Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Robert A. Rubinstein


Bosnians, Forced Migration, Immigration, Integration, Memory, Refugee

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Ways to Refuge: Bosnians in Central New York in Ethnographic Perspective

This dissertation documents the resettlement experiences of Bosnian Muslims relocated to two urban locales in the north of New York State during and after the Bosnian War in the Balkans. To do so, it relies on ethnographic data gathered mainly through extensive interviews and participant-observation conducted over a period of fourteen months of fieldwork in a variety of places in Central New York.

The dissertation provides individual- and group-level descriptions and analyses of various aspects of the diasporic experiences of the Bosnians encountered in the research, in addition to laying bare the diversity and heterogeneity observed among those experiences. More specifically, it offers a nuanced treatment of commemorative practice in the context of refugehood by considering the ways in which that practice is embedded in pedagogy, religious performance, cultural critique, and entertainment. In addition, the dissertation relativizes bureaucratic knowledge, i.e. the legal definition of refugee in the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and offers an experiential notion of refugeehood by identifying it as a cultural domain.

Furthermore, the dissertation foregrounds the discipline's public and engagement roles by reminding of the need to intervene in debates about the impending immigration reform in the United States. To help prevent the issue of humanitarian protection from falling through the cracks during public and private negotiations over the reform, the dissertation brings the specificities of refugee migration to the fore by focusing on pre- and post-resettlement lives of Bosnians in the United States. Also, finding that several Bosnians interviewed in this project did not become U.S. citizens even though they were entitled to do so, the dissertation calls stakeholders responsible for the resettlement of refugees to more clearly communicate the value of citizenship as a civic virtue.

Additionally, this dissertation examines why similarly positioned refugee immigrants, Bosnians in Central New York, sometimes seem to have different resettlement experiences. Bosnians relocated to the region as a result of the armed violence in the Balkans in early 1990s, and are very similar or identical in terms of their ethnicity, reasons for displacement, context of resettlement, access to means of integration, rules and regulations of resettlement each followed. Despite this, a nostalgic, relatively non-entrepreneurial and only belatedly organizational discourse characterizes the resettlement experiences of several Bosnians in Syracuse. This discourse is nostalgic in that my interviews with Bosnians in this group commonly include statements desirous of return to where one came from; it is relatively non-entrepreneurial as manifested in my observations among this group of a lower degree of business establishment and ownership; and due to a variety of reasons discussed in the dissertation, the time span between arrival in the country of permanent resettlement -United States- and the creation of a local community organization is, comparatively speaking, is a wide one. Whereas, a subsection of Bosnians in Utica is adopting the new place as their own and improving the local economy. Signs of this adoption include common interview responses desirous of making the United States into a home, much higher number of small-sized businesses owned and operated in the respective locale, as well as the remarkable coming-into-being of a community organization, the Bosnian Islamic Association of Utica, in such a short period of time as would astound the mayor of the city hosting the Bosnians in question. This dissertation examines how these differences may link to a number of factors including urban vs. rural backgrounds, differential wartime experiences, and the specifics of the resettlement locales. It concerns the transformations various individuals, who formally transitioned into America as refugees, are effecting and undergoing in the American metropolis.

The dissertation contributes to the scholarship on Bosnian diaspora, in particular to the literature addressing various aspects of Bosnians' post-war experiences in the United States. In addition, the dissertation adds to anthropological discussions of sociocultural change by introducing the conceptual tool of supermobility. Illustrated mainly with reference to the adaptive practices of a specific individual, this heuristic paves the way for a non-sedentary perspective toward adaptation and repositions mobility as a form of proactive choice. The dissertation foregrounds the role of refugee mobility as a generative and adaptive process in which refugee individuals act in ways that defy popular perceptions of them as helpless, public-resource-depleting, and maladaptive guests. Furthermore, with its focus on a specific group of refugees in Central New York, this work additionally seeks to help reverse an unwelcome trend in social sciences, which is the dwindling number of scholarly works on refugees.


Open Access