacy practice: Grounded theory to model. Research in the Teaching of English, 45(4), 439-458.

Sarroub, L. (2002). In-betweenness: Religion and conflicting visions of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 37(2), 130-148.

Street, B. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge University Press.

Street, B. (2003). What’s ‘New’ in new literacy studies? Critical approaches to literacy in theory and practice. Media Anthropology Network, 5(2), 77-91.

Sulaiman-Hill, C., & Thompson, S. (2011). Sampling challenges in a study examining refugee resettlement. BMC International Health and Human Rights, 11, Article 2.

Wake, C., & Cheung, T. (2016, June). Livelihood strategies of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia ‘We want to live in dignity’. Overseas Development Institute.


Article Metrics

Abstract view : 0 times
PDF - 0 times


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Print ISSN: 2355-2794, Online ISSN: 2461-0275

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

View Journal Stats