The politics of psychosocial support in the refugee camps of Greece: Site - Psychology - Subject

  • Artemis Christinaki

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis sits at the nexus of three important contemporary issues: psychology, migration, and subject formation. It critically explores what are the politics or, the role of, psychosocial support in the refugee camps of Greece. It focuses chiefly on the way aid workers' subjectivities emerge amid the spatial temporality of camps and within the combined discourses of psychology and aid. A growing critical literature problematises the concept of 'refugee crisis' to understand the current migratory situation since 2014 in the Mediterranean Sea, however, it does not critically discuss in depth the role of aid and the provision of support in camps. This thesis, with its theoretical roots in psychoanalysis, critical psychology, social theory, philosophy, postcolonialist and critical feminist debates within migration, uses what I name 'theory as method' to interrogate, on the one hand, the politics of support and, on the other hand, how aid workers understand, plan, and deliver programmes of psychosocial support and thus how subjectivity emerges in the refugee camps of Greece. A seven-month ethnographic study between October 2018 and April 2019 was carried out, during which 30 semi-structured interviews and 2 group interviews were conducted with aid workers in the mainland and the island of Lesvos in Greece. Also, critical observation and analysis of maps, and photographs as a reflexive diary constituted this study's methods. Research material is discussed within 'theory as method'. Putting theory to work as a methodological approach, the thesis is structured around four core axes, i) the language of humanitarianism and psychology, ii) spaces of spatial temporality, iii) the conceptualisation of time and trauma, and iv) subject and colonialism, to discuss psychosocial support and the subject formation of modern aid worker. Apart from critical migration studies, humanitarian studies, including migration and refugee studies are discussed as enacted through psychology, with the role accorded work within their sector is usually seen as a performance of good will, 'of the humane' which is necessary amid a 'crisis event' or 'a management of a disaster'. Aid workers have been, overall, approached as the constitutive, but mechanical, link which connects, facilitates, and executes humanitarian and states' organisational support provision. Without underestimating and eliminating the way migrants, refugees and workers tactically engage with the provision and delivery of humanitarian and psychological support for their own benefit, this project - by shifting the focus in-between aid workers and refugees (and vice versa) - argues that, since subjectivity is relational in the field of migration, this dialectic raises several vital psycho-political questions. It, therefore, suggests that psychology and work as labour amid these conditions are both psychological and political economy matters which are intricately and intimately implicated in a classed, racialised, and patriarchal understanding of aid and practice in ways which precisely re-enact and intensify the history of their fields.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorErica Burman (Supervisor), Rubina Jasani (Supervisor) & Laura Winter (Supervisor)


  • humanitarianism
  • Greece
  • 'refugee crisis'
  • postcolonialism
  • psychoanalysis
  • aid workers
  • psychosocial support
  • psychopolitics
  • refugees
  • hotspot
  • camp
  • migration
  • critical psychology

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