University of Oulu

Hiitola, J. and Vähä-Savo, V., 2021. Genres of Departure: Forced Migrants’ Family Separation and Personal Narratives. Nordic Journal of Migration Research, 11(3), pp.235–249. DOI:

Genres of departure : forced migrants’ family separation and personal narratives

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Author: Hiitola, Johanna1; Vähä-Savo, Valtteri2
Organizations: 1Values, Ideologies and Social Contexts of Education, University of Oulu, Oulu, FI
2Tampere Research Group for Cultural and Political Sociology, Tampere University, Tampere, FI
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.9 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Helsinki University Press, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-11-18


The absence of family members is often inseparable from the phenomenon of forced migration. This article examines how forced migrants make experiences of family separation bearable and meaningful through personal narratives. Following narrative theory and methodology, we understand that people organise their experiences and memories of past incidents predominantly in the form of stories. Narratives also play a crucial role in managing emotions. Earlier literature emphasises that there is no uniform refugee experience or story, but telling a story may help in reconstructing identities and coping with losses. Our data set consists of interviews with 55 forced migrants living in Finland who have experienced family separation. Our narrative analysis reveals that forced migrants make sense of their lives by telling three types of stories: fractured tragedies, salvation narratives and absurd stories. These genres provide different ways of presenting one’s experiences and oneself as an actor. At the same time, each genre limits what can be considered appropriate within a given story. As our study shows, forced migrants may use different types of narratives very creatively to make their hardships more manageable. And stories may enable breaking free from oppressions.

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Series: Nordic journal of migration research
ISSN: 1799-649X
ISSN-E: 1799-649X
ISSN-L: 1799-649X
Volume: 11
Issue: 3
Pages: 235 - 249
DOI: 10.33134/njmr.372
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 520 Other social sciences
519 Social and economic geography
Copyright information: © 2021 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons NonCommercial-NoDerivatives Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0), which permits unrestricted distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited, the material is not used for commercial purposes and is not altered in any way. See