Macquarie University
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Unemployed female refugees in a position of perpetual crisis: social enterprise and the indifferent state

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posted on 2022-03-28, 23:33 authored by Desirée Gaillard
Female refugees have been consistently overrepresented in Australia's unemployment statistics for the last 30 years. This thesis analyses the reasons and dynamics underlying this labour market inequality. A particular interest lies in the role of the state in conjunction with the social enterprise in dealing with this inequality. As a result of the neoliberal inspired dynamics between the state and the social enterprise, I argue that female refugees are suspended in what I describe as a'position of perpetual crisis'. Social enterprises have grown in number in advanced democratic capitalist nations such as Australia as a consequence of neoliberal reform over the last 30 years. More recently, there has been an increasing focus by social enterprises on the problem of unemployment for refugees. Just how successful these social enterprises are with getting female refugees gainfully employed is, despite a significant body of research, unclear. This uncertainty is attributed to the recency of social enterprises as a possible solution to unemployment. This includes among other things, the absence of a conceptual framework to measure the effect of social enterprises on gainful employment. Based on qualitative research, this thesis addresses precisely this issue by asking : What role in the Australian Framework of Support (AFS) does the nonprofit social enterprise play in getting unemployed female refugees gainfully employed? In order to find possible answers to this question, this thesis draws on theoretical notions of power to explain the relations between female refugees, the state, and the social enterprise. By bringing together the perspectives of unemployed female refugees and the perspectives of employees of the nonprofit social enterprise with which the participants are affiliated, this thesis offers an empirical lens with which it reveals the relations of power that reproduce rather than reduce inequality and constrain the employment opportunities of female refugees. Emerging from the empirical data is my argument that female refugees are kept in what I describe as a 'position of perpetual crisis'. What defines this position, among other things, is the ongoing commodification of refugees' vulnerability, which is collectively imposed by structures under the AFS, inclusive of the state and the social enterprise. Based on the findings, this vulnerability manifests as restricted access to the fundamental means of integration such as employment, education, and housing. The risk of poverty and homelessness therefore loom large. Moreover, what the data shows is that the nonprofit social enterprise, in its attempt to solve the crisis, contributes to it as it tries to make a difference within a quasi-marketplace instituted by the state. The neoliberal reforms implemented by the state addressing social issues with market solutions, also sustains rather than solves the position of perpetual crisis and results in further discrimination and exploitation of female refugees. Based on my findings, I argue that the role of the social enterprise is symptomatic of a state that, implementing market solutions to social problems, can be said to be indifferent to the employment crisis of female refugees. As a consequence, the situation of female refugees worsens as they remain vulnerable to the competitive forces of the market, therefore open to ongoing exploitation.


Table of Contents

Part 1. Examining the dynamics between female refugees, social enterprise and the state. Chapter 1. Persistent tensions of migration and inequality in the employment status of female refugees Chapter 2. The Australian framework of support : between neoliberal markets and the welfare state Chapter 3. Towards theorising the position of perpetual crisis -- Part 2. Research design and empirical examination : the unchallenged forms of power intersecting the lives of Mary, Agnes and Erika. Chapter 4. Researching unemployed female refugees Chapter 5. From disadvantage to vulnerability Chapter 6. Maintaining the position of perpetual crisis Chapter 7. Normalising the position of perpetual crisis Chapter 8. Conclusion : a perpetual crisis -- References -- Appendices.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: 249-296

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Sociology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Sociology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ellie Vasta

Additional Supervisor 1

Norbert Ebert


Copyright Desirée Gaillard 2019. Copyright disclaimer:






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